I’ve been writing about problem gambling and poker machines for a while now. I’ve been writing about the government’s proposed reforms since Andrew Wilkie shook hands with Julia Gillard and agreed to support the ALP in forming government. I’ve contributed to the Joint Select Committee that formulated the reforms, and I’ve supported them and tried to explain the details.
One thing I haven’t done is write much about Tony Abbott. He, too, met with Wilkie after the 2010 election, and by all reports he also put an offer of mandatory pre-commitment to him, much as Gillard did. But Wilkie made his choice, for his own reasons, and the rest is history.
Now, Abbott has been extremely vague about these reforms. He has said that he doesn’t think they’ll work, although he’s been very light-on for details as to why not; yet as recently as a week or so ago, he flatly refused to consider rolling back the reforms if they became law. Ray Hadley put the question to him repeatedly on 2GB, but Abbott held firm.
Oh, how quickly things change.
Last night, there was a rally at Campbelltown RSL. A pro-pokies, anti-reforms rally. Abbott was there, flanked by Alan Jones and Phil Gould… and it looks like he let the moment carry him away. I’ve seen the official transcript of Abbott’s address to the rally, and it’s strewn with inaccuracies and generalisations… but it doesn’t contain his most damning comments:
“When this legislation comes before the Parliament I predict that we will oppose it.”
“And if this legislation is passed by the Parliament and if we then subsequently form a government, I predict we will rescind it. That’s what I predict.”
Still no ironclad guarantees; rather, he’s making “predictions” about what will happen. That gives him an out; plenty of wriggle-room in a prediction.
But standing up there, in front of over a thousand anti-reform protestors, Abbott clearly felt he had to give them something. What he gave them sounded good, but was completely lacking in substance.
That sums up Abbott’s position on the reforms. In his address he spoke about clubs, the good they do, and how mandatory pre-commitment would shut them down. “Let’s help problem gamblers,” he cried, “but let’s not do it in a way which risks renting the social fabric of this country.”
Social fabric? Poker machines? Good lord.
Yet he had no alternatives, nothing to offer other than “more counselling” and “more voluntary pre-commitment.” You’ll notice that these are the alternatives the gambling industry supports. Counselling takes the onus off the industry and voluntary pre-commitment is, as the name suggests, voluntary… neither will make any dent in the revenue stream for clubs, pubs or casinos. That’s why the industry supports them. It has nothing to do with poker machine addiction, and everything to do with money.
It was also interesting to note that Abbott, like the industry before him, misrepresented the reforms. No mention of $1 maximum bets with no pre-commitment required. No mention of financial assistance and extensions for smaller and regional venues. No… he focused on the politics of the situation, and on protecting the industry. He has no policy to reform the industry, no policy to help the gambling addicted. He has nothing.
One of his advisors should take Abbott aside and explain to him that counselling is a reactive measure; that it is an essential part of dealing with gambling addiction, but does nothing to prevent it from occurring. He should also be told that any society that is held together by poker machines is not a society worth having.
Sadly, though, I suspect Tony Abbott knows this. I believe he has a handle on what these reforms really mean and how desperately they are needed… but he’s willing to look past all that for political gain.