The politics of poker machine reform have been playing out in the last two weeks of Parliament before it rises tonight for the Christmas break.
A combination of the power of the clubs’ lobby and the addiction of State Governments to gaming revenue make it almost impossible to achieve progress.
Meanwhile, 95,000 poker machine addicts lose a staggering $5 billion per year. Social carnage accompanies this.
There was a whiff of opportunity in the last Parliament when Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilke secured an agreement with Julia Gillard to install systems in poker machines which would limit losses.
But that was in a hung Parliament and Labor needed Wilke’s vote to hold government.
When the opportunity came to install Peter Slipper as speaker and Wilke’s vote was no longer needed, Labor reneged on its promise in January 2012.
As a consolation, legislation was passed last year to make all poker machines loss-limiting-ready with mandatory pre-commitment technology.
A trial was to be conducted in the ACT of mandatory pre-commitment technology before the switch could be flicked on machines at a later date.
ATM’s at gaming venues were to be limited to $250 limits and a national gambling regulator was to be established.
All of these very modest reforms are now being repealed by the Abbott Government and Labor has now agreed to back the repeal in the Senate.
Social services minister Kevin Andrews has foreshadowed reforms in the future that would include more counselling for problem gamblers. This is welcome but it is widely accepted that tougher measures to limit losses such as mandatory pre-commitment or limiting machines to $1 bets are what is needed to help addicts.
These are vehemently opposed by the clubs who are major donors to both sides of politics and are very good at mobilising grass roots campaigns.
State governments have also become addicted to poker machine revenue and this further dilutes political will.
This issue is an example of where principled public leadership is needed in the face of powerful vested interests.
ACL is pleased to be part of Tim Costello’s Churches Gambling Taskforce and he is right to draw a comparison with Nelson Mandela’s courageous leadership.
Andrew Wilke went as far as chipping members for saying the Lord’s Prayer in parliament but not caring about the victims of poker machine harm.
The problem with both of these examples is it applies a selective morality. Mandela-like leadership and Christian compassion is also needed for a range of other seemingly intractable public policy problems.
Human rights for the unborn come to mind as do the rights of children who will be removed from biological parents through technology as part of same-sex marriage ideology.
There are many good people on both sides of the political divide. As citizens we need to do more to encourage them to stand against powerful forces which stymie truth and evidence-based policy making.
This is my last contribution to the ACL blog for this year. Thanks for your support and may I wish you and your family a holy and happy Christmas.