It may have taken 17 days, on top of one of the shortest and strangest election campaigns I can remember… but we finally have a government and a prime minister. A minority government, sure, but the wait is finally over. And with Independents Oakeshott and Windsor joining Wilkie and the Greens in throwing their weight behind Labor, our political landscape will never be the same.
One of the exciting outcomes of this whole mess is the commitment Julia Gillard has made, while holding discussions with Andrew Wilkie, to bringing about true gambling reform. I’ve bemoaned the lack of attention given to problem gambling and the pokies throughout this election, but really I should have held my tongue, as the real action didn’t kick in until after the polls closed. Gillard has promised to petition the states to implement pre-commitment technology for pokies by 2014, country-wide. More than that, she’s promised to bypass the states if they should drag their heels, and the general consensus is that she has the authority and the legal ability to make this happen. No surprises there; after all, Gillard was a lawyer before she was a politician!
That was the promise; and now that Labor has defied the odds and held on to office, the promise becomes reality. We are standing at the brink of the most significant gambling reforms this country has seen in the past twenty years.
Pre-commitment technology has the potential to radically alter the pokie gambling landscape, and bring about massive reductions not only in the harm problem gamblers can cause, but in the overall number of problem gamblers in our society. But it will have to be done right, otherwise it will be nothing more than an expensive exercise in futility.
A smart-card system is the way to go; but if it’s going to work, then it has to be mandatory. This cannot be an optional scheme. Every poker machine in this country (outside of the casinos) will need to be modified to accept only smart-cards. No cash, no plastic. If you want to play, then you get a card, and you nominate up front how much you’re prepared to spend. Once you reach that limit, your playing is done for the day.
There will be an uproar about this, and it will be led by those who stand to lose the most. No, not the state governments… I’m talking about the clubs and hotels associations, and Clubs Australia in particular. These groups wield a great deal of political clout, and they’ve already started the counter-attack. If you believe the proclamations of doom and gloom from Anthony Ball, Len Ainsworth and the like, then all these changes will do is cause clubs to close, people to lose their jobs, and communities to suffer. Of course, Ball runs Clubs Australia and he’s always objected to anything that may hurt his revenue stream… and Ainsworth’s company makes poker machines. Gee, I wonder why they object?
The reality is this. Introducing smart-cards may inconvenience some recreational gamblers for a while, but like any paradigm shift, they’ll adjust. Remember the GST? A significant reform that was widely reviled… but we’re all used to it now.
For that matter, how about seat belts? Forty years ago, Victoria was the first place in the world to make wearing seat belts compulsory. Another significant reform that has saved thousands of lives and prevented immeasurable harm, but at the time people bitched and complained. Today, buckling up is second nature. Heck, if I even pretend to start the car while my kids are still putting on their seat belts, they sure let me know about it!
Smart-cards for pokies are effectively the seat-belts of this generation. We’ll get used to them pretty quickly, and the carnage they prevent will be worth a thousand times the inconvenience they cause.
So congratulations to Julia Gillard and her Labor party. You’ve finally heard what the people said, two and a half weeks ago; now it’s up to you to follow through on your promises.