24 Jan 2012

How Gillard Squibbed On Gambling Reform

By Ben Eltham
The public might support pokies reform but powerful vested interests do not. And if folding on the Wilkie deal didn't look bad enough, Craig Thomson threw in some extra sleaze, writes Ben Eltham
Poker machine reform is dead.

That's the upshot of the "negotiations" between the government and Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, as we reported last week.

Sure, there will be some modest new regulations imposed on the gaming industry. There will be a trial of pre-commitment technology in the ACT. And there will be some modest restrictions on gambling advertising. But, in the main, the freedom of big clubs, casinos and gaming companies to fleece ordinary Australians of billions each year has been preserved. Most importantly, of course, mandatory pre-commitment for high-rolling poker machines across the country is not happening.

It's a win for the factions and a loss for the Australian community.

The excuse given by the Prime Minister, and gamely trotted out by a series off frontbenchers in her support, is that mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines did not have the support of the House of Representatives, including of the key independents, and would probably have been voted down.

It was a transparently thin argument that unravelled within hours, as commentators and some of the independents themselves asked why the Government didn't put the legislation to the floor of Parliament to find out.

Meanwhile, Andrew Wilkie vented his frustration, ending his ongoing arrangement with the Government (although stopping short of promising to vote against Labor in any no-confidence motion). "The Government has failed to seize the opportunity to enact genuinely meaningful poker machine reform," he wrote in his media release. "This Parliament presents a remarkable opportunity to finally do something about poker machine problem gambling and its devastating social and financial damage cost. But instead the Government took the easy way out."

Wilkie is right. The Gillard Government has squibbed it on gaming machine reform. The issue is popular with the electorate but deeply unpopular with powerful vested interests within our political system. The clubs lobby has poured millions into their anti-reform campaign, and they've succeeded. Score another point for the power of big marketing, at the expense of democracy.

Malcolm Farnsworth put it best today over on the ABC's Drum.

"Is there anyone who seriously believes this is an honest attempt to tackle problem gambling," he asks, "and not an expedient exercise in placating the powerful clubs industry, especially in New South Wales and Queensland?"

If there is, you'd be hard pressed to find them in the media. The reaction to the Gillard Government's backdown on poker machine reform has been stinging. Nearly everyone has agreed with Tony Abbott's assessment of the deal, as a "betrayal" of independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

There have been a few commentators that have begged to differ. Rob Burgess in Business Spectator makes an important point, which is that Gillard and Labor never took poker machine reform to the electorate as a major election policy in 2010. Poker machine reform, he writes, is a bit like the carbon tax: a policy cobbled together by Gillard to win the support of the Greens and independents. As such, Tony Abbott can't logically argue that passing a carbon tax was dishonest, while simultaneously arguing that Gillard should have honoured her promise to Andrew Wilkie.

Unfortunately, logic doesn't play a particularly significant role in political debate. Abbott is a street-fighter, willing and able to weaponise whatever blunt object he finds close to hand. It doesn't matter that the Coalition doesn't support poker machine reform. What matters is that the issue can be used as a bludgeon with which to renew the attack on the Prime Minister's character. The poker machine schemozzle has been simply provided further ammunition.

After 24 hours of beating up on the Prime Minister, the Opposition then found a juicier target: embattled New South Wales Labor MP Craig Thomson. Thomson, you might recall, is the fellow at the centre of an expenses scandal that dates back to his time as an office bearer with the Health Services Union. Thomson continues to deny the allegations put against him, but mud tends to stick.

After giving Julia Gillard all sorts of trouble last year, the last person the Prime Ministerial bunker wanted to see splashed all over the media was Thomson. But that's what happened this week, after Thomson penned an opinion piece for Sydney's Daily Telegraph, ostensibly in defence of the gambling reform compromise.

"The Prime Minister's decision at the weekend was a victory for common sense," Thomson wrote. "It was timely and important. The PM provided judgment and skill to course a path that is sensible and logical."

What proved rather less timely, judicious and skilful were Thomson's next remarks. "The result this week is a big win for NSW Labor MPs who have argued this position strongly for the past year," he concluded, appearing to congratulate his own factional colleagues for killing off an important piece of social reform. You've got to hand it to the New South Wales ALP: they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Predictably, the comments were seized upon in the next media cycle, allowing the Opposition to make Thomson and his dubious record an issue all over again. The ALP had apparently already nixed a proposed Thomson fundraiser at a swanky restaurant. Now this. You can just about hear the heads slamming on desks as exasperated party strategists wonder how they keep Thomson in his box.

The poker machine debate has again demonstrated that when it comes to the day-to-day management of the media cycle, Labor struggles. All the more reason, therefore, to be getting on with the job of implementing policies that play to Labor's core values — which, you would have thought, is exactly what gambling reform represents.

Some aspects of the reforms Gillard announced on Saturday are in fact laudable, notably the new limit on ATM withdrawals at gaming venues (excluding casinos, mind you) of $250. More money for gambling support programmes is also welcome. But surely a Labor government entering its fifth year in office can aim for something slightly more ambitious than an intention to introduce commitment technology (though not necessarily pre-commitment itself) by the end of 2016.

In any case, as so often under Julia Gillard's leadership, the merits of the policy itself have been obscured by the unsavoury optics.

If there was no prior promise to Wilkie, and a Labor government was simply announcing a trial of pre-commitment technologies in the ACT, it would have been welcomed by gambling reform advocates, and ignored by everyone else. Instead, because of the charged significance of the agreement with the Member for Denison, the issue has again become about whether Julia Gillard is breaking another promise, with some added Thomson sleaze thrown in.

As I argued here last week, the end result is a compromise that pleases nobody. Obviously, it's not going to satisfy anti-gambling advocates. Nor is it likely to convince Clubs Australia to call off the attack. And it won't do much for Labor's support in marginal seats in 2013.

I feel sorry for Andrew Wilkie. It's never easy getting traction on an important issue as an independent. Even Peter Reith thinks it is "very unfair that today he looks like the loser". It's hard to see Wilkie retaining his seat in the next Parliament. But, as a politician who has put a difficult reform ahead of his own political survival, and has been prepared to back himself to get the outcome he campaigned on, he deserves considerable respect.

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David Grayling
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 13:11

Did anyone really think that Big Business was going to allow a source of their income to dry up! Such people may also believe that pigs might fly.

Money, as in most nations, drives Australia or, more correctly, those making big money control Australia. Yeah, if you're a Rinehardt or a Packer, you call the tune and the Government, no matter its colour, dances to it.

And you thought you lived in a democracy, didn't you? Don't worry, just continue going to work, paying your taxes and your mortgage, and the Business Barons will amuse themselves by skimming off most of your money with the help of our Politicians.

It used to be called 'The Lucky Country!'

dangerous creation

This user is a New Matilda supporter. datakid
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 13:33

I think your analysis of Thomson's involvement lacks a suitable dose of journalistic cynicism. He's being thrown to the wolves. I don't think anyone, anywhere, expects that he can win at the next election, and the ALP would be suicidal to run him.

Here he has been used as a target - he will be ridiculed and laughed at, but the ALP Right from QLD and NSW will have got the word out via the mass media to the Clubs that "we never supported it anyway". That this was done at the Clubs behest is not beyond imagination either.

The arrows will skewer a corpse. He has been used as berly.

In return he has probably been promised that he need not leave the ALP nor be ashamed to show his face. I'm sure there's a position in a union or lobbying firm awaiting the loyal.

Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 14:32

We knew something was going to happen when the little girl shored up her defences by withdrawing the speaker.
She now has two strikes against her. What will be the third?
I await with bated breath...

This user is a New Matilda supporter. datakid
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 15:43

Hey @compass1312 I'm not a big fan of Prime Minister Gillard either, but I think your comment lacks respect, is rude and is sexist.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Frosty of Colli...
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 17:47

It was a double-double cross. Having promised Wilkie she would secure the legislation, she then did not even show good faith by at least putting it to the vote on the floor of the House. When did she decide on this course of action and how many times since she made that decision has she continued to confirm she would act in good faith when she had no intention of doing so? Why am I so stupid that I keep forgetting never to trust anything a politician says?

Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 18:59

PM Gillard, Minister Wong and I'm guessing all Labour MPs were all singing from the same song sheet — that the legislation would not pass through the Parliament so why introduce it.

Does Labour not, with support of now two independents and Green MP Bandt have the numbers to pass anything through the Lower house and with the Greens through the upper house? With the Greens and key Independents clearly in support of gambling reform, how does that translate to not have the support of the parliament?

Are they saying the ALP members would have not followed Caucus rules and voted with the PM, perhaps spawning an un-asked-for 'conscience' vote in Caucus and electing a new Leader of the ALP and PM? Or did the proposed legislation, whatever it supposedly is, not have support of the ALP conference and therefore the ALP MPs can't be made to vote for it?

Of course this just shows yet again a Labour Party machine that is welded to support the status quo, especially when their members are receiving election campaign funding. Just like their Union bosses ie. Martin Ferguson MP are welded to the supposed best-interests of Fossil Fuels and especially the coal-seam gas industry. I say 'supposed interests' since, how an unsafe climate and millions of climate refuges is in the interests those who work high wage jobs in CSG and their offspring has been clear to me. Except that ALP will do anything to protect high-wage un-sophisticated medium-skilled wage jobs in large industries where Unions can get a strangle hold on the Labour force, come hell or high water — literally.

David Grayling
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 19:37

Do you ever get cheesed off with those who rule us? I do.

They don't serve us, despite the fact that we elect them. No, they have other masters: rich ones, powerful ones, greedy ones.

We, the citizens, are little more than pawns in a very big game, one played by the rich and powerful. They let us vote to keep us quiet, to allow us to think we count.

But we don't! No way. Australia, like the U.S., Britain, etc, is run by the elite and if you have to ask: 'What is the elite?', then you're not part of it!

Equality, democracy, equality before the law, etc, are just words that don't apply to us.

No, Australia is run in boardrooms, cabinet rooms, salons on motor yachts, and high-rise buildings with harbor views. That's the way it is right across the world. "It's not fair," you say!

Just doff your cap and don't ask questions.

dangerous creation

Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 22:13

Well datakid you should learn to spell "BURLEY" before you reference it. Thomson didn't need to be thrown - he obviously jumped. in further reference to your analogy I would suggest "farago" as this is fed to pigs. Burley is used to catch yabbies, creatures that are far more respectable than Thomson

Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 12:14

Did I hear something about Barry O'Farrell in NSW raving on about restoring faith in politicians, or at least bemoaning the fact that no one trusts any of them, including him. OK, I think he was making a political statement about his predecessors in NSW, the Far Right, Rag Tag, Rat Bag Labor Party, which has now moved in strength into Federal Labor to own and control Julia Gillard. Something which they have just demonstrated.
Whilst we have our supposed and illegitimate Prime Minister so obviously lacking in every semblance of ethical, moral and intestinal fortitude, and displaying this on a weekly if not daily basis, he really has work cut out. That is, if he ever really intended to do something about it, which I sincerely doubt.
So far, he has shown that he is pretty much controlled by a few Far Right Christian Conservative nutters, and a few Fishers and Shooters, in his Upper House.
I detested Krudd, still do, from his time here in Queensland politics with Wayne Goss, but increasingly I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, he should be brought back as PM. An Economic Rationalist of the worst kind, a gut-crawler 'extraodinaire' to the Yanks and THEIR controllers, at least he did seem to be doing SOMETHING most of the time that I could sometimes, if just a little bit, agree with.
I can find absolutely nothing that Gillard does that excites me one little bit, other than to furious anger and disgust. In fact, her voice and demeanour make me want to regurgitate food. As soon as her face comes on, I hit the TV 'kill' button. Not since John Winston Howard has this happened. Well, it also happens with the Mad Monk and some of his and Howard's previous play mates. Like Peter Reith. Why on Earth is the ABC trying to resurrect this horrible little man? Dogs on the Wharf Man!
What with the Mad Monk dancing furiously in the wings, resplendent in his budgie -smugglers, salivating and fulminating to get his hands on the levers of State, it is quite possible that Krudd may be the only person capable of bringing Labor back from utter devastation at the next election, and keeping the Mad Monk at bay. He will not display any more courage than Gillard against the Big End of Town and the International Corporations, but surely he can not display LESS!?
But to do so he would have to come to some accomodation with the Progressive Left in his own Party (what is left of them, they are pretty scarce) and the Greens and possibly some surviving independents. As things stand, he is a lot too Far Right Conservative to get their vote, so maybe a bit less vitriol directed at them from him and his Right Wing 'mates' might help.


Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 15:39

Dazza - that was quite a stunning ramble!! I'm glad you got that out, I reckon you might explode or damage your TV or something holding all that in!! It is weird - but I've been thinking along those lines too - Rudd would be an answer and I reckon it would change the atmosphere drastically for the ALP to change who hops in the ring against Abbott. I reckon the public would prefer Rudd to Abbott. I never had quite as much revulsion for Rudd as I have had for most other politicians...I don't know why though :-)

Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 15:50

When the duopoly decide to ban something it gets banned.
Why didn't Julia put the legislation to the floor of Parliament to find out?
Because the ALP don't want it to succeed. Pity.
Neeext Party:
Tony Abbott's sabotage & hypocrasy is SOP for our Tory, sorry LP.
(EG: MV Tampa & children overboard; WMDs; anti-Unionism;
AWB; and systematic Climate Destabilization denial.)
This athletic, Christian Tory, sorry Tony will surely only lift a finger
for legislation that serves corporate, church, or LP interests. Pity.
Neeext Party:
Greens. What is their official position?
Their site shows good work on SOPA and immigration,
but I couldn't find this topic. Anyone else?

Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 17:10

Ben thanks for the article, you always seem to raise enough issues and nuances about a given topic to entice comments of readers from a great range of viewpoints without actually providing those viewpoints yourself - very clever young man!!

It would be interesting to see how much manipulation of social opinion is occurring here as to public attitudes towards Julia. Power comes in many forms and manipulation is easiest to utilise through our entertainment avenues - whoops - I mean our media outlets. How much is the media being used to create our attitudes about these issues? Will we see the same process happen about Abbott's shameful attitude towards assylum seekers who arrive on boats?? Or will this be swept under the carpet?

Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 17:47

Just had another thought -
Julia is being splashed everywhere as a backflipper, promise breaker and backstabber too - all so unaustralian and all so easy for Abbott to use to sway public opinion to dislike and distrust her.
If Abbott wants to pusk ahead with his "push back the boats" policy to deal with our borders - isn't he ALSO doing backflips? We have obligations under international refugee laws to treat assylum seekers in a particular and HUMANE manner - if Abbott wants to turn back the boats then he is betraying international standards on how to treat vulnerable people.

So we get back to the pot and the kettle and them both being a particular colour again...

Posted Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 11:43

fightmumma, I am sure that you are aware that GetUp! is very actively working against Abbott's/Morrison's "Send Back the Boats" mantra. If not, join GetUp!, please. Fight him in the trenches.
As for Media manipulation, it is an absolute that the Murdoch Media is working assiduously to bring down Gillard and Labor. Lies and the twisting and shading of the truth is used to devastating effect among those who read Murdoch Media. But whatever they say, and how much they lie, nothing can disguise the fact that Gillard will do nothing to help herself. I have never known a pollie so divorced from Real People. She lives her Labor Façtions and her Focus Groups, and probably a daily reading of the Daily Telegraph and the Australian to get the latest view on how far Right she has to go to attract back the old Battlers, or "Working Australians". They have moved to the Liberals, totally against their own financial and work interests if they could only see it, because of things like Abortion, Gay Marriage and other stuff that they see as too far Left. Gillard and her Right Wing factional backers want them back, but unless she/they can convince them that they are wrong in their assessments of Liberal policies, they are wasting their time, and driving others away in the meantime. Yes, meanwhile, the Progressive Left of the once mighty Labor party desert the party in droves, heading for the Greens or not voting at all.
Some have said that Gillard and Co could not sell an ice-block to a perishing man/woman, and I would have to agree. They really are total duffers at selling even the good things that they do. They really made no effort to sell the Mining Resources Tax, the Carbon Tax, they made no effort to sell the Pokies Reform, none whatsoever.
Gillard's very unconvincing platitudes at speeches on any subject are utterly forgettable, and her head-pecking at the cameras is very annoying. You watch her mannerisms and do not hear her badly delivered words.
As for breaking promises, times and situations do change, and sometimes it would become necessary and even advisable to change tack. But Gillard can not explain what she does, does not even really try. Arrogance? Ignorance?
I have to agree with her in breaking a SORT of promise NOT to go to a Carbon Tax. We do need a carbon tax, (and that could have been explained convincingly by any half-proficient PR hack), but it would have been nice it was a real one, and not a political fix. As so many have noted, Australia in sales of Coal and Gas will be putting about 20 times more Carbon into the atmosphere than any measure Gillard has come up with, and she and her mate Martin Ferguson are pushing this madly, because it means dollars, at least some, after her bungled Resources Rent Tax, into the Treasury coffers.
As for the Pokies Reform, I do not doubt that Gillard and her Right Wing mates decided quite some time ago that they had to anything they could, as sneaky as necessary, to thwart Wilkie and his Reform. They really had no intention of pushing it through, even if they had all the 'numbers' they needed. The ownership of so many Clubs in the ACT by the Unions, (and in NSW also, I would imagine) with them now to get a windfall profit from Taxpayers if they play along with the farce, (and I am sure that they are totally enthusiastic) would have been making life for any backer of the Wilkie Reforms very unsteady.
No one, including me, quite understands why the $1 max. bet was dismissed by Gillard at the very start, even though backed by the Productivity Commission and a majority of Australians, as it only affects about 10% of gamblers, the problem gamblers, except that so many of the very big Pokie operators such as Packer and Woolworths, objected so strongly at the suggestion that they could lose so much of their evil income at one simple stroke. Gives one to understand that Gillard really does not give a stuff about the misery caused by Problem Gambling. Never did, probably never will. She is only interested in Power for Power's sake, not doing anything worthwhile with it.

Posted Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 14:07

Dazza - yes I tend to agree with you again. It ALL seems to be about power for power's sake at the moment though doesn't it? It ought to be about leadership and serving the citizens of your country. But having said that, if the Australian public really gave a shit about all this - why is not another party being formed to cater to all these moves in values/policies etc, the Greens are the ones MOST benefitting aren't they - and how well do they represent us? (though, mind you, at least they stand for something which IS attractive). There is a real opportunity for a new party that fills the vacuum here, there IS a vacuum is there not?

BTW - I have already joined GetUp! something Jackal01 suggested last year (where are you Jackal?). I wrote a letter to the editor too about the boats topic. I get frustrated by the constant requests for money - I understand that they need financial support for their campaigns, but it makes me feel bad as being a single parent, study, PT work etcetcetc, I can't assist with money, so I get discouraged a bit by not being able to contribute with money.

Posted Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 15:12

fightmumma, yes GetUp! are always after money donations. As are they all. I also back some other web organisations. As a Pensioner, I am not going to to be able to support every worthwhile cause, but I see GetUp! as being almost essential to what remains of our Democracy AS A DEMOCRACY. They co-ordinate the Good Fight, bringing a lot of Australians together to do it.
So I make a monthly automatic donation, and that is IT. No more. And I do not feel guilty about it. Just regretful that it is necessary, and disgusted that our body politic is so corrupted.
Perhaps, in regard to the Greens, they do STAND FOR SOMETHING THAT I CAN BELIEVE IN besides raw power plays, and back it all the way. Something you can not say about ANY of the other Parties. I am sick to the death of displays of PRAGMATISM. Our main Party pollies all seem to see pragmatism as an essential part of their political lives, and are proud of displaying it. Gillard has crowed about it. I can remember when some of our pollies actually believed in SOMETHING! and did not fold their tents at the slightest sign of a contrary breeze. Not always for OUR good, mind you, but we did respect them for their staunch position. Just look at Joh Belching Peanut of Qld. infamy, practically no-one liked what he did, but look at the respect he was shown even later in life. By some, at least. Not me! I would have liked to have seen him gaoled for his crimes.
But I do have to admit to a bias. I have been a Member of the Greens for many years, the Democrats before that, and the Australia Party (anyone remember that one?) for years before that. So I am an unapologetic Progressive Leftie. Even in my dotage.

Posted Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 23:47

dazza - dotage indeed!! I am sure you are not a weakling from what you have written! I for one do not equate age with strength/weakness - but what's that saying...I'd rather be an old fart than a young dickhead?! I do donate to a few humanitarian causes, so what you suggest is a good idea. I agree again - if our political system was actually listening to its people there would be no need or little need for a GetUp!type organisation.