When Slippery Pete Slipper replaced Harry Jenkins as speaker in December, the most oft-heard observation was that it gave the PM some wiggle room to break her written agreement with Andrew Wilkie.

However, the manoeuvre also strengthened the numbers for pokies reform because a Coalition opponent became Speaker and Harry Jenkins was liberated to confirm his public passion for pokies reform with a vote in favour of mandatory pre-commitment on the floor of the Reps.

With Adam Bandt and Wilkie rusted on supporters, it literally only required one other crossbencher — or a single Liberal abstention — to win majority support. The controversial claims by Julia Gillard, Jenny Macklin, Penny Wong and many others that the numbers for pokies reform weren’t there will now never be tested.

How can they possibly justify this treachery without ever publicly releasing anything more than a few short sentences in the written Wilkie agreement? No draft legislation, no proposed amendments, no Parliament debate, nothing more than a prediction that all 75 non-Labor and Green MPs would vote a certain way.

The anti-pokies forces were planning big campaigns on the Coalition and independent MPs once there was a specific proposal on the table, but now that opportunity has been unilaterally removed.

Gillard supporters have been shocked at the vehemence of the backlash from Wilkie, Nick Xenophon and the media. Fran Kelly was extremely hostile with the PM on Radio National Breakfast this morning and Jenny Macklin also became quite frustrated during a grilling from Bruce Guthrie on 774 ABC Melbourne. The Murdoch press have been predictably savage and Rupert himself has been railing against the regressive nature of pokies taxes on twitter.

Gillard and Macklin managed to misrepresent the cost and ease of implementing the Productivity Commission’s preferred measure of $1 maximum bets, something which Bob Katter has conceded he would most probably support.

Instead, literally nothing will be done during the course of this Parliament to actually lower the intensity of the world’s most dangerous poker machines where more than $10,000 an hour can theoretically be lost in NSW and billionaire James Packer is allowed $50 maximum bets on the public floor of Crown Casino.

There will also be a 12-month delay until a possible trial in the ACT will start and that will cost a bomb now that the government has formally lodged a very generous offer comprising $37 million of “full compensation” for any revenue reductions on the $97.6 million lost in 20010-11 by Canberrans.

The ALP remains the only major political party in the world that operates gambling dens to fund-raise with about 500 machines spread across four Canberra Labor Club venues. Throw in some additional Canberra venues controlled by the CFMEU, Australia’s richest union and the biggest factional backers of Julia Gillard, and we are talking many millions of taxpayers dollars being handed over to the ALP and its affiliates.

Clubs ACT CEO Jeff House told Melbourne radio this morning that the trial could not work unless Queanbeyan venues were on board and the whole situation will be controlled by the Clubs NSW machine given that their spokesman, Jeremy Bath, operates as Jeff House’s mouth-piece.

The ALP and its affiliated unions may have net assets of more than $500 million, but the four Canberra pokies venues are the most valuable single asset worth more than $20 million. The last thing cynical factional bosses want is a big drop in revenue and it was noteworthy that Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy were signatories to Gillard’s and Macklin’s surrender press release on Saturday.

The ALP directly owns about 10% of the 5024 pokies in Canberra which are operated by 31 club groups across 53 venues. The Canberra Labor Clubs claim to have a staggering 60,000 members across its four venues. That’s more than the combined membership of Australia’s five biggest political parties.

So how will this organisation deal with the obvious conflicts of interest? When first emailed for comment, Clubs ACT CEO Jeff House replied: “I’d be grateful if you could outline what conflict of interest exists that you believe needs to be ‘managed’?” My reply went as follows:

Hi Jeff, the conflict relates to your biggest member, the Canberra Labor Club. As Fran Kelly indicated on Radio National this morning, many people are surprised at the size of the compensation offer and the PM responded by saying that there would be no trial without “full compensation”.

These payments will see a Labor Government compensating a division of the Labor Party.

I would have thought the conflict works in multiple directions. Should the ALP Clubs be voting at your EGM? Won’t other opposing clubs think they are biased in favour of the government.

Critics clearly will think the government is conflicted by proposing such generous compensation to one of its own fund raising arms.

Therefore, shouldn’t the Canberra Labor Clubs be exempted from this compensation.

House responded as follows:

  1. The Canberra Labor Club is governed by a board and under Federal Corporations Law, the club’s board must act independently and in the best interests of the club — not the ALP;
  2. The Labor Club is one member out of many in ClubsACT. I do not believe they are conflicted nor will I propose that they be prevented from participating in subsequent discussions regarding the trial;
  3. It is important to remember that the financial package is at least in part designed to address likely losses in revenue resulting from the trial and the contributions that clubs make in terms of tax paid to government and contributions to various community based organisations need to be maintained.

Of course, these “contributions” also include the $10 million or so that that the Canberra Labor Clubs have donated to the ALP’s various political campaigns over the past 30 years.

Peter Fray

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