Politics / Pokie wars plague Barr government

“The Labor Party’s conflict of interest over poker machines has been exacerbated considerably by the reaction of the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, to ClubsACT,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

THE poker machine wars continue to plague the ACT government.

Michael Moore

The Labor Party’s conflict of interest over poker machines has been exacerbated considerably by the reaction of the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, to ClubsACT.

While tripping over their own feet, the Liberal opposition has not been able to capitalise. It is time for a truly independent assessment of poker machines in the ACT.

Around three quarters of community clubs in Canberra have been excluded from negotiating with the ACT government as they affiliate with ClubsACT. Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, will only negotiate with the CFMEU and other “comrade” clubs along with the Burns Club and more recently the Federal Golf Club. These clubs have simply secured preferential government treatment.

The Federal Golf Club is looking for government support to develop part of its land in order to put the club on a better financial footing. They wish to turn their community lease into residential leases. A strong government would ensure the full value of the change of lease purpose belongs with the community allowing the Federal Golf Club the prerogative of making profit on the development.

ClubsACT adopted a high-risk election strategy. It has come back to bite them. Clear messages to their members throughout their venues to vote against the Labor Party led the campaign. Around a quarter of a million dollars was spent attacking Labor. The operation was widespread with a pronounced media presence, advertisements and substantial financing of Richard Farmer’s Canberra Community Voters Party. It is not surprising that Labor was infuriated.

The aggressive campaign turned out to be a dismal failure. The Canberra Community Voters Party secured just 1703 (or just 0.7 per cent) of the votes across Canberra. It is understandable, from a political perspective, why the Chief Minister would now ignore them. No doubt Labor believes ClubsACT deserves what is coming to it.

However, it is now the role of the Chief Minister to govern for all Canberrans.

The government should be sensitive about clubs and poker machines. From one perspective this revenue through poker machines and the clubs contributes to the community. However, pokies also contribute very significant harm to vulnerable people. Despite this harm caused by these machines, and the obvious conflict of interest, no Labor member of the ACT has ever stood aside on a vote regarding poker machines.

Perhaps Andrew Barr could learn from Nelson Mandela. There was no-one who had more reason to reap revenge on the South African apartheid government and the white ruling class. However, Mandela determined to go through a process of reconciliation – focusing on the long-term prosperity of his people and his country.

Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury and his party have been outspoken on restrictions on poker machines and their associated clubs. He has described ClubsACT as having “their head in the sand” and having “become a de facto lobbying group for poker machines”.

However, Shane is willing to meet with both ClubsACT and the Labor-affiliated grouping. This is in marked contrast to the minister with responsibility for the area, Gordon Ramsay, who appears to have been caught up in the Chief Minister’s wrath and is playing hardball by ignoring ClubsACT.

The poker-machine debate should be grist for the mill for the ACT Liberal Party. Slips, bumps and tripping over his own feet, gaming and racing spokesman Mark Parton has not made this easy. His early outrageous dismissal of the problems of poker machines moved focus from Labor to his own callousness. He is new and is learning about being an effective MLA.

Parton has also included on his own Facebook page a stinging criticism from Jeff House, who described government policy on ATMs in clubs as a “vindictive, lazy, retaliatory shot in the dark”. House is a former Labor stalwart, an ex senior Chief Minister’s Department bureaucrat and previous head of ClubsACT.

Poker machines are a problem in the ACT. The issue requires an independent, non-partisan, arm’s-length assessment to determine a sensible way forward.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

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