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Betting on bad behaviour


Betting on bad behaviour

Jane Stephens wonders how governments can clamp down on smoking and gambling on one hand, then rely on those taxes to prop up budgets.

The complaints about the Nanny State and Big Brother are shrill at times, but without them, we would be in the poor house.

Our vices prop up the government’s budget. The government collected an eye-watering $14.3 billion in tobacco duty in the most recent reported period. And governments collect a further $6 billion in gambling taxes.

At best, the government’s ethics have been wildly out of kilter for generations, relying on us to keep sinning to be able to pay for our basic societal needs. It is a strange world where the government needs that tax revenue to keep the coffers in the black, but then some of that has to be spent on the resulting sickness (smoking) and welfare support (gambling).

This month, the government has come down a bit heavier on gamblers and smokers. Two years after it was recommended, the federal government has banned gambling with credit cards, bringing it in line with in-person wagering.

Figures from the Australian Communication and Media Authority show that last year, 11 per cent of Australians indulged in online gambling in the previous six months – up from eight per cent in 2020.

Digital technology means gambling is available 24/7. Online gamblers will also now be subjected to the spoken-so-fast-you-can’t-quite-make-it-out warnings that regular gamblers have thrown at them, and also the visual cautions.

The government is updating its nicotine messaging, too, with individual cigarettes having to be printed with warnings about smoking dangers. Smokers will delight in watching the message literally go up in smoke, I am sure. No flavourings will be allowed anymore. No cutesy names. No packaging with anything arty. Apparently, the smoking rate has dropped to 11 per cent, but we are off the National Tobacco Strategy target of having just five per cent of the population on the puffers by 2030.

Tobacco kills more than 50 Australians a day and is our leading cause of preventable death and disability. The new tobacco laws come into effect next April. But under the current model, the government would go bust if we all became puritans or members of the temperance society. They need us to keep indulging in our bad behaviour – just not too much.

What a crazy, mixed-up world.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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