In the ever-changing world of poker machine reform, Thursday March 22 2012 was shaping up as a red letter day. Parliament were sitting for the last time before the May Budget, and the government was keen to introduce their National Gambling Reform Bill before the break.
It was always going to be a close call. The Bill, released in the aftermath of the end of Julia Gillard’s agreement with Andrew Wilkie, was a flawed document and Wilkie had a raft of changes that he wanted made before he would consider supporting it. His vote was crucial, despite widespread assertions that his political influence had been wiped out when Harry Jenkins vacated the Speaker’s chair and Peter Slipper took over the role.
Without Wilkie’s vote, the Bill was dead in the water. And so a number of meetings were held over the past week or so between Wilkie and FAHCSIA minister Jenny Macklin, aimed at addressing his concerns and bringing the Bill up to speed.
In the end… nothing happened.
Compromises were made but some issues remained, mainly around legislating the ability to easily switch on mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines at a later date. The Bill was tabled to be introduced to parliament, but then withdrawn. Wilkie and Macklin both agreed that progress had been made but more was required, and so they took it off the table until after the parliamentary break.
Yes, nothing happened. But if you’ve read some of the coverage of this topic, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. It’s amazing how many words can be written, how many claims made about something that didn’t actually happen.
Not that it was all bad or overly sensational. In the Fairfax papers, Phillip Coorey penned a brief article (Labor delays pokies reform) that concisely covered the main points: the legislation would be delayed, and Wilkie and Macklin had agreed to continue discussions. Nice one Phil.
Also with Fairfax, Michelle Grattan had a lot more to say (Gillard fails to win over Wilkie on trial pokies reform) but it boiled down to exactly the same thing. Unfortunately, Grattan made the same mistake she’s made before by claiming that the Bill was about the proposed trial of pre-commitment technology in the ACT. I doubt she’s read the Bill, for if she had, she’d know that the trial is only mentioned in paragraph 193 (of 194), and then only in the context of “if a trial takes place…”. Lift your game Michelle, mistakes like this are completely avoidable.
Over at News Ltd, Malcolm Farr also wrote a reasonably lengthy article (Government puts poker machine reforms on hold) about what hadn’t happened. Mind you, Farr also mentioned a separate bill, introduced in the Senate, proposing $1 maximum bets for poker machines, so he has an excuse. He also kindly provided a bullet-point summary at the start of the article, in case you didn’t have the time nor the inclination to read the whole thing.
The Herald Sun even left this one outside the paywall. I can only assume they realised that people prefer to pay for news, not a lack of it.
The News Ltd papers also ran an AAP article by Lisa Martin (Wilkie close to a new pokies deal) which was quite positive in tone. She too had a lot to say about the events that didn’t take place, and like Malcolm, she also referred to the $1 Senate bill. But Martin also spoke to Dr Charles Livingstone, the Monash University academic who has been intimately involved with the reform process from the outset. Livingstone recently sent Macklin a five-page critique of the proposed legislation and was highly critical of the draft version of the Bill.
But there was one News Ltd paper that couldn’t leave this non-event alone. The Australian obviously decided that more outrage was required; even though they ran Lisa Martin’s sensible, informed AAP article, they sandwiched it between two foaming-at-the-mouth pieces from Joe Kelly.
First came “Poker machine reform package scrapped as Wilkie pulls support for Labor deal” which cunningly managed to ignore the fact that the legislation has not actually been scrapped.
Then, some hours after Martin’s article was published, Kelly followed up with “Pokies push flawed, says Andrew Wilkie”, which opened with this:
Andrew Wilkie has launched a stunning 11th-hour attack on the government’s poker machine laws…
A stunning 11th-hour attack? He’s been talking about nothing else for weeks! So keen was Kelly (or possibly his sub-editors) to drive this point home that he recycled much of his earlier article into this one. I guess there’s no limit how many times Wilkie can be referred to as “the anti-pokies crusader”… that never gets old.
A question, then, for The Australian: why the outrage? Why the lashings of hyperbole? Why wasn’t it enough simply to say “nothing happened, but still might” as your stablemates and opponents did?
Nothing to see here.