Pokies / Debate falls into a predictable spin

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MICHAEL Moore’s column (“Conflicted Labor can’t get snout out of pokies’, CN, October 9) on Labor and pokies was the latest in a series of all-too-predictable responses to the reforms announced recently by Gaming Minister Joy Burch.

ClubsACT CEO Jeff House.
ClubsACT CEO Jeff House.
Much of these ill-informed responses featured in three separate articles spread across two days in “The Canberra Times”, the result of the standard practice of trawling for comment in an era where the media runs angles as well as any paid political spin doctor.

The first of three “Canberra Times” response pieces led with Tim Costello’s familiar “dracula in charge of the blood bank” claim that governments are reliant on gaming taxes and therefore conflicted. I doubt Tim Costello knows that gaming tax in the ACT comprises only 0.79 per cent of total revenue and is falling mainly as a result of government imposing tighter restrictions on all clubs, including those aligned with political parties.

The Australian Christian Lobby chided the government for giving into the clubs. A sentiment echoed by Maj. Kelvin Alley from the Salvation Army, who was deeply concerned about the impact of poker machines on the community.

Now, I think the Salvos do great work but their comments on the ills of gambling would have more credibility if I didn’t see Salvation Army members soliciting donations from punters at Rosehill on a major race day.

Maj. Alley went on to call for the creation of an independent body to regulate poker machines in the ACT. This was a call repeated by Michael Moore, which I will come back to.

The second response piece was the reaction from the Australian Hotels Association which ran as an entirely separate article in the same edition of “The Canberra Times” that contained the first.

The theme for the third response piece was lack of consultation and an example of cabinet solidarity, Shane Rattenbury style!

ACTCOSS complained about a lack of consultation. The government wrote to ACTCOSS along with The Salvation Army, the ACT Churches Council and many more organisations, inviting a response to the discussion paper. There was also an advertisement in “The Canberra Times” inviting comment. Most, including ACTCOSS, chose not to respond.

Again, these are great organisations but if you can’t be bothered to respond to consultation, that doesn’t mean the consultation was inadequate. It means your response to that consultation was inadequate.

Rattenbury’s contribution was to call for $1 maximum bets and clubs to develop business models less reliant on poker machines. Given Mr Rattenbury has already spoken against clubs better utilising land to reduce their reliance on gaming, I look forward to his ideas on how clubs can meaningfully diversify.

I’d be very surprised if Mr Rattenbury did his cabinet colleague Minister Burch the courtesy of letting her know what he was going to say and I can only speculate on whether Mr Rattenbury raised any issues in cabinet when the reforms were discussed. Cabinet solidarity prevents his colleagues from discussing that point publicly.

Notwithstanding that, I find it challenging to reconcile Mr Rattenbury’s position on poker machines given the Greens’ track record on accepting political donations linked to gaming.

Columnist Michael Moore concludes his piece by repeating the call to establish an independent arms-length body to regulate poker machines.

A quick google search would’ve revealed the website for the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission, an independent statutory authority charged with the responsibility of regulating poker machines and all other forms of gaming. Moore was a member of the Legislative Assembly when the legislation creating this independent commission was passed in 1999.

I respect Michael Moore and he was correct when he said the politics of pokies in the ACT are quite challenging. Uninformed, biased, superficial shoot-from-the-hip commentary with more than enough hypocrisy to go around adds to the challenge.

Surely our collective responsibility is to ensure there is informed debate and not just debate.

Jeff House is the CEO of ClubsACT.


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