Senator Leyonhjelm’s response to Brian Owler, President of the AMA

Senator Leyonhjelm’s response to Brian Owler, President of the AMA

It has been brought to my attention that (Associate) Professor Brian Owler (President of the Australian Medical Association) took a few pot-shots at me and the Senate Inquiry into the Nanny State I’ll be chairing at the National Press Club yesterday.

Among other things, he asserted that I am a ‘self-described libertarian’ and that libertarians support driving while chatting on a mobile phone. This latter was in reference to remarks by a Republican politician in the US.

For the record, I am not a ‘self-described’ libertarian any more than Professor Owler is a ‘self-described’ doctor, while ‘US Republican’ does not equal ‘Australian libertarian’.

Professor Owler should remember that it is the Senate’s role to review legislation. We are not there to accept the AMA’s view without question or to accept legislation in its current form. He is welcome to make a submission to the Inquiry, where it will be assessed on the same basis as other submissions made by members of the public.

I should also point out that his comments misrepresent both libertarianism and public health policy. He asserts, for example, that the Luke Batty Foundation’s role in combatting domestic violence is an instance of improving public health. He also refers to domestic violence, inanely, as a ‘tragedy’. This is nonsense.

Domestic violence and domestic murder are serious crimes. They are already against the law. The issue to which the Luke Batty Foundation’s attention is directed is one of law enforcement. It has nothing to do with the Senate Inquiry into the nanny state, and nothing to do with public health. Indeed, to suggest that Australia’s current high rates of domestic murder have more to do with health than crime is both extraordinary and thoughtless.

And before he invokes JS Mill’s ‘harm principle’ – in the ridiculous remarks about driving with a mobile phone – may I suggest he Google it and find out what it means? Libertarians do not believe in driving while using a mobile phone. The harm principle also doesn’t mean ‘you must ban x if x causes any amount of harm’. If it did mean that, we would ban cars and bicycles completely because people have accidents with them.

Doctors are not the only people with access to evidence. The evidence on the efficacy of mandatory bicycle helmets – which Owler endorses – is, at best, equivocal. There is also evidence that they discourage cycling and thus contribute to Australia’s overall disease burden.

Similarly, there is evidence that Sydney’s lockout laws have simply dispersed the violence, not reduced it. While Thomas Kelly’s story is tragic, so is that of Stephanie McCarthy (a trans woman bashed in Newtown thanks to a changed ‘crowd’ as a result of lockout laws). Further, Mr Kelly was attacked just after 10pm. It is difficult to see how the lockout laws would have any effect were a similar incident to happen again anywhere in Sydney.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with a privately funded campaign to improve vaccination rates; indeed, this is one area where I would not only endorse the McCaffery family’s actions (which Owler describes), but suggest that the state also run a parallel campaign.

I’m a veterinarian – I vaccinate my own pets and have always insisted on vaccination of client animals. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if the private campaign were more successful and persuasive.