election 2010 – gambling reform

So it’s been a few months since the Productivity Commission’s second report into gambling was released by the government (the first was in 1999). In a nutshell, there are at least 100,000 problem gamblers in this country, possibly up to half a million, with many hundreds of thousands more Australians impacted by problem gambling behaviours and actions every year. Almost half of the money spent on gambling comes from problem gamblers, and this is almost $5 billion a year. The report recommended a large number of actions to be taken to reform the industry and prevent, or minimise, the harm that gambling can cause.

Since then, a lot has happened. Kevin Rudd was shown the door and Julia Gillard has taken over the top job. An election has been called, for August 21. Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott are climbing over each other to promote their policies which will either Move Australia Forward or Stand Up For Australia, depending on who you listen to.

Mining taxes. Boat people. Education. Health. Parental Leave. Superannuation. The Budget. All the usual topics and a couple of newer ones. But what does each of the major parties have to say about our country’s reliance on gambling revenue, and the social impact of gambling on Australians? What are the policies for gambling reform?

The answer is, there aren’t any. Neither the ALP, nor the Coalition have a defined policy on problem gambling or gambling reform. These issues may as well not exist, despite the fact that the PC report which recommended such comprehensive changes was released only a day before Gillard took the reins from Rudd.

There is very little gambling policy information to be found with the other parties and independents either, apart from Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie (kudos to you Andrew!). In fact, as far as Federal politics and policy is concerned, problem gambling and gambling reform does not exist.

(note: I’m not talking about the Senate here. Senator Nick Xenophon is an active and persistent voice for gambling reform… but he’s half-way through his term, and won’t lose his seat at this election)

I’m not surprised that the ALP are ignoring this issue. They’re currently in power, and want to stay that way. The last thing they want to do in the weeks before a snap election is upset the gambling industry and the clubs/hotels lobby groups… these groups wield a lot of power, and could potentially sway the vote one way or the other.

It’s also not surprising that the Coalition are keeping quiet. To attack Labour’s lack of policy in this area would mean having to present a policy of their own, and that would leave them open to the same lobbyist tactics that are scaring off the ALP.

No, it’s a sad but true state of affairs that Election 2010 will not include any promises on gambling reform. This has been clear from the outset, from the moment the Federal government (while Rudd was still in the chair) sidestepped the PC report on gambling. Rather than commit to action, they handballed it to the states and promised to set up a COAG (Council of Australian Governments) to take a closer look at the recommendations.

Admittedly, at the state and territorial level of politics, gambling policies are flying thick and fast. Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia… everywhere you turn the political parties are yelling at each other about how best to handle problem gambling, and who will out-spend the other in tackling the issue. The Tasmanian Greens are even committed to getting rid of pokies in their state within the next five years.

All well and good; but the brutal reality is that our governments, whatever else they might say, are addicted to gambling revenue. All the promises in the world count for nothing when they realise they face losing billions of dollars of revenue if they seriously tackle gambling reform. And so, in the end, our state governments say a lot and do very little, and our state oppositions say a lot, then recant once they reach government and the reality sinks in.

I’ll be watching the news every day, trawling through the online media and looking for any election-related comments relating to gambling reform. If I find anything, I’ll be posting it here and digging in to it in detail. But I seriously doubt I’m going to find anything; our politicians are simply too scared to tackle this issue right now.

I hope they can prove me wrong.

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