Simon Collins

Simon Collins

28 October 2017

9:00 AM

28 October 2017

9:00 AM

In a couple of weeks we’ll know whether the last 5 million votes in the same-sex marriage postal survey confirmed or confounded the polls’ prediction of a comfortable Yes victory. As the creator of the ‘Vote Yes’ ad campaign I’m hoping the polls got it right for once.

But irrespective of the result, there’s one aspect of my industry’s role in this debate which will leave a nasty taste in my mouth. I’m not talking about the Vote No ads; I think the people responsible turned what must have been a sow’s ear of a brief into a fairly serviceable wallet. I’m talking about the attempt of certain ad agency principles with no involvement in the survey to pressure the rest of the industry into withholding their services from the No camp. I should let creative director Nick Cummins, instigator of the ‘Say No to Say No’ boycott, explain: ‘Imagine if every agency, production company, sound designer and illustrator said No to working on these harmful ads,’ he gushed in the trade press back in August, instead of minding his own business. ‘Imagine our friends in media also standing up and saying No to the No campaign,’ he went on, to dispel any doubt about the boundlessness of his political correctitude. ‘And imagine if brands also joined in to pledge that no harmful ads will appear on their sites and channels,’ he added, no doubt mindful of the Yes-friendly public stance of so many prospective clients. It is testimony to Mr Cummins’s own imaginative powers that he was familiar with the content of those Vote No ads some weeks before they’d even been written, let alone aired. But you don’t need much of an imagination to picture a world where dissenting opinion is stifled, Nick. As anyone with a nodding acquaintance with political history will tell you that’s a pretty good definition of totalitarianism. To put it another way, if ‘Say No to Say No’ had achieved its aim, and opponents of same-sex marriage had been denied any kind of public platform, even a narrow victory for the Yes campaign would have the international credibility of a Kim Jong-Un election landslide.


A certain amount of skulduggery is to be expected in any political campaign, of course, and it is not unknown for one side to sabotage the other’s efforts. But the only time the Yes train came close to derailment it was due to friendly fire rather than enemy action. Not long after we started shooting one of our commercials, in what we thought was a quiet residential street in a quiet suburb, we discovered that our location was in fact directly beneath one of Sydney airport’s busiest flightpaths. As we were recording dialogue this meant we had to stop filming every few minutes. At one point someone on the crew sarcastically asked the producer if she could make a few calls and get these flights re-routed for the rest of the day. Everyone laughed at the time, but looking back, given that most of the planes were Qantas, I’m not so sure that wouldn’t have been an option.

Never let it be said that the contributors to this magazine are intolerant of dissenting opinion. When I mentioned that I was working on the Yes campaign at the recent Speccie writers lunch I was the butt of a good deal of humour but – notwithstanding the many drinks everybody had – no genuine hostility. If it had been an ABC function, and I’d worked on the No campaign, I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to admit it.

As many Yes voters have pointed out, same-sex marriage is already legal in many countries with traditions of progressive liberalism. Something else which has been legalised in these countries but you still can’t do in Australia is buy or sell e-cigarettes. Like climate change sceptics, those opposing legalising them claim that the science is not yet settled. I’m no scientist, but I was once a smoker, and got throat cancer as a result. Before he operated the thoracic surgeon who saved my life told me that if I was ever tempted to smoke again I should try e-cigarettes. ‘Are they really that much safer?’ I asked. ‘They’re going to put me out of business,’ he replied. That settled the science for me.

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