Last night saw an interesting moment in the current Federal election campaign. Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, live on stage at the Rooty Hill RSL in Sydney’s west… but not at the same time. An audience of 200 undecided voters to ask them the hard questions… although they seemed quite partial to Abbott, and saved the hardest questions for Gillard. I guess that’s inevitable, given he’s the local boy.
But for me, the event provided a telling snapshot of the political world’s attitude towards poker machines and problem gambling. Rooty Hill RSL is massive, with a bowling alley and a laser skirmish centre to complement the 800 pokies in residence. Yes, 800 machines… as a Victorian, with our venue cap of 105 machines, that figure is almost unfathomable.
And in the middle of this massive pokies den were our top politicians. The prime minister and the leader of the opposition. They answered question after question from the Galaxy-poll-picked audience, while all around them hundreds of gamblers dropped their money into the pokies.
Yet no one mentioned problem gambling. No one mentioned the $12 billion lost nationally on the pokies. No one spoke about the proven links between problem gambling and depression, between problem gambling and suicide. Not the audience, not Tony Abbott, not Julia Gillard.
The poker machines and their impact on society were ignored by all and sundry… just as they have been right throughout this campaign.
I can only hope that, come election day, we get enough independent representation in the Senate and the House of Reps to force the problem gambling issue… but I’m not holding my breath. It seems that, regardless of who wins on the day, neither side cares enough to do anything about it.