The gaming machine debate has been re-ignited in Tasmania as the wrong numbers come up on Tassie pokies.
Despite protestations to contrary, Tasmanian Liberal leader Rene
Hidding has dropped the ball on the Labor’s scandalous Federal Hotel
gaming machine deal – and the Green’s Kim Booth can’t believe his luck.

He may not be too good with a calculator, but he has managed to
re-ignite the gaming machine debate in Tasmania and highlight the
sweetheart deal between Labor and monopoly casino licensee, Federal
Hotels. This is how the Hobart Mercury reported the stoush:

Booth pokies stand blast

The most erudite and well written commentary to date on the
long-running scandal has been penned by social service crusader James
Boyce on the cheeky Tasmanian Times
web site (every hack in the country should read this article – if for
no other reason than to see how an articulate, well researched, well
argued piece is written).

In addition to laying bare the shady agreement between Labor and
Federal Hotels, the Times also examines in some detail the role of
Liberal leader Rene Hidding as a member of the Parliamentary Accounts
Committee which probed the deal prior to the Legislative Council
passing the legislation.

The Times is largely generous to Hidding in respect to his contribution
to the committee work. Boyce concludes, however, that
post-committee Hidding has not seen the issue through. If you
follow the links at the end of the article you will find a response
from Hidding, and a further reply from Boyce. These are both
worth reading.

In the end Boyce draws the conclusion that Hidding wimped out. It
has been left, it seems, for the Greens to pick up the issue and run
with it. Just like old growth clearfelling and the pulp mill, it
is the Greens that provide the real opposition in Tasmania on the big
issues.

No matter that the Greens can’t add up – they’ll gleefully grab the electoral kudos at the Liberal’s expense.

And why has Hidding dropped the ball? Could it be that Brendan
Blomeley, a Clarence City Councillor but also Federal Hotel’s Corporate
Affairs Manager, is a prominent member of the Liberal Party?
Never!

Blomeley, after much public speculation, decided not to contest the
2002 state election for the Liberals in the seat of Franklin. It
was known within the party that he had no stomach for the leader at the
time, Bob Cheek, and as it turned out he made the correct call not to
dip his toe in the water at that election.

But since then Blomeley has been Federal Hotel’s front man in the media
and he has been careful not to bag Hidding in public – so far.
Blomeley, a cynic might conclude, has drawn a line in the sand and
defied Hidding to cross it.

But he needn’t worry. The last thing Hidding wants is a stoush
with Blomeley played out in the public arena. Hidding does not
want to queer his patch in the search for decent candidates next time
around: he needs Blomeley on the team at the 2006 election.

Also influencing Hidding’s capitulation on pokies will be the pending
federal election. Last week the Crikey sealed section noted a new
level of “love, peace and understanding” within the Tasmanian Liberal
party with Senator Eric Abetz asking previously sworn enemy Hidding to
open his new offices. After grinning and bearing it for the sake
of pre-election party unity there is no way Abetz would accept Hidding
putting a crack in the chummy facade by igniting an internal party
punch-up with Blomeley.

No, Hidding is in the bag on gaming machines in Tasmania. Like
Labor, he is happy anyway to be close to Federal Hotels – the major
parties in Tassie always cuddle up to big business – plus he has the
hands of Blomeley and Abetz on his shoulder making sure he stays
securely in his place.

It is the Greens that will make all the hay on this one.

Peter Fray

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