politics has failed us

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for some time now. Much as I try to remain positive, focusing on what can still be done to make a difference, it’s increasingly clear that things have gone horribly wrong. What seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue real, effective reform for the poker machine industry has devolved into bickering, bullying and capitulation.

Politics has failed us.

There are some things that should enjoy the benefit of broad support; measures to prevent or reduce harm are one of those things. It’s well known that the majority of the Australian population have expressed their desire for poker machine reform; poll after poll, survey after survey, the results speak for themselves. The idea of making real changes to poker machines themselves, rather than simply faffing around the edges, had popular support across all demographics, regardless of age, gender or political persuasion.

Yet what have we ended up with? Compromised legislation, reluctantly supported by the MP who championed it, which will do little to help anyone, even if it makes it through parliament… and that looks increasingly unlikely.

Alternative proposals for reduced bet limits and jackpots which could also make a difference, but which are opposed by both major parties.

An industry that, having defeated the reforms that would actually help people, is now hell-bent on re-writing history and painting itself as the good guy.

And big-name players in the field of poker machine reform, politically aligned and motivated, now reduced to attacking anyone who doesn’t agree with their own hard-line position.

Clubs Australia are no doubt sitting back and giggling quietly to themselves as the carnage unfolds.

How have we come to this?

The failure runs deep, through every level of politics.

Locally, we have councils who are hamstrung by the policies and procedures put in place by our state governments. Many still see poker machines as an acceptable cash cow, and those that oppose the expansion of the industry within their boundaries are regularly let down by a system that is geared towards the industry rather than the community.

In Victoria, almost every venue application for poker machines is opposed by local councils, yet they keep getting approved. In NSW, the laws were changed to allow clubs to transfer poker machines between venues almost at will, and many councils still see nothing wrong with the mechanics of the industry.

At the state level, we have governments who earn a significant percentage of their revenue from poker machine taxes. They are hopelessly compromised by their reliance upon the gambling dollar; every party promises tough changes while in opposition, only to turn away once the opportunity arises. The NSW Coalition took it one step further by signing an agreement with ClubsNSW before the last state election, promising to look after their poker machine industry.

Yet it is at the federal level that the failure runs deepest. Dragged kicking and screaming into the poker machine debate by a borderline election result and the need to secure an Independent’s vote, Labor promised the world, only to postpone any real action until they felt able to back away from their commitment. The Coalition were no better, stridently opposing proposed reforms and siding with the clubs industry in their campaign.

And as the promise of reform fell apart, its supporters began to play dirty. Suddenly if you weren’t backing the right reforms or flat-out rejecting certain proposals or pieces of legislation then you were the enemy. Supposed advocates of reform began using the poker machine industry’s smearing, bullying tactics on friend and foe alike.

It’s a mess.

The only winners in this debacle are those who make up the industry; the clubs, pubs and casinos who own and operate poker machines. To them, we are just a source of revenue, and it’s that revenue that they have been desperate to protect. Lives mean nothing when your only goal is securing your bottom line. I’ve said this before, but now more than ever it’s clear that Australia’s poker machine industry is a protected species with a dubious claim to legitimacy. The reality is that they have blood on their hands.

I have given up hope of a political solution to the problem of Australia’s poker machine industry. The lure of the dollar is too strong, the vested interests too ruthless, the political will too weak. There is perhaps a handful of politicians in this country who would support true, meaningful poker machine reform regardless of the political consequences; a handful is not enough.

But I have not given up hope of change. So long as there are still people out there trying to make a difference, people who are still focused on the harm poker machines cause rather than the political benefits of taking a particular point of view, then there is hope.

So long as programs like (Re) Making Meaning and the NEPCP’s gambling-free Social Outings Guide continue to start up and work within the community, there is hope.

So long as truly independent researchers and academics are willing to spend their own time and money gathering more data, more evidence of the damage caused by pokies under the watchful eye of the industry and our governments, there is hope.

This is the last time I will write about the politics of poker machine reform here at Cyenne. Oh, I still have an interest in politics, and I will continue to write about it from time to time on my other blog, In Other Words. But the place for politics in this debate is over.

Politics has failed us.

It’s time to try something else.

Update: 29/10/2015

It’s been 3 & 1/2 years since I wrote this. Time to regroup, time to load up again. Much as I still believe that politics failed in the area of gambling reform, I now believe that the political process will play a part in the eventual solution.

It’s not over yet.

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13 Responses

  1. fAMILYMAN says:

    Cyenne I am trying to think of something to say to you regarding what you have written above, something clever or smart or hopeful. These thoughts you have expressed have plagued me personally so many times over the last 13 years of trying to do something positive only to come up against a brick wall with governments and their pathetic gambling industry stooges or seeing con men and snake oil salesmen conning those who are really trying to make a difference with semantics of who they are and what they offer.
    A Watered down bill will provide the undertaker with many funerals in the coming years and the tax payer and the country a hell of a lot of out of pocket taxes to pay for the kids going hungry and losing their parents etc. If watered down legislation goes in morality and ethics will be words one reads in novels only, as it will not be practiced in the real world. Now is the time to fight tooth and nail for good policy and not be frightened of speaking out.
    The time is short and the task is great. I am prepared to put up $200 for two coffins to be delivered to Canberra ( I am prepared to drive them up also)addressed to Julia and Tony representing those who have lost their lives to problem gambling addiction and those that will lose their lives due to watered down legislation. I know a funeral parlour owner (went to high school with him) and can get two coffins for $500 (haven’t tried to negotiate a lower price) so what do you say those who are reading this? Would you like further details!! Any other ideas ?
    The opportunity will never come again and it is not over till we hear jenny Macklin sing I suppose.

  2. Familyman says:

    Just an after thought we could deliver a few dozen cans of Cat food which pensoners who are problem gamblers eat when they have lost every thing that week. May be some shoes for kids etc as well.

  3. Shonica says:

    Coffins a good idea

  4. Braveheart says:

    Tom, if we consider the history of other public health campaigns around tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, family violence and road deaths you can see that we are still in the early days with pokie and other types of gambling, so take heart.

    We live in a society which takes a long time to recognise the injustices inherent in industries which exploit everyone but especially the most vulnerable. Family violence is a little different in that it reflects a different kind of power imbalance.

    Consumer health issues around pokies, tobacco and alcohol are paradoxical in that people desire things that are ultimately dangerous for the public good and everyone, including Governments, want to cash in on easy money.

    But there are enough people around who want change so we will keep on going. Every small step counts.

    We have been let down by our political representatives at both State and Federal level. They lack courage. I watched the 7.30 Report last night on attempts to remake the Labor Movement by community engagement at the grass roots and felt en-heartened. The Labor Movement has become corrupt and the Liberal Movement dominated by self-interest and entitlement. So we have to begin again.

    I’d like to thank you for the work you have done here. In a highly articulate and informed way you have been a voice for reason in the pokie and other gambling reform movement. Your site has become a resource for many.

    I discovered Cyenne when trawling the Internet for information. You gave me an opportunity to speak, and I’m deeply grateful for that. It was the first time I had done so publicly, if anonymously :).

    So, rest and take breath for a while. It doesn’t hurt to do that in such politically difficult public health campaigns. I somehow don’t think that you’ll stop commentary on pokie gambling altogether. Maybe you simply need time to decided intuitively where to most effectively your energy.

    Thanks :).

  5. Tom,

    Your work is outstanding, and is helping to raise the profile of gambling addiction globally and is giving encouragement to many thousands of problem gamblers worldwide.

    This battle will not be won overnight, it will take probably a couple of generations more to realize the real gambling reform that we all desire. Sadly as with other addiction campaigns before e.g. tobacco it takes many lives to be ruined before health risks are taken seriously.

    I believe though that we are getting closer to the tipping point in the campaign for gambling reform with increasing public awareness and resentment towards the non stop gambling industry expansion. This in conjunction with more problem gamblers speaking out inspired by people like yourself, and more research and concern expressed by the medical and intellectual communities alike will help us to have our voice heard by politicans.

    What I also feel is that globally as an activist community for gambling reform we need to strengthen our common vision and understanding so that we can speak as one voice around the world.

    For example we talk about pokies in Australia, FOBTs in the UK, VLTs in Europe (excluding UK), slots, internet gambling etc. They are all the same. We are united in our resolve to stop the crazy expansion of EGMs (electronic gaming machines.)

    Tom, I am inspired by you as are so many others. this campaigning is tiring on our soul at times, take a break for a while and take care of you. Then see how you feel.

    Thanks so much for your good work, and your contributions to gambling reform around the world.

    Tony Franklin
    twitter: @GamblingHurts
    facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GamblingHurts

  6. Chris says:

    Tom – harden up there mate.
    There are literally thousands (more) who feel exactly like you do.
    Hope lies in the unexpected and the unanticipated.

    So plough on like everyone else. Activism like yours is essential in the long term.

  7. cyenne says:

    Thanks for the kind words… I should clarify that I’m *NOT* shutting down the blog, nor will I stop writing about the issues.

    But I’m done writing about the politics of it all. Here, anyway. Time to shift the focus to the real stories, and better ways of making a difference.

    Not done yet!

  8. Chris says:

    ….and the mess in Victoria is about to escalate with the changes in August where the greedy government is taking a larger slice of the poker machine expenditure pie, will see a number of clubs go to the wall.
    And pubs I suspect.

    The promise of artificial growth for Victorian pubs and clubs (by ditching Tatts and TabCorp) is now becoming hollow and without basis as venues discover the affect of the hit of paying 50% tax. ha
    And in an environment where online gambling is booming – hence the “propping up” of pubs and clubs.

    So I reckon governments, unable to tax online gambling, will do all that they can to regulate online gambling because it costs them for no return.

    Think about that.

  9. Familyman says:

    Well my offer for the coffins is now off the table. I notice the government won’t release the draft bill to independents and opposition until they have “secured” the numbers”. So does this mean they are negotiating with , pardon the pun the Honourable Thompson MP who ran round bragging he stopped the original MPC from getting up? Thank heavens such a respectable and decent man such as Craig will have veto. Can someone ask him what he thinks about it (MPC)? it has been reported that men and women ( poker machine addicts) have prostituted themselves for money to put in the pokies. We all await the decision of Craig the Noble one now……wow this is politics 2012. Julia is waiting on Graig to tell her what to do.

  10. Familyman says:

    the latest…..Ball and co want Julia to ban credit card gambling ….der it is banned for years now from poker machines venues.

    Ball wants Julia to allow them to wheel poker machines into schools across Austra;ia to educate the children on addiction. Think I just saw a pink pig fly across my PC screen.

    Ball wants Julia to allow them to advertise on TV how to play poker machines safely.Isn’t their a law whereby kids eating at a venue are not allowed to see the poker machines so why would we allow it on TV FOR KIDS TO SEE?

    Graig wants Julia to not allow MPC as does Ball.

    Yup…Julia and her ALP MP’s appear to be waiting to see what else the poker machine owners want to be included before passing legislation.Perhaps we should just put the PM crown on Balls head and Julia and scared little ALP mp’s can get jobs with the industry emptying the machines at night considering they appear to run the country not her. How about it Julia and ALP mp’s quit now and let Ball run the country as it sure seems like he does now already.

  11. Chris says:

    The struggle against poker machines and those that peddle the associated misery including governments will be won not by governments but the people — in small ways over small amounts of time with huge efforts

    http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/news/local/sport/general/castlemaine-club-rejects-pokies-revenue/2598520.aspx?src=rss

  12. Familyman says:

    Each and every every month that goes bye bye Julia and her stooge Mackin are smugly allowing/helping ALP clubs and other clubs to rake in another $400 million dollars from Problem Gamblers and thier families and an extra $400 million from tax payers for the social damage cause by addiction to machines. That is Eight Hundred million dollars a MONTH. At the same time Julia and her fearless ALP mp’s ( who tell us they are scared of losing thier jobs if they vote for MPC) tell the media and Abbott that alp is doing more for problem gamblers than any one else.As they say in New York “who you kidding”. Julia is also telling the world how ALP government is so financially better managers than EU countries. Yup she and her scared alp mp’s are costing Problem gamblers families and the tax payer $800 milion dollars a month and she claims to be one of the worlds best financial managers. Julia if you don’t get into legislation by the 28th of June as you promised (MPC and $1 limit) you will have become the laughing stock of Australia tomorrow asnd every day up to the election..

  13. Familyman says:

    Looks like Gillard and Macklin won’t be putting the bill up on the 28th of this month….I have lost all faith in this government to do the right thing for Australian families. So sad ( many times I was shocked by government out comes but this last time I truly believed it would do the right thing only to be sucked in yet again)all those Australian families thrown to the wolves and vultures by Gillard and her kind and Tony the ex-monk and his ilk.
    What happens when a country loses its moral compass and its leaders care more about power than about the people who are the country? What happens when an industry is allowed to profit from the misery of people who are addicted to their machines over the majority of hard working businesses who work hard for every dollar they earn? What happens when $5B is drained from family budgets across Australia every year and the tax payer forks out another $4.7 B to address the social costs associated with poker machine addictions e.g. jails, police, food vouchers etc. Especially in this economic climate of instabilit, I am afraid what will transpire now with people losing their jobs and the economy heading south is more people will become desperate and turn to poker machines which will increase begging on the streets, the homeless sleeping in the cold will grow in huge numbers, kids will be put into welfare homes, marriages will break up big-time, homes will be lost in the slots and of course depression and S will increase.
    This once Great country is stuffed folks and the only ones who can fix it are grovelling to the gambling industry which is cannibalising Australian families. It won’t get better but the exact opposite it is going to get much worse. The Commonwealth of Australia is being forced to grant the poker machine industry the right to exploit the vulnerable with their addictive machines by a gutless group of MP’s on both sides of the House led not by faceless men but by heartless and cruel leaders out for their own gain thinking that by having a few poker machine owners on side they will cling to power at election time.
    We have lost Australia to all the politicians on both sides of the House whose wagers are paid for by the tax payers. They have admitted they are scared of having Ball and crew against them at an election and losing their “jobs”. These fearless MP’s have shown everyone what counts the most and it is their own pockets. Australia has been lost down the throat of poker machines.
    It will never be the same again.

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