The man responsible for forcing the government’s hand on problem gambling, Andrew Wilkie, today delivered his maiden speech to the Federal Parliament.
As far as maiden speeches go, Wilkie’s was an absolute corker. He spoke eloquently and at length about Afghanistan and the Iraqi war, whistleblowing and the journalists’ shield law, asylum seekers and mental health. And of course, he spoke about problem gambling.
It’s quite clear that Andrew Wilkie is not anti-pokies for political expediency’s sake. This is a cause he feels strongly about, and has done for some time.
The following excerpt should make that abundantly clear. For the full speech, click here… otherwise, read on.
Mr Speaker, closer to home the Iraq war was for me as much about poor governance as it was to do with the unwarranted invasion of a country for fraudulent reasons. And the more I’ve immersed myself in politics, the more I’ve learned about the opportunities missed in Australia and of the countless people not so much falling through the cracks as being shoved through them.
For example problem gamblers.
Let me introduce Steve, a pokies addict for more than 30 years who lives in Denison. He has racked up some eight years behind bars on account of pokies-related crime, costing taxpayers somewhere between $.5 million and $1 million. More important are the opportunities lost for this good and highly intelligent man who struggles to overcome his addictions.
And then there’s the man now serving time in Risdon Prison in Tasmania for murder. His victim was unfortunate to have crossed the path of this desperate man, carrying her purse after the man had lost all his cash during a pokies binge earlier that day. The elderly woman never stood a chance.
Or the couple who explained to me how they’d been bankrupted by a dishonest employee who, over a couple of years, stole so much money from the till to pay for her pokies addiction that the business went to the wall and the owners lost the lot.
And the parents who wrote to me recently to explain that their disabled daughter had only recently become hooked on pokies and was already losing virtually her entire pension on the day she receives it. Their email pleaded for me to keep fighting for reform of poker machine legislation. And I will.
These are not uncommon stories because about 100,000 pokies players are believed to be problem gamblers while hundreds of thousands more are said to be at risk. Add to those figures the five to 10 people adversely affected by every problem gambler and the total number of people touched by problem gamblers is huge. And every one is someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, brother or sister.
The Productivity Commission reports that 15% of Australia’s 600,000 regular poker machine players have a gambling problem and they lose an astonishing 40% or more of the money lost on poker machines. So those in the poker machine and hospitality industry who argue against any harm minimisation measure which significantly reduces cash flow are really saying they should be allowed to continue to trade off the misery of problem gamblers. I will not allow them to do that and I applaud the Prime Minister for agreeing to expedite the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, including the implementation of a uniform and full pre-commitment system by 2014. The industry needs to see the sense of this, or at least gets out of the way so well meaning people can get on with the job.