It’s all well and good to have debated the pre-commitment poker machine legislation back and forth for the last two years, but none of it matters unless gambling venues commit to upholding the responsible conduct of gambling code.
And clubs aren’t doing that. Or not in my experience anyway.
Drug dealers make money from selling drugs. Prostitutes make their money from sex. For three years I earned a living serving people who destroyed their lives and their families with gambling addictions. The only difference with my trade was, it’s socially acceptable.
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Peter Slipper’s disgraced return to the floor of parliament has altered the numbers by one vote but its impact on the behaviour of fellow independents may be much bigger.
Already Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who began this term of minority government as a friend of Labor, is using his elbows.
He is furious at being dudded on a deal to introduce tough new anti-pokies laws - a betrayal only made possible by the orchestrated defection of Slipper last November from Team Abbott to the Speaker’s chair.
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The disheartening story of Adelaide mother Leanne Scott, who was jailed last week for stealing to fund her pokie addiction, shows why we need to take a tougher crack at gaming machines.
Particularly because it demonstrates how pointless it is to expect venues to do any real policing of problem gambling.
Ms Scott, who stole $810,000 from her employers to feed the hungry machines, spoke out in the hopes of warning others about the seductive and destructive lure of pokies. She also laid into her three regular gambling haunts for turning a blind eye to her habit.
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There are two types of people who reach leadership positions. One type is driven by the hope or desire to succeed; the other by the fear of failure.
In his study of military leaders, the psychologist, Norman Dixon, observed: “Whereas the former achieves out of a quest for excellence in his job, the latter achieves by any means available, not necessarily because of any sincere devotion to the work, but because of the status, social approval and reduction of doubts about the self that such achievement brings.”
Norman notes that although these two types of achievement-motive may bring about rapid, even spectacular, promotion, their nature and effects are very different.
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Andrew Wilkie has okayed a lame version of the government’s pokies legislation, which he yesterday called a “stepping stone to meaningful reform in the future”.
The guts of the deal is that club ATMs will be able to spit out just $250 worth of pokie playmoney per day, and that pre-commitment to an amount you’re willing to lose will be optional rather than mandatory.
The legislation is now toothless on two fronts. Firstly, optional pre-commitment is like offering a drunk the choice of ejecting himself for obnoxiousness. And secondly, the legislation fails to address the burgeoning arena of sports gambling.
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If there’s one thing you can count on in Canberra these days, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. As the government dances along the knife edge of minority support, the balance of power seems to be shifting on a daily basis.
Such is the case with Andrew Wilkie. Only a few months ago it appeared that his influence with Labor had been dealt a serious, almost terminal blow, with the role of Speaker moving from Harry Jenkins to Peter Slipper. Indeed, it was only a short time later that Julia Gillard reneged on her agreement with Wilkie, which in turn led to him withdrawing his support for her government.
Yet here we are just a short time later, with Slipper on the cross-benches and embattled Labor MP Craig Thomson joining him. Anna Burke has stepped into the Speaker’s role temporarily, reducing her influence to that of a casting vote. And amidst all the turmoil, while allegations and sordid details are replayed endlessly in the media, Wilkie has found himself once more in a position of power.
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Some years ago the ABC ran an excellent program called Bush Mechanics documenting the amazing resourcefulness of indigenous car nuts in the most remote parts of Australia. These guys have no access to car parts but keep their bombs on the road by stuffing blown tyres full of tightly wound spinifex, using pieces of wood as chassis parts, old pipes as steering columns and so forth.
I was reminded of this program while watching Julia Gillard outline her thinking on the scandalised MPs Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper. Whatever reasons Ms Gillard offers for the line Thomson has apparently crossed which now requires his suspension from the ALP, and for Slipper standing aside as speaker amid criminal claims of rorting and civil claims of sexual harassment, the popular take on her predicament is that this the prime minister is desperately trying to keep a clapped-out bomb of a government on the road. Like the bush mechanics, Ms Gillard has been flailing about for months using almost anything to keep her hands on the steering wheel of government.
At almost every turn – most notably with the supposedly genius idea of luring the shonky Slipper away from the Coalition with the promise of the speakership – she has ended up crashed in a ditch, wheels spinning madly.
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I was sorry to see Julia Gillard fall on Australia Day – it’s strangely unsettling to see an adult stumble, and never more so than when it’s a person of power.
To my mind, though, a far more significant fall happened earlier in the week.
I understand the pragmatism behind Ms Gillard’s decision to dump her pokies reform deal with Independent MP Andrew Wilkie. She didn’t have the numbers in parliament to get mandatory pre-commitment legislation passed.
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It takes a certain sort of rich self-regard to be in as deep a political hole as Labor MP Craig Thomson and yet still deliver your own leader a dud hand in a major newspaper. Perhaps the Member for Dobell has decided to go all-in as a final flutter (insert further tortured gambling metaphor here).
His oped this morning in The Daily Telegraph essentially used praise of the Prime Minister’s dumping of the Wilkie deal on pokies to suggest her initial decision to commit to the plan had “flown in the face of proper policy making.”
Never mind Thomson’s precarious hold on his career is one of the reasons Julia Gillard felt compelled to woo disgruntled Coalition MP Peter Slipper into the Speaker’s Chair. And now that Wilkie has declared the PM dead to him, she’s back in the position of relying on Thomson not to buckle under the pressure of a range of disastrous accusations, thereby forcing a by-election. The situation is more complicated than a game of Mahjong.
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Everyone’s talking about poker machines these days. Our politicians and our newspapers, our clubs and pubs; everyone has an opinion on what we should and shouldn’t do with regards to the pokies. But they’re talking about numbers and policies, votes and strategies and campaigns.
They’re not talking about the people who have been hurt, who are hurting still. People like me.
When I was 24 years old, I had the world on a string. Life was mine for the taking. I was engaged to be married and surrounded by fantastic friends; I had my university degree framed on the wall, a great job and excellent prospects. But by the time I turned 25, life as I knew it was over. I was addicted to poker machines.
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Tony Abbott described the events in Canberra yesterday surrounding the speakership of the Parliament as a bad day for democracy. Abbott was right, but for the wrong reasons.
The most undemocratic outcome of yesterday’s events could now be that a reform aimed at making life more bearable for problem gamblers, which is supported by a majority of Australians, will now be dumped because Labor has the numbers in the house to get away with pulling it, thus avoiding a fight to the death with powerful gambling interests.
Labor might have been cock-a-hoop at yesterday’s developments but the people who will be even happier are the cashed-up, morally ambivalent multi-millionaires in the gaming industry, who have been escalating their self-interested campaign to knock off suburban Labor MPs lest the Government support the proposed pokie reforms.
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It is hard to believe the NRL, a code which galvanises communities in two of the largest states in Australia, could be staring at financial collapse because of the Gillard Government’s gambling reforms.
It is hard to believe that the AFL, the national game which enjoys the status of a religion in four states and one territory, is also facing ruin because of the mandatory pre-commitment proposal to make gamblers think about how much they are prepared to wager on poker machines before placing a bet.
It is hard to believe because it is simply unbelievable. It is hard to believe because it is rubbish.
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It’s not often a Government Minister admits to a fatal flaw in their policy, so I congratulate Jenny Macklin for her honesty.
On Tuesday, while attacking clubs and the NRL because they are standing up to Labor’s mandatory pre-commitment policy, a policy that could destroy them, Ms Macklin revealed exactly why it will fail.
She wrote: “…before you sit down at the machine you nominate how much you’re willing to lose, set a limit you can afford – and then stick to it”.
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There were glimpses of the old Julia Gillard on display in Question Time yesterday afternoon. The Julia Gillard who as Deputy Prime Minister used to delight in skewering the Opposition on the end of a finely-pointed, if broadly-delivered barb was back. She’d been missing in action since approximately the time she skewered Kevin Rudd in the Caucus room.
But yesterday there was a certain swagger as The Prime Minister deftly disposed of the first five questions from the Opposition, batting off the embarrassment of a union leader who’d said September 11 was an inside job, skirting the considerable inconsistencies in her refugee policy and shrugging off the details of what’s really in the Minerals Resource Rent Tax agreement.
So she was pretty well warmed up when Independent Andrew Wilkie rose to ask what looked like a fairly straight-forward question.
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Update 9:15PM: Appearing on Sky News this evening the crucial three independents Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor say they still have not made up their minds over which party to support. It continues.
Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie’s decision to side with Julia Gillard’s Labor Government is not surprising.
The intelligence officer turned Iraq war whistler blower was basically labelled a clear and present danger to national security by the Howard Government, formally had a fling with The Greens and now holds what is usually a safe Labor seat – hardly paints the picture of someone who would hand Government to the Coalition. Like the laughable attempt by Bob Brown to tell us the day after the election the Greens could side with any party, Wilkie’s decision ended what was a series of false flirtations with Tony Abbott.
But by revealing that Tony Abbott, like Dr Evil making an ambit claim, was willing to write a $1 billion cheque for Royal Hobart Hospital, Wilkie could have done more damage to Abbott than anything Treasury can come up with.
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