I was intrigued and pleasantly surprised to hear during an ABC breakfast news broadcast last week that the Federal Government was proposing legislation to limit, or restrict, gambling advertising.
Losing bet: When money comes before morality
I was not alone. Many people on social media, a range of social advocates and a number of politicians from all sides of the divide expressed approval at suggestions that gaming advertising, especially on television during sport, would be limited.
Of course, there were those who voiced disapproval. Not surprisingly, they were representatives of businesses that stood to lose money as a result. These sectors of the community included betting agencies, sporting associations such as the AFL and NRL, and media outlets including channels 7 and 9.
All of these sectors, and the people representing them, have a vested interest in the non-restriction of gaming advertising. All of them earn a great deal of money directly by way of media rights payments from gaming advertising. Gambling is big business.
I admit to being a critic of gambling and the people who build their fortunes from the agony caused by it. In my view, only the lowest type of human being would ever seek to profit from the misery of gambling. I believe that among the few people with lower levels of morality and decency are those that make their money from gambling - and then try to rationalise it while donating paltry sums to organisations that seek to help the addicted.
I will also be up front and say that I view online gambling, the primary focus of the proposed legislation, the most evil of all because it is so accessible, addictive, constant and often targets children, whether this is admitted or not.
But it is not my intention to debate the hazards of gambling here. I want to address a much bigger issue.
When the groups complaining about gaming advertising restrictions came out in the media, not one objected for any kind of moral reason. No one said that it was restricting hard-earned liberties, or that advertising a legal product was a tenant of any democracy – or whatever.
Every one of these complainants addressed one issue – loss of income and profits.
In other words, as seems to happen all too often in Australia, they were having the economic argument before they were prepared to have the moral one. They were more concerned about the profits of television stations, payments to sportsmen and women, and a drop in revenue for international gaming companies than they were about any moral implication of advertising this addictive habit on television to children.
For me, this is a repeat of what happened when the farmers and slaughter yards complained about the cessation of live cattle exports to Indonesia. They immediately set aside any moral arguments and focused on the economic argument first.
This is increasingly becoming the way in Australia and around the world. We have the economic debate before we have the moral debate.
It may well be that live cattle exports are entirely moral, as it may be that gaming advertising is entirely moral and ethical, but how would we know with these debates being avoided all together. There is a reluctance to have moral debates wherever there is the potential for an economic cost.
We have moral debates about same-sex marriage because there is no economic imperative. We have moral debates about education programs in schools because there are no economic ramifications. We have moral debates about the environments in which children should be raised, because there are no economic winners and losers.
But we are reluctant to have moral debates where money is involved, a la gambling and live cattle exports.
I am not suggesting that economics are not important. They are. I am simply suggesting that the moral debate, no matter what the outcome, should be held before the economic debate.