Punters' $3735-a-minute pokies splurge

Andrew MacDonald - The Courier-Mail
Queenslanders blew $3735 a minute on the pokies in the first three months of the financial year, with experts warning some gamblers may be trying to "win their way out" of financial trouble. The alarming splurge resulted in the worst quarter for poker machine losses in two years and comes amid soaring utilities and living costs. The figures were recorded almost two years after Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser trumpeted new measures - including a cap on the number of gaming machines allowed in clubs and restricted trading hours - which he predicted would result in gambling revenues taking "a hit" from January 1, 2009.

Mark Arbib wants Labor to back gay marriage

Patricia Karvelas - The Australian
Right-wing Labor minister Mark Arbib has declared his party's policy against gay marriage must change to allow same-sex couples to marry. Mr Arbib is the first frontbencher to break his silence on the issue. The NSW factional powerbroker told The Weekend Australian his view was that gay people should have the legal right to marry. And he said all MPs should be given a conscience vote on the controversial issue.

Premier John Brumby keeps his head in Victorian election debate

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu has declared the state is ready for change while Premier John Brumby says a re-elected Labor government will deliver a strong economy and "keep the jobs coming". In an often tightly-scripted ABC TV debate, the two leaders faced off in the only free to air joust during the election campaign which officially kicked off this week ahead of the November 27 poll. The one-hour debate was moderated by newsreader Ian Henderson and a panel of three senior Victorian press gallery journalists were charged with asking questions on topics that ranged from child protection, desalination, question time reform and spin doctors. Mr Brumby, who looked the more confident of the two, admitted that while there were things the Government could do better in some areas, investment in education and health, tackling police numbers and climate change remained on top of the agenda.

Town hall raided in brothel sting, council staffer nabbed

Reid Sexton and Paul Millar - The Age
Yarra City Council is embroiled in a police investigation targeting illegal brothels after one of its employees was arrested and Richmond Town Hall raided. The town hall swoop was one of a series of raids on Wednesday that led to eight brothels, mostly in Melbourne's inner-north, being shut down and four men arrested. Evidence from the council office was seized, but police yesterday would not reveal it. The man police are believed to suspect has spoken publicly about the difficulties the council has faced in shutting the area's illegal brothels, while a source with knowledge of the investigation said the man was a former Victorian policeman.

Altar egos

Malcolm Knox - SMH
Religion is fundamental to a child's development. Along with millions quitting cigarettes and fathers acquainting themselves with nappies, one of the signs that people really can change for the better is the waning of Christian sectarianism. As a Protestant child, exactly what was meant to be wrong with Catholics was never explained, but something was. In the time-tested way that the Spanish viewed the Portuguese, the Confederates the Yankees and the Sunnis the Shiites, Protestants understood that Catholics were somehow dirtier, untidier, more lawless. Such matters split everything splittable, from the Australian Labor Party to my own family. I responded (by temperament and fortune, not choice) by becoming an atheist and never having a Protestant girlfriend. Now I am married to a Catholic and have children baptised in the Catholic Church. Instead of casting me out, my family doesn't give a toss. Things can improve that quickly.

Vouchers just the ticket for better education

Christopher Pearson - The Australian
Government should revisit its policies if it is serious about giving parents more options. There are comparatively few policy innovations with the capacity to command broad support from the electorate and across the political class. Voucher systems for educational services come into that category. Voucher systems can be designed specifically to support parents who bear a double burden, paying private school fees as well as contributing through their taxes to fund a public system that their children don't use. But in Australia the main parties have preferred to offer voucher policies that treat all parents on an equal footing and are ideologically neutral, subsidising a base level of actual expenditure in the state, Catholic or independent systems.

Someone to lean on

Mark Metherell - The Age
The former Lifeline chief and new head of beyondblue left school at 15 but soon realised she wanted to help make a difference. The well-dressed woman sitting next to Dawn O'Neil on the flight notices she is reading a Lifeline document. On learning her fellow passenger actually heads Lifeline, the stranger leans across and murmurs: ''I've never told anyone this, but Lifeline saved my life.'' The woman goes on to confide that she has ''two gorgeous kids'' and a career - the fruits of a full life that may not have occurred if she had not turned to Lifeline when distraught as a young women. It had been her last resort.

Five seats hold the key to Victorian election result

Malcolm Mackerras - The Australian
In a system of single-member electorates, the Mackerras pendulum is the best starting point for analysis, and alongside is the November 2006 Victorian state election result reduced to a single diagram. All 88 seats have been ranked according to their two-party-preferred percentages between Labor and Liberal, or the Nationals as the case may be. There have been four subsequent by-elections in safe Labor seats where the member resigned. The by-election statistics, however, have been ignored since the state of parties did not change.

The Greens factor dominates debate

David Rood and Farrah Tomazin - The Age
The vexed issue of Greens preferences has dominated the election debate between John Brumby and Ted Baillieu as both men put forward their case to be elected premier. The heated debate saw Mr Baillieu the aggressor, constantly interjecting and calling Mr Brumby arrogant and a hypocrite, while a measured Mr Brumby largely resisted the temptation to respond. Neither leader used the live debate as an opportunity to release major policies. With the Greens threatening Labor in at least four inner-city seats, Mr Brumby and Mr Baillieu sought to turn the question of a deal with the minor party on to their opponent.

Surrogacy laws need middle path

Adele Horin - The Age
Most people are repelled by the idea of commercial surrogacy; it seems plain wrong to pay a woman to bear a baby for someone else, and the potential for economic exploitation of poor women seems too great. That is why new state laws on surrogacy, including the bill currently before the upper house, ban paid advertising for surrogates, payment of intermediaries to find surrogates, and payment of the surrogate mother beyond reimbursement of expenses. But what if Australia's purist approach is misguided? There is a compelling argument that Australia's restrictive and intrusive new laws on surrogacy may perversely fuel the worst kind of exploitative surrogacy arrangements overseas.

Letters in today's The Age
Similar values
As a parent of three children being educated in the Catholic system, I am used to receiving party political information at election times from my children's schools. It has usually been limited to funding issues but never influences my vote. In the lead-up to the federal election, however, I was prompted to research the Australian Greens' education, health and social policies by the thinly veiled advice from the Catholic Education Office that voting Greens or Labor would be a disaster for Catholic schools. I am now a proudly paid-up member of the Greens. Let's hope that this latest attempt at partisan political interference by the Catholic Church in the lead-up to the state election only serves to prompt people to notice the genuine similarities between the Greens' environmental and social policy and the environmental and social justice teachings of the Catholic Church.
Michelle Goldsmith, Eaglehawk

Inclusive state
According to Jacqui Asbreuk (Letters, 4/11), in a secular state Archbishop Hart may not communicate with his flock about political matters because he is a religious leader, not a political one. Politics derives from the Greek word ''polis'', meaning ''a city, a city-state and also citizenship and body of citizens''. Even in a secular state, leaders and members of religious organisations do not, ipso facto, lose their citizenship or their right to participate in the legitimate political process. Nor would a state that purports to embrace diversity, tolerance, human rights and freedom of individual action ever seek to exclude anybody or any organisation from such activity.
Paul Borg, Burwood