Citizens Opposed to Bureaucratic Bullying and Excessive Regulation

The COBBERs Movement

The COBBERs Motto

Live  –  and Let Live

The effect of Bureaucratic Bullying and Excessive Regulation is to discourage us from even trying to live our own lives  –  starting up new enterprises, meeting community needs by helping each other, building or altering our own homes, starting our own schools, etc.

The English expression Live and Let Live means to tolerate each other as far as possible and to give each other room to live.  Our motto definitely includes this principle.  We cannot expect to have the freedom to live our own lives if we do not extend this freedom to others.  People who “dob” at the drop of a hat soon squeal when they in turn feel the boot of the bullying bureaucrat.

But our motto has a hyphen in it.  Live  –  and Let Live.  The reason for this alteration is to encourage not just tolerance, but  also daring, courage, faith-in-oneself.  Go ahead and >live your own life, fulfil your own dreams.  Do not be put out of business by officials who falsely use the excuse of social order to stifle your wholesome creative and constructive instincts.

Our quality of life will be very poor if we succumb to these little dictators, who at present go beyond the regulation necessary to maintain social order, and who typically assume that it is they who should conduct our lives. 

Defeatism is bad example to our children. Live. Expect support from the public servants of a democracy. Do not kneel before mock public servants who take our taxes, rates, charges and fines primarily to build themselves incomes and empires and to make themselves our masters.

The COBBERs two main virtues are
(1) the courage to conduct our own lives, and
(2) the tolerance to let others conduct theirs.

That is the meaning of our double-barrelled motto  Live  –  and Let Live.

(from Newsletter #1)

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What Got Me Started

Philip O’Carroll, age 53, founder of COBBERs, explains why at this stage of his life he has taken up the cause of reforming the public service.

Being an enterprising, creative and community-minded person, I have engaged in many projects over the years and have often encountered bureaucratic obstruction.

I was raised to respect all authority, but in my busy adult life, I have often felt confused and bewildered by what appeared to be arrogant, unreasonable, and antisocial behaviour by government officials.

The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was the behaviour of the Whittlesea Council, who demanded the destruction of our school campsite.  Here was a case where I knew without any doubt that they were in the wrong.

This campsite is a small section of our bush property (my wife is Principal of Fitzroy Community School) which has been used for 17 years to give inner city children a safe experience of the great outdoors.

I have worked at this site throughout the 17 years. I know first hand the great and wonderful work that has been done here, with teacher and parent help, to build and restore self-confidence and good citizenship values in many children.

Every week the media cry out for people to do more for the often unhappy youth of our country. We are doing it and the bureaucrats are trying to stop us.  We are not the only ones  –  this is a common story. The bureaucracy often seems not to care about community and to have no respect for community efforts that improve lives.

I don’t blame the Council for being suspicious when they discovered a site with rough huts and bunks in the secluded bush  –  when they knew nothing about it. They could have spoken to us. But no, the first communication we got was a destruction notice.

After we explained that the site is only used by about 10 children at a time for a total of about 10 nights per year  –  and is never used in fire season, and is doing great work, and has been going for 17 years, and we would be happy to modify details if they so required, we expected some encouragement and support.

But all we got was a repeat of the arrogant and high-handed command to destroy the site. We will appeal, but we know that the vast majority of citizens feel unable to appeal and just endure this kind of oppression.

There is nothing personal in this.  We do not know anyone on the Whittlesea Council. Therefore the treatment we are enduring is entirely a reflection of their attitude to citizens generally. Common sense, a belief in community, and a true spirit of public service has gone. COBBERs aims to restore it.

Since establishing COBBERs in December 1998, we have heard from people all over the country, of many examples of bureaucratic bullying. It is definitely time to challenge the mentality of the existing public service.

It is time for a new kind of officialdom which respects citizens, is reluctant to rob them of the captaincy of their own lives, and which celebrates community spirit rather than jealously crushing it to impose its own order.

This will only happen if Australians everywhere demand that public servants work for citizens  –  not against them.

(from Newsletter #1)

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Whatever became of the School Camp Site that was Ordered Destroyed?

The school community took the bullying council to the state appeal tribunal.  The tribunal overruled the council and directed them to permit the “habitable outbuildings”. 

This victory is wonderful for the people involved, who now do not have to see their life’s good work bulldozed. 

But we at COBBERs are not particularly thrilled.  You see, the question remains:
Why did the council put their citizens through this ordeal in the first place?

Furthermore, most citizens find the prospect of an appeal too daunting.  They don’t have the money, the time, the confidence, or the standard of English. 

Some citizens  –  especially new Australians who come from countries where a bureaucracy is just a swaggering, corrupt, merciless, self-serving mafia  –  simply assume that they would suffer reprisals if they were to appeal.

Appeals tribunals and courts are an essential feature of all democracies.  But it is totally unacceptable to routinely force ordinary citizens into a position where their only hope of reasonable treatment is by way of an appeal at state level.  In a democracy, a good bureau will always regret a situation where a citizen is forced to go to a higher court to receive reasonable treatment.

(from Newsletter #2)

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COBBERs’ Politics

We are not left wing. We are not right wing. We detest government bullies, whether they be KGB-style (“left”) or Gestapo-style (“right”).

The first principle of Cobbers’ Politics is that you don’t listen to the jargon or ideology of a regime, you simply observe how people are treated.

Bullying is as old as humanity itself  —   and is the ultimate issue of politics. Democracy is the aim of Cobbers’ Politics. Its very essence is to transcend the bullying instinct that is in us and to create a commonwealth of rights and mutual respect. This does not come naturally, but can only be achieved through personal discipline  —  to live and to let live.

Party Politics usually concentrates on economics. COBBERs does not take sides on this  –  except to warn against polarisation. Party positions range from the very individualistic, where people keep what money they acquire to spend as they will  —   to the very socialistic, where large portions of private income are collected by Government and redistributed on the basis of perceived need. And many positions in between. Public feeling swings back and forth on these issues.

The politicians serve as the public face of government and cop almost all the flak. While they serve their often brief turns, the less visible but more enduring burocrats continue to operate the public service, or in some countries, their parasitical empire.

The arch enemy of democracy is the unseen controller, greedy for power and willing to trample citizens to get it. If we don’t approve of a politician, we can vote them out. If a business behaves anti-socially, we have the option of not buying their goods or services. When burocracy behaves badly, we have no such option.

Burocracy in any country will tend to impose as much regulation as the people will tolerate. Thus the Cobbers’ campaign is primarily directed at the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens.

Our values and our attitudes determine what treatment we will accept as citizens, and  how we will behave as public officers.

Our famous ethic of the fair go is what makes Australia a great country. We have underestimated the importance of our culture. We have in recent years lost track of who we are. We have accepted the new wave of over-regulation like so many wallabies in the glare of shooters’ spotlights.

The humble phrase the fair go actually represents a quantum leap forward in the evolution of organised society. In this, we are more advanced than most nations of the globe. In recent years though, we have unwittingly let a bullying and legalistic bureaucratic culture spread throughout our society and start eroding this principle.

Our culture  –  not our regulations  –  will uphold the special standard of democracy we have when the men, women and children of our society personally champion the notion of a fair go for all.

History Lesson

(from Newsletter #2)

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Our FIRST BASIC PRINCIPLE is that we the people shall routinely STAND UP TO BUREAUCRATIC BULLYING and excessive regulation  –  wherever we encounter it. 

What the people will tolerate is what the people will >get. By upholding a decent standard of bureaucratic behaviour,

  • we maintain our self-respect,
  • we get a society we can be happy in,
  • we have a style of government we can be proud of,
  • we protect others, less able than ourselves, from bullying, and
  • we leave our children a democracy worthy of the name.

Our SECOND BASIC PRINCIPLE is that when we serve in a position of official power, we TREAT CITIZENS WITH RESPECT, fairness, and caring.

Any law, however necessary, can be enforced in an oppressive and unreasonable way. Some countries are great to live in, others oppressive  –  usually not because the laws are very different, but because of the manner in which the laws are enforced.

We, democratic officials, resist our superiors when they pressure us to mistreat people. We renounce our position when we are no longer really needed, when a form of regulation is not improving the lives of the people. This is because our only legitimate purpose as officials in a democracy is to serve the people.



To prevent arbitrariness and excess in the enforcement of regulations, this purpose must be quoted on demand. An imposition of a regulation can be appealed against on the spot if the reason or purpose does not significantly come into play.


The user pays philosophy has backfired badly in the area of punishment for the simple reason that it creates an incentive for bureaus to penalise citizens, and thus breaks down the positive relationship between officials and citizens that is the very aim of democracy.

The legislative change that is required is that wherever fines are held to be necessary to deter anti-social behaviour, the proceeds shall go into general revenue, and not as a reward to the bureau issuing the fines. In a democracy, a bureau which can successfully serve its purpose with less penalisation is judged superior in performance to one that uses more coercion.

Our third Legislative Reform is that THERE SHALL ALWAYS BE A READILY AVAILABLE AVENUE OF APPEAL against the imposition of any regulation:

  • firstly, to a superior officer,
  • then if necessary outside the local bureau,
  • and ultimately to courts of appeal,
  • that there be no penalty for such an appeal,
  • that there be no threat of such, and
  • that these rights be made plain to the citizen from the outset.

Our fourth Legislative Reform is Where bureaucracies alone or amongst them cause an unreasonable burden on a citizen, it shall be the duty of the bureaucracies not the citizen to (a) promptly RESCUE THE CITIZEN from the predicament and (b) streamline the (combined) regime so as to avoid the future unreasonable entanglement of citizens.


The COBBERs CODE of Good Regulation encourages co-operation, good community relations, and public education rather than revenue-raising rackets and stand-over methods.

Simple example: PARKING FINES

The only justification for imposing parking fines in a democracy is to ensure that all citizens get a fair turn at parking in congested areas. 

Two general principles emerge right away:

(a) there is no justification for parking regulation in a public area where there is already scope for adequate parking for all. Likewise,

(b) there is no justification for fines at times when the parking area is mostly empty, or is emptying.

(from Newsletter #2)

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The COBBERs Logo

This symbol consists of four words surrounding the Southern Cross.

The style of the Southern Cross is taken from the flag used at the Eureka Stockade on the 3rd of December 1854. Miners were protesting against the bullying officialdom of the time.

Although soldiers and police prevailed on the day, there was in the aftermath a general improvement in citizens’ rights.

Some say this historic event contributed to the formation of the Australian character, its belief in the fair go, and our traditional, relatively democratic style of Australian bureaucracy.

The words GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE are taken from one of the greatest short speeches of all time, the Gettysburg Address of 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal …

[Lincoln goes on to honour the fallen of the civil war, then concludes …]

… we highly resolve … that this nation … shall have a new birth of freedom; and that GOVERNMENT of the people, by the people, FOR THE PEOPLE, shall not perish from this earth.  [my capitals  –  POC]

(from Newsletter #3)

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