A regular reader contacted me recently to alert me to a letter she’d come across in the Shoalhaven ExServicemens Club newsletter. This letter, tucked away innocuously half way through the newsletter, was from none other than Mr Peter Newell (OAM), chairman of Clubs NSW.
* updated 19/02/2011 to add: It seems that the Shoalhaven newsletter I originally linked to no longer contains the letter from Peter Newell. No matter, I found a similar version of the same letter on the Campbelltown Catholic Club’s website, and as it was a PDF, I saved it. It’s a little cleaner and a little longer, but otherwise it’s essentially the same letter. You can access it here. *
It seems that Anthony Ball is not the only clubs official with a blatant disregard for the truth. Here’s the letter; the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are his, while the comments are mine.
I write to you in disgust following the announcement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard about
new policy commitments on gaming machines made to woo Tasmanian Independent MP
Andrew Wilkie to support Labor and keep her in Government.
Let’s get one thing straight: if anyone was “wooing” Andrew Wilkie, it was Tony Abbott. I mean, a billion dollars for a hospital? Seriously! In the end, however, Wilkie decided that Gillard’s ALP were more trustworthy, more able to meet their commitments, and more likely to try and maintain a stable government. That’s why he made his choice.
And let’s not forget that the federal Labor government had already expressed support for pre-commitment technology for pokies. More on that later.
This decision contradicts a written commitment given to Clubs Australia by the Labor
Government on the 5th August before the last Federal election. A Prime Minister has just
reneged on an agreement to 4,000 Australian community clubs, Their 80,000 employees
and 10 million members. They have been sold down the drain on an issue that was
never raised by Labor during the election campaign. These events were out of our
control and we did all we could before the election to secure written commitments from
both Labor and the Coalition on our main concerns including gambling policy. This we did
for what it was worth.
Notice that Newell doesn’t say what the commitment is? That’s because no commitment was ever given. Here is the letter, dated 5th August 2010, that was the Labor Party’s response to questions from Clubs Australia about gambling reform issues. Take a look. Nowhere in this letter is there anything that could constitute a commitment to the clubs of Australia. In fact, the overriding theme is one of support for pre-commitment for poker machines. The Labor Party was warning the clubs of what might happen; how can they cry foul now?
This wasn’t the first time the ALP had supported pre-commitment. When the PC Report into Gambling was released in June (a day before Julia Gillard disposed of Kevin Rudd), the only recommendation it contained that was supported by the government was the introduction of pre-commitment technology.
So to say that the Prime Minister “has just reneged on an agreement to 4,000 Australian community clubs, Their 80,000 employees and 10 million members,” that they have been “sold down the drain,” is ludicrous. There was no agreement.
To appease Mr Wilkie, Ms Gillard has announced that a Labor Government would
introduce a maximum daily ATM withdrawal limit of $250:00 in venues with poker
machines. Never mind that in Mr Wilkie’s own State of Tasmania where ATM’s are not in
Clubs or Pubs. there is a higher rate of problem gambling than in NSW Queensland or
South Australia where they are permitted. So the logic here just escapes me. Never mind
that in some communities the club ATM is the only means available of securing cash.
Never mind the safety and security aspect. Never mind increased transaction costs.
Never mind the gross inconvenience to people who have every right to access their own
money for whatever legal purpose they choose. This is a disgraceful decision we oppose.
Still trying to pin all this on Wilkie. And the comment about problem gambling rates being higher in Tasmania (with no ATMs in venues) than they are in NSW, Queensland or South Australia (where they ARE permitted) is completely false. Like other clubs officials, Newell is basing this claim on a table in the PC Report that lists figures recorded by different surveys, of different sizes, at different times, in different states. The Commission themselves qualify this data by stating:
“However, with the exception of the Productivity Commission’s 1999 survey,
prevalence estimates for the states and territories have been derived from surveys
undertaken at different times, and with different methodologies and sample sizes.
Some estimates are dated. In addition, imprecision in the estimates mean that, in
many cases, what appear to be significant differences in prevalence rates between
jurisdictions could have arisen merely as a result of chance. For these reasons, the
Commission is cautious about using the figures below to make generalisations about
differences in prevalence rates among jurisdictions. Nevertheless, it appears that
Tasmania has lower prevalence rates than other states.”
What was that? Tasmania has LOWER prevalence rates than other states? Gee Mr Newell, maybe you should have read the report a little more closely.
As well the agreement with Mr Wilkie would see the introduction of compulsory pore-
commitment technology by 2014. That well may mean every single person including the
99.6% of people who have no gambling problems will require an “Australia Card” type
license containing expenditure limit which also well may be dictated by the Government
and its anti-club supporters before being permitted to play a gaming machine. This is
treating every single person as a problem gambler and smacks of a “Nanny” State.
Don’t you just love Newell’s figures? “99.6% of people who have no gambling problems”. This is deceptive, as the only people who have gambling problems… are gamblers. Seems obvious, no? And the PC Report found that up to 30% of regular poker machine gamblers can be classified as moderate to severe problem gamblers.
Then there’s the reference to the “Australia Card”, which is not just deceptive, it’s downright misleading and completely untrue. The only people making this assertion work for Clubs Australia. And the expenditure limit? The whole point of pre-commitment is that gamblers set their own limits. To suggest that the government “and its anti-club supporters” could dictate expenditure limits is a bald-faced lie.
Brief side-note: despite my many rants and posts attacking the actions of Clubs Australia, I am not anti-clubs, just as I am not anti-gambling. I am pro-reform. The poker machine gambling industry in this country is a harmful, largely-uncontrolled mess and needs to be overhauled.
One more thing: what letter opposing pokie reform would be complete without a reference to “wowsers” or a “Nanny state”?
Ms Gillard has said if the Australian States and Territories do not play ball on this issue
she will try to use Commonwealth powers to bludgeon them into submission. So much
for State rights!! This is subject to legal advice. Should they be legislated, both of these
proposed measures will lead to Club closure and job losses I have no doubt
Beautiful word, “bludgeon”. So expressive. So emotive. And given the way that state and territorial governments suck up gambling revenue and taxes, so perfectly appropriate. This reform cannot be left solely in the hands of the State and Territory governments, as they are hopelessly compromised by their reliance on gambling income. Nowhere is this more obvious than in NSW, where the clubs movement and its involvement in politics is at its strongest.
Needless to say, ClubsNSW and Clubs Australia are disgusted by these announcements
which demonstrate a clear willingness to see down the drain our Clubs, their people and
communities for sheer political expediency in an unashamed grab for power at any cost.
Once again: this is not about breaking the clubs. This is not a power grab. This is about reforming the poker machine gambling industry. This is about harm minimisation. This is about problem gambling, and depression, and pain, and sometimes, sadly, suicide. This is about fixing what has been broken for so many, many years.
The clubs say they support the communities; why, then, do they resist gambling reform when it is the community that suffers the most?
I can assure you we are not taking this laying down and I ask each of you to carry this
fight to your local Members of Parliament and bring it to the attention of all Club
Members via this letter if you so wish.Our industry and the many people and
communities it supports have much to lose.
Like other struggle4s we have faced through the Club Industry’s proud history this also
will require unity and strength of commitment by us all. I look forward to your on-going
support as the future of our community Clubs becomes clearer in these uncertain times.
Newell certainly has a chip on his shoulder! Get it in to your head: this is not an attack on the clubs! Guess what? You’re not the only one with pokies! Yet the hotel industry has barely made a sound about the whole pre-commitment issue. Maybe that’s because they realise that it’s not only inevitable, but also the right thing.
But of course, the clubs don’t care about the hotels. Again, in NSW where the clubs are strongest, they get so many advantages over the hotels. Not only tax breaks, but also no limits on the number of machines each venue can have. Poor old NSW hotels have to struggle along with a maximum of 30 machines; some clubs have more than 20 times that amount!
No, this is not an attack on the clubs, but they’re right to feel threatened. That’s because they’re so set in their ways, so used to being powerful, that the mere thought of losing some of that power frightens and alarms them.
Yours sincerely Peter Newell OAM Chairman ClubsNSW