The view from Billinudgel

Regulate responsibly
The ban on gambling advertising during live sporting events is welcome and necessary policy


Two cheers for the nanny state – or, if you prefer it, a regime attempting to enhance the physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing of the community.

The big one was a reliable report that the World Trade Organization has rejected yet another demand from the cynical profiteers who run the tobacco industry to kill off Australia’s plain packaging laws. These, we are told (as if we didn’t know), are legitimate public health measures and will therefore be endorsed.

A very welcome precedent, which is why the merchants of death are so upset: the contagion could spread. They might have to move on to something less contentious, like offering loaded revolvers to children.

And then came the news, widely foreshadowed but no less welcome, that TV advertising of betting during live sporting events will be restricted to what are called “adult” viewing hours on commercial television. Admittedly, this had to be wrapped up in lot of sweeteners before the industry would accept it, and their fate in the Senate is far from certain, but it is a serious move against the ruthless parasites who are trying to lure a new generation into the penury and misery that has afflicted so many of their parents.

Of course, the beneficiaries of the gambling addiction – the sporting bodies who have embraced the indefensible trade – are crying poor. We’ll all be rooned, said the moguls of, particularly, cricket and the football codes that have jumped into bed with their exploiters to allow them to pay bigger salaries to their players and, of course, to themselves.

It needs hardly be said that we have heard it all before when tobacco advertising was similarly restricted before being banned altogether. And somehow the money kept flowing more lavishly than ever. So we can forget the hypocrisy: this is good policy even if it had to be bundled in a larger package to assuage the TV networks for what losses they probably would not have incurred anyway.

No doubt the libertarians of the right will scream about social engineering, and in a sense they will be right, but there are times when society needs a bit of engineering. Seat belts, bike helmets, and other industrial and social safety measures, consumer protection – even John Howard’s revered gun laws – were all controversial in their time, but are now accepted as common sense.

And when the betting agencies giggle their barely audible mantra of “gamble responsibly”, their customers know perfectly well they mean “gamble like buggery”. A stronger statement is needed – perhaps one from years past in Britain, when the parliament of Westminster was debating banning tobacco advertising on television.

To the surprise of many, Michael Foot, an elder of the left, said he was against censorship so he would oppose any ban. But, he added, as the well-funded Tories applauded, there must be a proviso: after any cigarette advertisement concluded, the screen should fade to black and the station manager must appear to say, “These people are lying. They want your money and they don’t care if you die.”

His suggestion was not taken up. But a ban was imposed and so the trend continues. Sorry, nanny, but not every legal product can be left to self-regulation. As Malcolm Turnbull is so fond of saying, sometimes we need to talk about the national interest – not to mention the welfare of the children.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum was a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Much of his work can be found here: The View from Billinudgel.

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