Tabcorp’s
$2.1 billion takeover bid for Unitab finally brings the spectre of one
national tote for the racing industry into play. However, it’s a real
shame for the taxpayers of Victoria, NSW and Queensland that their
governments couldn’t have got together and done the deal themselves
before flogging off the lucrative wagering licences at knock-down
prices.

How must the Beattie Government feel about floating
Unitab at just $2 a share in November 1999 when Tabcorp is now offering
$14.25 seven years later? Then again, how stupid do Jeff Kennett and
Alan Stockdale feel about floating Tabcorp at just $2.25 a share in
August 1994, when the stock closed at $15.95 yesterday and has paid out
about $5 a share in dividends since listing?

Similarly, the Carr
government only fetched $2.35 a share when the NSW TAB was floated in
1998 only to see Tabcorp come along six years later and pay about $5 a
share, depending on how you value the scrip that was handed over.

Sure,
a portion of that value, especially in the case of Tabcorp, has come
from poker machines rather than wagering, but imagine if our three
biggest state governments had created a state-owned national pool,
bedded down all the synergies and then floated the lot for more than $3
billion rather than the $1.5 billion or so that they got for the three
state wagering monopolies.

Sadly, petty inter-state rivalries all too often get in the way of
rational decision making. For instance, why on earth haven’t other
states invited Victoria’s hugely successful Transport Accident
Commission to come in and run their more expensive and less
comprehensive compulsory third party insurance schemes?

Even
since we got wall to wall Labor governments in the states and
territories there has only been limited reform such as uniform
defamation laws, although that only occurred after the Federal
Government threatened to come over the top with new national defamation
laws.

Australia’s workers’ compensation laws remain a dog’s breakfast of eight
different systems, although at least the Feds are now trying to make
its Comcare system available to private companies. You can only shake
your head in disbelief at the way Australia’s cumbersome federation and
excessive three levels of government has held the nation back over the
years.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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