Not for Andrew Wilkie this business of establishing the Government’s fiscal position and identifying the impact of election commitments on the Budget before entering substantive negotiations with the major parties.

Nope, he issued his list of demands yesterday, seemingly omitting only world peace, an end to poverty and the cloning of the thylacine. But introducing maximum bet and loss limits on poker machine, and more funding for Hobart Hospital, are apparently Wilkie’s threshold issues.

Yesterday Stephen Mayne, a long-time pokies opponent, backed Wilkie and called for the buying-back of poker machine licences.

Mayne was a Senate candidate in Victoria on a pro-immigration and anti-pokies platform and it was great to see someone fighting back against the concerted bipartisan campaign against immigration we saw during the campaign. However, I part ways with Stephen on pokies. Not out of any love of gambling — in my view, gambling on chance is a self-levied tax on innumeracy, and gambling on racing animals funds a vile cruelty — but for the simple fact that, like smoking, adults should be allowed to do whatever self-harming activities they want without hurting others, as long as the social costs of their behaviour are covered.

And by the way, I have some family experience of the impacts of drinking, smoking and gambling, so I know what “social costs” really are at a household level.

The Productivity Commission (whose recommendations Wilkie wants to implement) last year estimated that the social costs of gambling were at least $4.7b pa. It also estimated, from state budget papers, that governments reaped just over $5b from gambling. On the face of it, gamblers therefore pay their way for the indirect costs they inflict on society. There’s a separate issue of how much governments should reap by way of taxation beyond “recovering” the social costs of gambling — on that rough calculation, governments aren’t getting very much by way of tax revenue beyond their costs — but that’s fiscal policy.

There’s already a very strong moralistic strain in Australian public policy — I’m desperately resisting the urge to use that phrase — when it comes to censorship, drug use, the use of the internet and the status of gay and lesbian couples, among other areas. But the heavy dependence of state governments on gambling revenue has created a tension between the tendency to reflexively condemn certain forms of gambling and the need to prop up government revenues with taxes on wagering.

And poker machines are where those two urges collide: they generate lots of revenue but, so the narrative goes, they are a mechanistic, solitary, addictive form of gambling conducted in darkened rooms and aimed at the lower classes, compared to, say, the social, convivial, outdoors, essentially Australian form of gambling to be had at a horseracing event.

The kingmaker status thrust on the likes of Wilkie by the election outcome — or, more correctly, the refusal of 144 of his soon-to-be colleagues to deviate from two-party orthodoxy — can only exacerbate this deeply intrusive and illiberal tendency. For all our delusions about rugged individualism and mockery of politicians, the impulse to demand that governments Do Something runs deep in the Australian character.

Desperate politicians willing to cede to third-party demands in order to cling to power are particularly likely to start regulating where there is no compelling social need for regulation.