The Weekend Mumbo: Does Albo really have the balls to ban gambling ads?

Welcome to the Weekend Mumbo.

An optimist might like to believe political courage is something our leaders have in spades, while a cynic – and a political adviser in a former life – like me knows it’s often sorely lacking.

Let’s not be naïve. Decisions made in Canberra tend to be more about what’s politically convenient or advantageous than doing the right thing. Especially, perhaps, when you’re halfway through an electoral cycle, you’ve just been defeated on your key flagship housing policy, and the public polling on support for the Voice is so dire.

So, what might happen when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has to decide whether to accept a contentious recommendation from a parliamentary inquiry to ban gambling advertising?

Pissing off major media proprietors, who stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year in ad revenue, might be too big a gamble for Albo.

Does Albo have the balls to ban gambling ads?

Even riskier still is the prospect of angering sporting codes like the NRL and AFL – almost as skilled in lobbying as they are in organising football matches – who make that same kind of big money via sponsorship and revenue-sharing deals with gambling operators.

There’s little doubt that binning gambling ads is the right thing to do. It has huge community support – and is favoured among MPs of most political persuasions.

And the harm inflicted on individuals, families and the community by gambling is significant. Australians lose a staggering $25 billion a year – the most of any country in the world. And online gambling is more harmful than the pokies, research has demonstrated.

But the fact remains that going to war with powerful and cashed-up organisations over reforms that threaten to erode their coffers can be hugely damaging.

Just ask Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, who each as PM were savaged by the Minerals Council of Australia over a new planned tax on mining, which was eventually abandoned.

Think how effective the three-word slogan coined by Toby Abbott – “big new tax” – about the carbon tax was.

Or ask John Howard how the anti-Work Choices campaign waged by the trade union movement went for him.

Will sporting codes, media owners and gambling operators wage a similarly fierce fightback? They’re not thrilled about the report handed down this week and will undoubtedly now apply pressure to the government to ignore the ad ban recommendation.

Dr Andrew Hughes, a lecturer in marketing and an expert in political advertising at Australian National University, wouldn’t be surprised.

“Some of the best advertising campaigns in Australian history have been on political issues – the late Neil Lawrence’s campaign against the mining tax, the My Story campaign, obviously,” Hughes told me.

“I don’t know if we’ll see anything that strong and that pointed this time given how supportive the community is of a ban, but there might be a bit of a fight with media operators and particularly TV networks.

“I think sporting codes will put up a bigger fight, to be honest. They’re very politically connected, especially the AFL. They might make a case that we’re just out of Covid, crowd numbers are recovering, revenue is still recovering, and they might want some cash back.”

I also spoke to Noah Schultz-Byard, a director at independent thinktank The Australia Institute, about what’s likely to come next.

“I think the government will do it,” he predicted.

“While it’s a significant step, it’s very politically feasible with support across the parliament and high support in the community.

“Looking at the broad bipartisan and community backing, it’s clear to me this step towards banning gambling advertising will happen. It will happen.

“The question now is about the process of implementing the ban and exactly how long it will take.”

Supporters of a ban are split on whether the three-year timeframe proposed in the report is sufficient. Broadcast deals are negotiated on longer periods than that and it’s not a huge window in which to find alternative revenue streams.

Hughes believes compromises will need to be made by the government on when the ban would come into effect.

“I think they’ll adopt a ban, but not in three years,” he said. “It’s too short a time.”

If I was a betting man, I’d be inclined to agree that Albo will have the kahunas when the time comes. One thing I’m absolutely certain of are some pretty colourful fireworks in coming months.

The rest of the week

On the proposed gambling ad ban, it was a topic that had plenty of you commenting. There were questions about the moral obligations of adland in walking the walk when it comes to ‘purpose’ and whether the warnings of a revenue collapse will actually eventuate. Across our rolling coverage and insightful op-eds, the discussion was considered and mostly courteous. I love to see it.

Meanwhile, we had some cracker new campaigns this week. There’s the Aussie rising star of UFC talking to ‘quick finishers’ as the face of an erectile dysfunction treatment. We have a modern take on the classic VEGEMITE ad. And there’s a plea to use the lawyers that lawyers would use.

Finally, if you have a few bucks to spare, please consider donating them to the GoFundMe in support of Atomic 212’s Emma Macey and her sick daughter Bella.


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