OH & S doesn’t kill people, cowardly people kill people

Actually – writes Chris Ashton – they both do!


Instituted in 1940 the George Cross, or GC, is Britain's highest civilian award – the lesser-known, peacetime equivalent of the famous Victoria Cross. The list of recipients is indeed distinguished, and apart from military personnel engaged in peacetime acts of gallantry, the next largest category is police officers from all over the UK, and indeed the Commonwealth.

But that category has been in decline of late – one suspects a permanent decline. As a former police officer myself, I am loathed to cast aspersions on the objective bravery of those who still serve, but I would submit that the culture in which they now serve is a hinderance to bravery. In fact – forget about brave and gallant acts – it's a hinderance to doing the very basics of the job they are sworn to do.

The most outrageous example is that of Simon Burgess who drowned tragically earlier this year. As horrible as any untimely death is (he was only 41), this is a death that evoked outrage throughout Britain as a veritable army of police, fire and ambulance personnel refused to enter a shallow model-boating lake in Gosport, Hampshire. Those that did seek to enter were cautioned against such rash behaviour in the terms of the occupational health and safety legislation. For more than half an hour, this group, sworn to protect and serve, did neither; rather they looked on as Mr Burgess' body floated face down a few metres from the lake's edge, and they waited for so-called level 2 certified officers from Hampshire Fire and Rescue. You see, it turns out that most of Hampshire's finest (all of whom, it was revealed at the Coronial inquiry, could swim) are not permitted to enter water higher than their ankles, and even then, not if the water is flowing. 


Hampshire's finest!
Bravely, they negotiate a 3' artificial lake, with the aid of depth measuring aparatus and spacesuits.

So by the time the more highly qualified variety of public servants arrived on the scene – greeted, as they were, by useless a cast of thousands: numerous emergency vehicles, good-for-nothing emergency workers, a rescue helicopter that had landed, and even an inflatable tent erected for the occasion – the rescue of Mr Burgess had become what every police officer wishes they didn't have to attend: a body recovery operation.

Chris Snowdon recently labelled Australia the world's number one nanny state. And while I do not dispute his thesis – and in fact, I live here, he doesn't, so I know it's true – I will say this: common-or-garden variety police officers in Australia can, and regularly do, enter water deeper than their ankles. Every few weeks one hears of a police officer somewhere in Australia effecting an aquatic rescue (only "level 3" officers in Hampshire are actually allowed to swim). But that isn't bravery – sorry lads, no GC – it's merely doing the job they are sworn, and paid, to do.

The sad death of Mr Burgess should cast a pall of shame over all concerned; from legislators and public servants of the Health and Safety Executive (which is responsible at least for a culture of regulatory legalism that suppresses even the slightest hint of bravery), to operational supervisors of the various agencies, to the very officers involved – or not involved as was mostly the case – in the incident. And it should be a salutary lesson to all of us that increased regulations – even ones in the politically correct name of "health and safety" – not only cost basic freedoms, but cost lives as well.

Chris Ashton is a post-graduate student in arts and theology. He lives in Sydney, is married, and has a delightfully red-headed two year old daughter. He tweets @ChrisAshton.


Treasure the Regalia, Not the Rat

ChrisThe wig and formality add dignity to the office of Speaker, even where the present incumbant does not, writes Chris Ashton.

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph reported the imminent return of the Speaker’s wig and gown, but my hopes were dashed as I tuned in to Question Time to see Peter Slipper bedecked in a half-arsed set of regalia. He wore an academic gown, together with a court jacket over a business shirt and tie. Missing was the traditional wig, the stiff wing collar and the jabot or bands, although he perhaps imagines that deficiency will be offset by a weekly parade. But it should be all or nothing.

No doubt the irony of the former Liberal, turned “independent,” planning to robe up and process has not been lost on Julia Gillard, Harry Jenkins and the Labor caucus – probably not what they had in mind when they schemed to instal him in the speaker’s chair. And so it is easy to dismiss this as merely another instalment in the litany of bufoonery that is the life and times of Peter Slipper MP. But there is a sense in which it is precisely because of the current incumbent that the past formality of the Speaker’s office should be revived.
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The wig, gown and court coat of the Speaker of the House of Representatives were never intended to bring honour to the wearer, but rather to signify the dignity of the office, and indeed of the parliament over which he presides. And who wouldn’t want that? And who would suggest that our current parliament doesn’t need that?

But as I said, it should be all or nothing. In fact, it should just be all! Forget Slipper’s mix-and-match outfit that looks as if he read somewhere that robes wore worn in antiquity. Instead, he should be fitted for a new QC’s wig (leave the former Speaker’s wig in the Museum of Democracy), as well as the gown and all the appropriate accoutrements. Likewise, the clerks at the table, and other parliamentary officers should be in short wigs, robes, perhaps (indulge me here) with white bow ties. In  light of recent events, no one would suggest that this apparel is about the dignity of the wearers, but the Speaker, the Clerk and the other officials should be seen to be more than mere functionaries, rather they are present holders of high and historic offices that will outlive the names we currently associate with them.

Slippery Pete (or the Rat, if you prefer) will probably be a decent speaker and as impartial as any recent incumbent, but I couldn’t care less whether he lost the job tomorrow. The point of the regalia and the pageantry is to point to something beyond the man or woman in the robe, and that something should be retained, treasured and reinstated.

Chris is a postgraduate student in Arts and Theology. He is the Religion Editor for Menzies House and occasionally tweets @ChrisAshton


Chris Ashton To Join Editorial Board

We are very pleased to announce that Chris Ashton, whose writings you have seen here these last few weeks, will be joining our Editorial Board as our "Religion & Politics" editor! 

Chris Ashton lives in Sydney with his wife and daughter. He is a former police officer, an elder in the Presbyterian Church and a postgraduate student of arts and theology. His particular interests are Christian creeds and confessions and the interaction between religion and culture. You can follow him on twitter @ChrisAshton.