There are few things more bizarre in Australia’s political landscape than lobby groups that try to portray themselves as the voice of the people. Think of the tobacco industry’s campaign that showed all those poor shopkeepers whose lives would be ruined by plain packaging, or the advertising campaign against the mining tax that not only predicted Armageddon for the nation if the tax went ahead, but highlighted just how caring and sharing our mining companies really are.
Australia’s poker machine industry is no different; in fact they’re long-practised at the dubious art of blocking anything that could impact on their bottom line, while at the same time professing to care about gambling addiction and raising themselves up as the backbone of the country. Social fabric, anyone?
Clubs Australia are at the forefront of this attempted revision of recent history. Having waged not one but two multi-million dollar attacks on poker machine reform, targeting marginal MPs and ultimately forcing a solution that they know will make no difference to Australia’s addiction to the pokies, they’ve now moved into the warm and fuzzy stage of their campaign. Sure, they’re still kicking Andrew Wilkie as hard as they can (because they know he’s still a threat to their addiction-based revenue) but now the focus is on the industry as champions of reform and friends of the addicted.
I kid you not. Why else would they issue a media release yesterday that contained no actual news, but lots of “Isn’t Wilkie evil?” and “Aren’t we awesome?” platitudes?
Their audacity is matched only by their denial. In the interests of historical accuracy, I’ve deconstructed their media release and provided a counterpoint to their claims. It’s the least I could do.
Clubs Australia’s statements are in bold; mine are interspersed throughout.
WILKIE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF THE WAY
ClubsAustralia has called on Andrew Wilkie to stop blocking genuine poker machine reform after his latest demand of the Federal Government.
No messing about. Note the use of the word “genuine”; the implication is that everything up until now has NOT been genuine.
Note also that the gambling reform bill that Wilkie is stalling on only covers voluntary pre-commitment for poker machines. Several trials of this technology have proven that it is only used by those who don’t need it, and the Productivity Commission clearly stated that pre-commitment had to be mandatory to be effective.
While clubs are getting on with the job of helping problem gamblers, Andrew Wilkie continues to issue political threats and demands on the Federal Government. It’s now clear that he is more interested in being on the front page of newspapers than supporting measures that help problem gamblers.
Oh, clubs are “getting on with the job” of helping problem gamblers, are they? So they’re voluntarily reducing bet limits? Shortening their gaming hours? Slowing down reel spin speeds? Lowering jackpots? Changing the poker machine playing experience?
Umm, no. They’ve implemented an expanded self-exclusion facility. People can now ban themselves from multiple venues via an online service. Nothing wrong with that, but it still places the onus of responsibility solely on the gambler. Gambling venues MUST have responsibility for the products they offer, but the clubs industry is far more interested in ensuring that their poker machines are protected, than in looking out for their patrons.
Throughout 2011 Andrew Wilkie threatened almost weekly to bring down the Federal Government unless they forced mandatory pre-commitment technology on poker machines.
That’s a little rich coming from the organisation that aimed its campaigns at marginal ALP electorates, mentioning MPs by name and threatening their political existence.
A trial in the ACT of this technology will now commence in February next year despite experience showing the technology has led to a huge rise in problem gambling in Norway, the only country in the world to have tried mandatory pre-commitment.
This is brilliant. Clubs Australia have been clamouring for a pre-commitment trial for months. They issued several media releases about a trial, went on radio and TV talking about a trial, criticised Wilkie and others for trying to proceed with pre-commitment without a trial… and now they’re bagging the concept.
Only three months ago, Clubs Australia issued another media release that opened with the following statement:
“Clubs Australia is encouraged by the Federal Government’s commitment to a full and proper trial of mandatory pre-commitment on poker machines in the ACT’s 60 clubs.”
Yet now they attack it. For the record, Norway does NOT have mandatory pre-commitment; their government controlled gambling machines have government-imposed spending limits. And they have not experienced a “huge rise” in problem gambling as a result. I’ve written about this before, more than once.
Clubs Australia Executive Director Anthony Ball said even though Andrew Wilkie has secured a trial, he is reverting to form by trying to bully the Federal Government.
Wilkie didn’t want a trial. That was Julia Gillard’s counter-offer. And accusing him of bullying tactics? Pot, meet kettle.
“Andrew Wilkie appears to have no idea what he actually supports when it comes to gambling reform and how to gain support for it.
“He has refused all industry offers to meet with him to discuss problem gambling and continues to threaten the Federal Government if they don’t agree to his ever changing position on poker machine reform.
Wilkie campaigned for the 2010 election on a platform that included $1 maximum bets for poker machines. Following his agreement with Gillard, that became a combination of mandatory pre-commitment and $1 maximum bets.
Which is pretty much what it is today.
I should also mention that others in the clubs industry (notably Jeff House, boss of Clubs ACT) has publicly stated that they would not deal with Wilkie, that he was not part of the process. Wonder how that ties in with all of these “industry offers” to discuss problem gambling?
“Two weeks ago he set the Government a deadline of 5pm that Friday. This weekend he again made threats, giving the Government 14 days to agree to an entirely different gambling policy.
“An entirely different gambling policy”? Rubbish. This is completely untrue.
“Last year Andrew Wilkie wanted to force the Government to support mandatory pre-commitment. This year it’s all about forcing them to support $1 maximum bets on poker machines.
Again the revision of history. The policy was mandatory pre-commitment for high-intensity poker machines, and no commitment for low-intensity poker machines with a $1 maximum bet. Now that that’s been knocked on the head by the government, Wilkie wants to ensure that $1 maximum bets are in place as a fallback if mandatory pre-commitment doesn’t get up. Not so different at all.
And for the record? Mandatory pre-commitment was the government’s suggestion in the first place.
“It’s clear Andrew Wilkie has absolutely no idea how to stop a problem gambler from gambling and no interest in working on real solutions. He is only interested in threats and headlines.
This shows how out of touch the clubs are with the reality of the situation. Poker machine reforms are intended to reduce the incidence of gambling addiction; it’s about prevention first and foremost. Their continual focus on “stopping problem gamblers” completely ignores the fact that the best way to stop a problem gambler is to prevent the addiction from taking hold in the first place.
No one is born a poker machine addict; it’s something that develops over time, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Yet every single poker machine addict was once a recreational player.
Wilkie and others are, in my opinion, focused NOT on stopping a “problem gambler from gambling” but on reducing problem gambling (specifically poker machine addiction). Two very different things.
“For a man that secured just 14,000 votes at the last election to think he has the right to regularly threaten the Federal Government reveals a character which is completely unsuitable for Federal office.
Ah yes, this is an oldie but a goodie. Why not just go ahead and say our preferential voting system is unfair, Anthony? Because that’s what you’re implying. Wilkie was the most preferred candidate in his seat, and so he won. Just like all the other sitting MPs.
And just when did Clubs Australia become the authority on suitability for Federal office?
“I’ve heard it called political opportunism. I think political delusion is a far more appropriate description,” he said.
Oh very droll. Completely meaningless but I can only assume it sounded good when he thought of it.
And that’s it. There is not one statement that can be considered anywhere close to being news; not one statement that cannot be contested and dismissed. This is little more than a clumsy ham-fisted PR exercise, aimed at portraying Wilkie as an obstacle to poker machine reform, and Clubs Australia as the ones who really care.
Whereas the reality is that it’s the other way around.