Nick Cater (The Australian, “Victory of the bagmen: a new temperance crusade”, 16/1) is correct: the banning of plastic bags is not up there with “the emancipation of women, the abolition of child labour or the end of the White Australia policy” as a great progressive victory. Neither was the banning of DTD, CFCs, lead petrol, or a myriad other tiny improvements.
The problem is not that some reforms were small, nor even that not all were equally effective. The problem is certainly not the irrelevant “moral vanity” of which Cater accuses the reformers. The real problem is that conservatives and vested interests have fought all these reforms, big and small, effective and ineffective, from universal suffrage to plastic bags, every step of the way.
One thing is certain: the conservative approach, articulated by Cater as waiting for problems to “eventually ban themselves”, has never worked.