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THERE is a lovely irony in the call on the ACT Labor government during Budget estimates by Caroline Le Couteur, ACT Greens MLA, to divest the Territory of shares or investments it may have in poker-machine manufacturing companies.
Ms Le Couteur believes the government should invest public monies “ethically” and, in light of the documented harm that gambling can cause, it should not invest in companies that manufacture poker machines.
Government officials in responding to Ms Le Couteur advised that the government had not given any consideration to divesting such shares or investments.
The irony I refer to is, of course, in Ms Le Couteur, raising the question of the “ethics” of a government owning shares in the manufacture of poker machines with a government that, through its administrative arm, is one of the largest owners and operators of poker machines in Australia.
Interestingly, in the week before this issue was raised in the Estimates Committee it was reported in local media that the Labor Party, through the clubs it owns and controls, had paid the Italo-Australian Club just over $500,000 for an unspecified number of poker machines. It was reported that this may have been the second such purchase by the Labor Club in recent times.
Coincidentally, the more than $500,000 reportedly paid by Labor for its most recent purchase of extra poker machines equates to a mere one week of earnings from the poker machines it currently operates.
Labor is also now operating through its clubs more poker machines than it was operating a year ago and appears to have a significant number of poker machines in storage.
This surely flies in the face of the oft stated commitment of the government to reduce the number of poker machines in operation in the ACT. It smacks very much of the Labor Party demanding of the local clubs sector to “do what I say, not what I do”.
It also raises an interesting question about whether the larger, wealthier clubs such as Labor are snapping up poker machines on the market and stockpiling them in anticipation of the foreshadowed legislative reduction in the number of poker machine licences in the ACT.
If for example, as is being suggested, the Labor Party through the clubs it controls has stashed away poker machines it can, if there is a forced reduction in poker machines, presumably relinquish the number of machines required of it from those it has recently acquired and has in storage, thereby effectively maintaining its current level of operation but in a market with far fewer machines overall thereby increasing its share of the gambling market.
The question that should be asked is whether the actions of the Labor Club in buying up and storing poker machines really is in response to the plans the Labor government has announced to reduce the number of poker machines in Canberra; remove the prohibition on poker machines being operated for profit by the private sector through the casino and the decision to introduce a trading scheme that will return the enhanced value of a poker machine sold under the scheme to the club selling the machine and not to the government.
Irrespective of whether the Labor Club has, by virtue of its privileged position of being owned and operated by the Labor Party, acquired any particular insight into the government’s intended approach in implementing these plans does not lessen the depth of the hypocrisy, or perhaps even worse than hypocrisy, which would flow if the Labor Party is enriched or profits in any way from the proposed raft of changes.
The unprecedented, and frankly childish, decision of the government to ban all Ministers from meeting with or consulting with the 75 per cent of the Canberra community clubs that have dared to publicly disagree with the government’s approach to gambling policy, most particularly in relation to allowing the private-sector ownership of poker machines, is an additional reason for alarm.