Jan 18, 2012

Welching on Wilkie: Labor plays percentages on pokies

Labor has judged the benefits of welching on its deal with Andrew Wilkie outweight the costs. Will it be proved right?

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

From the agreement between the Prime Minister and Andrew Wilkie, September 2, 1010:
The government ... further commits to the following additional measures:

a) Implementing a best practice full pre-commitment scheme -- that is uniform across all States and Territories and machines -- consistent with recommendations and findings of the Productivity Commission. Implementation of pre-commitment arrangements will commence in 2012, with the full pre-commitment scheme commencing in 2014, with States and Territories to achieve this outcome ...

If required, the government will support Commonwealth legislation through the Parliament by budget 2012.
Well, that's not going to happen, despite the government's "commitment" to Andrew Wilkie. At best it seems he'll get a trial, in Canberra and Queanbeyan, assuming the ACT's problem gamblers don't drive over to Yass or up to Goulburn to throw their money away. Tony Abbott might have a problem with anything not written down, but the government, apparently, can't even stick to what it has written down. In policy terms, abandoning a rush into mandatory pre-commitment in favour of a serious trial is actually a good outcome: pre-commitment is an intrusive, unjustified interference with individuals' rights, so the very least a government can do is test whether it will work before imposing it. And it enables Labor to end the frequently hysterical campaign being run against it by the hospitality industry that would have made the next election even more difficult than it already will be. It also takes pressure off Wilkie, who no longer has the dilemma of determining whether, as he insisted he would, bring down the government in the event it tried, and failed, to get mandatory pre-commitment through the Parliament and tapped the mat on the issue. Instead, he's tapped the mat, recognising that Peter Slipper has significantly reduced his bargaining power. Still, I wouldn't like to be Labor in the event Craig Thomson, or another MP in a marginal seat, falls under a bus and hands the Coalition an extra number, putting Wilkie's support back in play. Having welched on its previous deal with him, Labor might find him reluctant to be made a fool of twice. It has now left Wilkie in the difficult position of explaining his own shift. He won't forget in a hurry, if ever. And then there's Julia Gillard's reputational problem -- the perception that promises and commitments don't matter to her if they get in the way of her political interests. It was a killer in relation to the carbon pricing package and abandoning her deal with Wilkie simply reinforces voters' perceptions about her lack of trustworthiness -- bearing in mind, of course, that at last count two-thirds of voters supported mandatory pre-commitment. You could call it political ruthlessness, which it is. But it also looks a bit like yet another half-smart political play that this government excels at -- moves that at first blush look clever politics, but eventually yield a host of problems. It might be the right political move in the short-term, but there are some serious longer-term risks. The Gillard government may be lucky if this doesn't come back and bite it.

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150 thoughts on “Welching on Wilkie: Labor plays percentages on pokies

  1. Jimmy

    So despite this reported (and I stress only reported becuase nothing has actually been announced) being “a good outcome” policy wise, and despite the fact that even if it wanted to the govt couldn’t keep it’s promise to Wilkie as even though the majority of the population support the agreement the majority of the lower house don’t BK still finds reasons to criticise the govt for bad politics?

    Give me good policy over good politics any day!

  2. Andybob

    This would be an optional pre-committment then ?

  3. MartyC

    A Pandora’s Box was opened when the Big Miners discovered that all they needed to do in order to defeat a policy they didn’t like was to throw some loose change at the problem in the form of a shrill PR campaign, and hey presto, no more RSPT (no more Kevin Rudd for that matter). Labor has the chance to close the box and sit on it, by following through on it’s pokies reform commitment and demonstrating to Clubs Australia that it’s own shrill scare campaign is a waste of money. If they decide to back down, Clubs Australia, and everyone else for that matter, will conclude that not only was the campaign worth the cost, but at only a few million, it was bloody good value. When that happens Andrew Wilkie will be the least of their concerns.

  4. Liz45

    On the midday news, ABC radio, I heard Abbott assert, that Julia Gillard will say anything to get elected etc and I nearly fell off my chair laughing. This is the same Tony Abbott that admitted to the same activities on 7.30 Report with Kerry O’Brien. He also said that unless it’s in writing, we shouldn’t believe anything he says. Talk about the pot and the kettle!

    I have a feeling that this is another instance of the Govt not doing its PR adequately. Why is the concept of ‘taking the first step’ or ‘challenging all lies and other fabrications – publicly’ so hard for the Gillard Govt to grasp? The mind boggles. What are the advisers doing? Using pen names and trolling on web sites – along with their coalition colleagues!

    I reckon that I could do a better job at putting paid to Abbott’s lies, because he doesn’t research anything, he just engages in one or two sentence nonsense comments that are repeated for the whole day. I swear by the 7 pm news this evening, he’s still uttering the same bs!

  5. Jimmy

    Marty C – I agree with your sentiment but what constitutes backing down, is a trial followed by implementation2 years later in 2016 (in line with the PC report) backing down? And given the coalition and ket independents won’t support Wilkies original request is it better to achieve something rather than nothing?

  6. david

    Has the PM said the Govt will not stick to the agreement with Wilkie? No? I didn’t think so….

  7. Suzanne Blake

    @ Jimmy

    You would back ly ing Gillard even if she exploded a device in your local CBD… just amazing, she can do no wrong.

    She has li ed again, and you spin and yarn.

    Just amazing.

    Wilkie is a fool for believing her li es

  8. Gavin Moodie

    I’m surprised by Wilkie’s apparent change. Maybe he couldn’t get enough cross benchers to support mandatory pre commitment yet and so he is now trying for what he believes is the next best thing, a trial of pre commitment. But he hasn’t explained that yet and so far it looks as if he plans to break his initial undertaking.

  9. Jimmy

    SB – As david states “Has the PM said the Govt will not stick to the agreement with Wilkie? No? I didn’t think so” and would you prefer Gillard “honoured her word” to Wilkie and introduced a bill to have mandatory pre commitment by 2014 and watch it fail on the floor of the house or “break” her word introduce a trial with the full roll out in 2016 (as per the PC) and have the bill pass.

    I am sure Wilkie would prefer a 2 year delay than having no action taken.

    Also if the ALP went with $1 limits (as favoured by the independents and Greens) and Wilkie supported that as an achievable bill would she still be breaking her word?

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