Enough to make real criminals chuckle. A 35-year-old Mount Pritchard man caught by Customs trying to avoid over $2.9 million in excise on a shipment of tobacco was fined $66,000 this week for what was a potentially lucrative crime. Get caught smuggling in heroin and you spend many years in the slammer. The criminal classes are not completely stupid. The almost punitive level of tobacco taxation makes risking a slap on the wrist and a piddling fine by far the more attractive proposition. How long will it be before organised crime starts donating to the anti-smoking lobby to get the excise raised even higher and their smuggling made even more lucrative?

Note: Yes, that’s right. In the past I’ve worked for the legal arm of the tobacco industry.

A government website that actually helps. The federal government has been rubbished a bit in the last year with its attempt to use the internet to provide the people with information about grocery prices and petrol. The consensus view has been that the sites were not helpful at all. Which makes the new mychild site launched yesterday a refreshing change. By one of those flukes of timing I was asked to help find a child care centre for a grand child and, hey presto, click on the button and there was a list of what’s available in the required area. Maxine McKew has been doing something useful with her time as a Parliamentary Secretary after-all!

Pokies people should just tell the truth. Clubs Australia is gearing itself up to deal with an inquiry by the Productivity Commission into gambling. The lobby group’s strategy, as we explained in Crikey yesterday, is to pretend that it really just represents a group of concerned citizens as worried as anyone else about the social cost of its product on the small minority of people who fall in to what some people call the “addicted” gambler category.

As a show of its good intentions, the president of Club Australia Peter Newell took to the rostrum at the National Press Club to unveil his organisation’s six point plan to limit the harmful effects of gambling. Chief among them was what the press quickly dubbed the Dob in a Gambler campaign which would see friends and relatives report people losing too much money too regularly to some kind of big brother body which would have the power to ban them from club premises.

It is a scheme that might sound attractive to those who do not think about it, but in reality totally impractical as licensed pokie machine palaces want it to be. The gambling clubs, along with their publican colleagues, and aided and abetted by State governments, know that it is the dedicated perpetual losers who give them the majority of their ill gotten gains. Without these problem gamblers their’s would not be a profitable business. They might represent just five percent or so of players but the desperates probably represent 50 percent or so of the profits.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m personally not anti-pokies at all. I have personally been a bookmaker and never felt the slightest bit guilty about helping fools lose their money. I am a simple believer in free will who realises that in life some people are just destined to become flotsam and jestsam and there is little if anything that can be done about it by anyone other than the person themself.

What does annoy me is that people like Clubs Australia want to pretend that they are on the side of those who misguidedly think that actions of governments can change human nature with all its potentially destructive elements.

Personally I prefer the honesty that is currently being expressed in Georgia, USA, where there is a proposal to legalise slot machines on the ballot paper for the election on the first Tuesday of November. The ordinary people are telling the pollsters that they approve of the pokies as a revenue raising measure for government with the Washington Post reporting yesterday that 62% are in favour with only 36% against and 2% undecided.

Even a third or people who believe there will be undesirable social consequences caused by the slots believe that the government should allow their introduction.

Clubs Australia should learn the lesson and stop trying to play by the rules of the Senator Nick Xenophons of the Australian political world. Just come out and tell the truth: of course there are some adverse impacts on a minority of people caused by poker machines but would you prefer to pay more taxes? The answer in Australia would be no different than in Maryland.

A Senate drubbing for the GOP. It is not just in the race for the presidency that the Republicans are looking like getting a drubbing. In the Senate as well the grand old party is faring badly in a number of the key states and the pundits are considering the possibility that the Democrats might even get to 60 from its current 51 Senators.

The latest average opinion poll figures for each of the states being contested show:

  • Virginia: (current Republican John Warner, retiring after, five terms) Democrats leading by 27 points
  • New Mexico (current Republican Sen. Pete Domenici not standing) Democrat leading by 17.6 points
  • Alaska (current Republican Sen. Ted Stevens again a candidate but indicted July 29 on seven felony counts of making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms) Democrats leading by 0.6 points
  • Colorado: (current Republican Sen. Wayne Allard retiring) Democrat leading by 9.3 points
  • New Hampshire: (current Republican Sen. John Sununu recontesting) Democrat leading by 5.9 points
  • North Carolina: (current Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole recontesting) Democrat leading by 2 points
  • Oregon: (Current Republican Sen. Gordon Smith recontesting) Democrat leading by 3.7 points
  • Minnesota: (Current Republican Sen. Norm Coleman recontesting). Democrat leading by 2.2 points
  • Kentucky: ( Current Republican and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recontesting). Republican leading by 3.7 points
  • Georgia: (Current Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss recontesting). Republican leading by 2.8 points
  • Mississippi: (Current Republican Roger Wicker recontesting). Republican leading by 2.7 points
  • Louisiana: (Current Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu recontesting). Democrat leading by 13 points)
  • Maine: (Current Republican Sen. Susan Collins recontesting). Republican leading by 15 points)
  • Texas: (Current Republican Sen John Cornyn recontesting). Republican leading by 6.5 pointsNebraska: Current Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel is retiring). Republican leading by 20 points