tip off

Wilkie to make Gillard empathise with her pokies-addicted constituents

Is Australia’s status as the most gambling-addicted nation on earth about to reach a tipping point?

Senator Nick Xenophon and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie this afternoon are in Hobart together working through their tactics ahead of next week’s serious negotiations over the formation of a minority government.

Wilkie yesterday went public stating that pokies were his “flashpoint” issue and close observers believe he is prepared to “go to the wire” to secure meaningful reform.

Wilkie’s passion and sincerity on the pokies should not be understated. During the recent Tasmanian election, he ran as independent in Denison on a no-pokies platform and did surprisingly well as follows:

  • ALP: 36.3%
  • Liberal: 29.79%
  • Greens: 24.89%
  • Andrew Wilkie: 8.44% (5382 first preference votes)

During that campaign, Wilkie had a truck parked at the Hobart waterfront with an electronic scoreboard tracking Tasmanian pokies losses real time.

Wilkie then broadened his platform for the federal election and finished up with the following primary vote result from the same pool of electors:

  • ALP: 36.19%
  • Liberal: 22.41%
  • Andrew  Wilkie: 21.4% (13,358 votes)
  • Greens: 18.69%

Interestingly, the former spy benefited from the donkey vote in the federal election but the 253% increase in his primary vote came almost entirely from Green and Liberal voters in equal measure.

The Tasmanian Greens are currently pressuring their Labor Coalition partners in Tasmania to push ahead with the $1 maximum bet reform and the Tasmanian Liberals were the first major party to take such a policy to the election.

While the position of the three country independents on the pokies is unclear, the Greens want tough action and Adam Bandt knows the damage pokies have caused to the live music scene in his seat of Melbourne.

While Bandt might be over-reaching, putting conditions for his support of a Gillard government around a carbon tax or gay marriage, he could very easily team with former Greens candidate Wilkie to secure pokies reform as the one policy condition of their joint support.

While this list shows that Labor is regarded very much as the pokies party when it comes to political donations, Gillard herself hasn’t ever expressed strong public concern about the huge damage they cause to voters in her working-class electorate of Lalor,  centred around Werribee.

Indeed, as The Age reported during the campaign, the Woolworths-operated Werribee Plaza Tavern (see this video)  is Victoria’s biggest pokies revenue generator outside of Crown Casino.

Woolworths yesterday reported a record $2 billion net profit for 2009-10 but its giant 12,000-strong pokies division saw gross profits drop by 19% to $176.7 million on stable revenue of  $1.1 billion.

The company’s results presentation pack included the following pokies commentary:

Results were impacted by cycling the Government stimulus package and increased regulatory environment in particular reduced trading hours in Queensland and changes to maximum bet and restrictions on ATMs in Victoria. 2012 changes to the Victorian gaming licencing will be beneficial.”

Does Labor really need to protect Woolworths from exploiting Australia’s estimated 100,000 problem gamblers when it is today capitalised at $34 billion after reporting 11 straight record profits?

Labor’s capture by the pokies lobby is partly explained by the huge revenue it generates for cash-strapped state governments but its disregard for the damage caused to its working-class supporters is hard to fathom.

This list tracking the 66 Victorian pokies venues where punters lost more than $10 million in 2009-10 shows that 57 of them are in Labor-held seats.

If Julia Gillard wants to form government, she may need to start understanding the scale of the problem. Will she be prepared to make a substantial policy shift and commit to implementing the full suite of Productivity Commission recommendations relating to poker machines?

This would involve reducing the maximum bet to $1 per play. It is currently $10 in NSW and $5 in Victoria. The PC also recommended mandatory pre-commitment and Senator Xenophon is driving hard for the maximum loss per hour to be set at $120, something that was in the draft PC report but not the final version.

Stephen Mayne ran unsuccessfully on this anti-pokies platform for the Victorian Senate but was delighted to help defeat Liberal Senator Julian McGauran whose family operates a pokies venue just down the road from Julia Gillard’s Melbourne home.

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  • 1
    Kerry Lovering
    Posted Friday, 27 August 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Stephen Mayne may have helped defeat Julian McGauran but his ticket put Steve Fielding ahead of the greens and the Libs and the ALP. He may well rue the day.

  • 2
    Liz45
    Posted Friday, 27 August 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    But wasn’t Fielding defeated? Finishes on June 30 next year! Yipee!!

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 27 August 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    This “experiment” may well work - but if it “doesn’t” (keep an eye on the likes of “Limited News”, with their “penetration”, unless it hopefully turns flacid), there could well be a mass flocking, back, to the two parties.
    Til then, here’s hoping - at least the people will hold more sway in our governance, than “the parties” and their “sponsors”!

  • 4
    UTS LIBRARY
    Posted Friday, 27 August 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on ridding us of McGauran. We are better off without his ilk. I’m sure Fielding is gone as well. Pokies are a problem .The false hope that they give the poor is a major impediment to their regulation. The poor and desperate don’t understand how they are being duped and that their hope is based on lies.

  • 5
    Liz45
    Posted Friday, 27 August 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    @UTS - Indeed! What positive element did McGauran ever put forward either inside or outside the parliament? Nothing! He had such a sour looking face, he’d curdle the milk in your coffee?

    The Labor govt in NSW gave the clubs, pubs a gift re the tax or lack of it on pokies. Disgraceful situation - they’re getting desperate for votes for next March? (They also gave $100 million to the racing industry, and $50 mill each to the AFL and NRL? Pretty disgusting! You can do a lot for kids with special needs for example, with $200 mill.?) Didn’t even ask us! Shocking!

  • 6
    Angra
    Posted Monday, 30 August 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Papua New Guinea had a major problem with pokies and some years ago they introduced a MINIMUM bet (rather than a maximum) of 50 Kina (around $20. The argument is that people cannot afford to bet at this level, so gambling losses are reduced. A maximum bet just means people take a bit longer to lose their money. But a minimum bet (of say $50 a play) means they can’t afford to gamble in the first place.

    What do other people think?

  • 7
    freecountry
    Posted Wednesday, 1 September 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    ANGRA, It’s an interesting idea. But it’s also a sleight-of-hand way of prohibiting poor people from doing an activity while allowing richer people to do it. It’s not consistent with Australia’s foundation principle that the law should apply to everyone equally, within a jurisdiction. As such, it would set a very dangerous precedent.

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