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Publisher's Letter

New Zealanders can legally do their own wiring – why can’t Australians?

Long-time readers of SILICON CHIP may remember that we conducted a campaign some years ago so that Australians could legally do their own house wiring. We pointed to New Zealand and many other countries where this was permitted and concluded that it was safer to make it legal and promulgate the necessary information on how to do it, rather than ban it and effectively dry up any information on how it can be done.

Partly as a result of readers’ apathy in not signing a petition we wanted to present to the various State governments, the campaign was completely unsuccessful. Nothing happened. It is still illegal for anyone other than a licensed electrician to do anything to house wiring. You cannot even legally remove a light switch from the wall in order to paint around it! Nor can you legally replace any faulty light switch, light dimmer, power point or even remove and replace a faulty light fitting, much less install a new one. At the rate we are going, it may eventually be illegal to replace a light bulb!

Don’t laugh. In our nanny state (all of Australia), people are prevented from doing anything mildly dangerous and changing a light bulb can be dangerous – you might fall off a chair or ladder, the light bulb may shatter in your hands or you might even get a shock if you attempt to change an Edison screw bulb if the light circuit is still powered on. On the other hand, it is demonstrably far more dangerous to walk down stairs – lots of people are injured this way. As far as we know though, there has not been any move to ban stairs.

Recently, we decided to take a different approach. Rather than rant on about how stupid the state governments are to ban domestic electrical work, we decided to point readers to websites in New Zealand where the information on such work is freely available. New Zealanders can do it you see, while we can’t. Australia and New Zealand use exactly the same wiring standard (AS:NZS3000), the same mains voltage and the same range of electrical fittings. So are Australians dumber than Kiwis? Clearly our state politicians and regulators must think so.

But we think we might have found out why the authorities might be even more concerned about the hazards than we thought. In one of the New Zealand brochures we feature in this issue (pages 14 & 15) there is even, perish the thought, a picture of a woman removing a light switch from a wall! Good grief! So even New Zealand women are smarter than typical Aussie blokes! Earth-shattering consequences.

Seriously, there is no good reason why Australians should not be able to do their own wiring and nor is there any reason why the information on how to do it should not be available from Australian authorities. Well, it doesn’t matter anyway because the New Zealanders, sensible people that they are, have made the information freely available to their citizens for more than a decade. And guess what: in that same period, the number of electrocutions per head of population in New Zealand has been less than in Australia. Clearly, doing your own electrical wiring need not be dangerous.

For anyone who has internet access, there is no longer any reason for anyone to remain ignorant about how to do their own wiring. The internet crosses all borders, so governments can do little to stop the flow of information.

So it is just silly that it is illegal to do home wiring in Australia. Large numbers of people do it anyway, as already recognised by state governments. Now that people can access the necessary info via the ’net, doing your own wiring can be quite safe, even though it might remain forever illegal in Australia. Or do we live in hope that common sense might ultimately prevail?

Leo Simpson

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