Ben Eltham | How Gillard Squibbed On Gambling Reform

The public might support pokies reform but powerful vested interests do not. And if folding on the Wilkie deal didn’t look bad enough, Craig Thomson threw in some extra sleaze, writes Ben Eltham in New Matilda here.

Ben takes a look at whether poker reform is dead and how our PM got here:

It’s a win for the factions and a loss for the Australian community.

The excuse given by the Prime Minister, and gamely trotted out by a series off frontbenchers in her support, is that mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines did not have the support of the House of Representatives, including of the key independents, and would probably have been voted down.

It was a transparently thin argument that unravelled within hours, as commentators and some of the independents themselves asked why the Government didn’t put the legislation to the floor of Parliament to find out.

Meanwhile, Andrew Wilkie vented his frustration, ending his ongoing arrangement with the Government (although stopping short of promising to vote against Labor in any no-confidence motion). “The Government has failed to seize the opportunity to enact genuinely meaningful poker machine reform,” he wrote in his media release. “This Parliament presents a remarkable opportunity to finally do something about poker machine problem gambling and its devastating social and financial damage cost. But instead the Government took the easy way out.”

Wilkie is right. The Gillard Government has squibbed it on gaming machine reform. The issue is popular with the electorate but deeply unpopular with powerful vested interests within our political system. The clubs lobby has poured millions into their anti-reform campaign, and they’ve succeeded. Score another point for the power of big marketing, at the expense of democracy.

Malcolm Farnsworth put it best today over on the ABC’s Drum.

“Is there anyone who seriously believes this is an honest attempt to tackle problem gambling,” he asks, “and not an expedient exercise in placating the powerful clubs industry, especially in New South Wales and Queensland?”

If there is, you’d be hard pressed to find them in the media. The reaction to the Gillard Government’s backdown on poker machine reform has been stinging. Nearly everyone has agreed with Tony Abbott’s assessment of the deal, as a “betrayal” of independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

There have been a few commentators that have begged to differ. Rob Burgess in Business Spectator makes an important point, which is that Gillard and Labor never took poker machine reform to the electorate as a major election policy in 2010. Poker machine reform, he writes, is a bit like the carbon tax: a policy cobbled together by Gillard to win the support of the Greens and independents. As such, Tony Abbott can’t logically argue that passing a carbon tax was dishonest, while simultaneously arguing that Gillard should have honoured her promise to Andrew Wilkie.

Continue reading Ben Eltham’s article here.

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