This morning, Labor’s Harry Jenkins resigned from his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives. It was an unexpected move that has thrown the Opposition into disarray, and has journalists clamouring to point out that this could be the end of Labor’s support for poker machine reform.
This is a shortsighted view, driven by a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of this minority government. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.
The argument is this. With Jenkins’ resignation, Labor has an extra vote in the House of Representatives. Therefore, they no longer rely on Andrew Wilkie’s vote, and can drop their pokie reform agenda without losing their combined majority.
This is a simplistic view, designed to create speculation and sell papers. Nothing more.
Harry Jenkins is a strong supporter of poker machine reforms. Just last month, he made an “extraordinary entry” into the ongoing debate, speaking out strongly in favour of the reforms and stating: “If there’s an issue I feel safe on being able to have a comment about, it’s this issue.” To suggest that he would contribute his vote in order to allow his party to drop the reform agenda is absurd.
Many senior Labor figures, including Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Jenny Macklin have consistently backed the poker machine reform agenda, saying publicly time and time again that it needs to happen… not just to ensure Wilkie’s vote, but because of the incredible damage poker machine addiction is causing to our society. Believe them or not, to turn away from the reform process now would be to contradict everything that has been said to date, which in turn would erode much of what public support they have, and trigger massive internal upheaval.
And poker machine reforms are popular. This minority government has done incredible things over the past twelve months, passing desperately-needed legislation repeatedly in the face of howling opposition in parliament, in the papers and on the radio. To back down on a policy that the majority of voters across the board actually support would be political suicide.
Gillard’s government is well used to operating with their backs to the wall, negotiating furiously and effectively, and have consistently carried the day. Now, they have strengthened their position in the form of an additional vote; one that strongly supports poker machine reforms. To drop these reforms would be to alienate that vote, which would make a nonsense of the events that have transpired today.
The reality is that Labor’s substantially consolidated position gives them the ability to stare down the industry that has been lobbying mercilessly against them for so long. It gives them renewed confidence that they can achieve their goals no matter what shenanigans the clubs, pubs, casinos or opposing parties try and pull from this point onwards.
Poker machine reforms? Not dead yet.