Half-baked rules that take the biscuit

 
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By Christian Nielsen

Half-baked rules about homemade biscuits say a lot about the sort of society we live in and undermine community spirit. 

Friday 25 January 2013

Good-will gesture for firies sparks up home-baked brouhaha’ is the title of a recent story in The Age, an Australian daily. It’s tough for non-natives to understand, or hell anyone outside Australia, but basically it means that the townspeople responded to the good work being done by fire-fighters during the recent bushfires by baking cakes, cookies and other goodies. It’s a tradition in rural communities to rally together, with everyone doing their bit to beat back devastating natural forces like fire, floods and cyclones.

But in this case, their effort … their home-baked goods were rejected on the grounds that they were not prepared in industrial kitchens. This is the ‘brouhaha’ part. Indeed, it caused a stink and the fire authorities were forced to apologise for being overly “officious”, as they put it, about the regulations and not allowing people to cook something at home to support the brave fire authorities.

In the end, the ladies of Bairnsdale, a town in the centre of the fire-affected part of south-east Victoria, were told they could deliver their goods to the cricket club where anyone could enjoy them, including the fire-fighters! ‘Ridiculous bureaucracy in life-and-death situations’ could have been an alternative newspaper title for this sad state of affairs.

You have to wonder how we got to this. So many people in Australia … the whole world … are overweight from over-indulging in cheap processed foods. Wouldn’t a home-made alternative be a welcome change? Apparently not. Regulations are regulations, after all.

The pioneering spirit of the ‘new’ world meant that people banded together in times of need. Minor as it may seem, every gesture, every bit helped. Thanksgiving in the United States, as far as I understand it, calls up this sort of sentiment. It’s all part of a patchwork of acts that holds people together – a common decency that we seem to see less and less of until a major disaster strikes and we realise that the institutions governing society are merely a construct.

Laws and regulations, governing bodies … all the intermediary players in a working democracy are there for a reason. I get that. I’m not an anarchist. But when these authorities, these itsy-bitsy rules get in the way of humanity, of communities finding themselves again, they are no longer serving citizens; they become self-serving.

Let’s hope Australia – any nanny-state under the illusion that ‘more rules is good rules’ – can learn a valuable lesson from the Bairnsdale bakers.

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