I’m not laughing any longer… because that’s exactly what has happened.
Two weeks ago, the Coalition launched their gambling policy. This launch took the form of a joint video presentation by shadow gambling minister Kevin Andrews, and Clubs Australia CEO Anthony Ball. In his introduction and conclusion, Ball made it clear that he and his organisation were firmly behind the Coalition’s policy.
Of course they are. They wrote it.
The policy, also known as “The Coalition’s Policy To Help Problem Gamblers”, is a condensed version of Clubs Australia’s “Part Of The Solution” pseudo-policy which was launched in June 2012. There is practically nothing in the Coalition policy that hasn’t already been covered in the industry manifesto.
Coalition and Clubs Australia gambling policies
Voluntary pre-commitment for poker machines? Tick.
More counselling and research? Tick.
More and better self-exclusion? Tick.
Maintaining the ban on online gambling? Tick.
Banning credit betting? Tick.
Both the Coalition and Clubs Australia documents stress the need to tackle all forms of gambling, despite the fact that poker machines take more money out of the community than all other forms of gambling combined, and despite the fact that it’s poker machines that are propping up the clubs industry in this country. They both do everything they can to draw the reader’s attention away from poker machines.
In fact, there is just one part of the Coalition policy that hasn’t already been covered by Clubs Australia, probably because they thought it was too outlandish, even for them:
“The Coalition will establish an industry advisory council, comprised of representatives of clubs and gaming venues, that will meet quarterly with the responsible Minister. The industry advisory council’s priority will be to develop a detailed plan for the roll-out of adequate and appropriately targeted counselling and support services for problem gamblers at gaming venues”.
Yes, the Coalition plans to put the gambling industry in charge of looking after problem gamblers.
You can’t make this stuff up.
No wonder the Rev Tim Costello was quoted (in this Richard Willingham article from The Age today) as saying “This is Dracula in charge of the blood bank”. It’s like putting drug companies in charge of our hospitals… or giving the inmates the keys to the asylum.
Of course, we should have seen it coming. Back in the heady, frantic days when poker machine reform was still a possibility and being “un-Australian” was still a thing, Tony Abbott got up on stage at a Clubs NSW pro-poker-machines rally (at Campbelltown RSL in October 2011) and said:
“We don’t help problem gamblers by seriously damaging important community institutions.”
“Some people put too much money in the pokies and yes those people ought to be helped but I tell you what, if that RSL wasn’t there, there would be no bushwalking club, there would be no fishing club, there would be no ballroom dancing society. The RSL sub-branch wouldn’t operate.”
“Let’s do more to help the problem gamblers of Australia, but let’s not do it in a way which risks renting the social fabric of this country.”
One thing is clear. Tony Abbott has been on the side of the clubs industry since day one. He’s seen what they can do to protect their profits, and he’s prepared to do anything to avoid that kind of backlash.
Don’t forget that as the peak industry body behind registered clubs in this country, Clubs Australia oversees over 115,000 poker machines. That’s almost 60% of all poker machines in Australia, and more than any other single organisation in the world.
And they’ll be in charge of looking after problem gamblers.
Labor may have made an absolute mess of their gambling reforms, but whatever deals they cut and promises they broke, at least they gave it a go. In the words of Greens senator Richard Di Natale, “At least they tried.”
The Coalition won’t even do that.