I guess it was only a matter of time. I’ve been making a real effort to keep my happy face on this year, but lately that’s been an interesting experience. The recent poker machine reform backflip/compromise/betrayal (take your pick) has sorely tested this fixed grin, but I’ve kept smiling nevertheless.
There’s a saying about lemons and lemonade; that’s how I work. I’ve resolutely looked for the positive aspects of the government’s compromise position on poker machine reform, because I firmly believe it’s important to look forward rather than back. We need to look at how to work with what we’ve got, instead of wailing about what’s been left behind.
I had a chat with Paul Bevan, of ABC Newcastle, yesterday. He called me a “glass half full” type, and I have to say that’s pretty close to the mark. Half full of lemonade, even.
But the grin is slipping. I’m on record as saying that the pre-commitment trial which is being proposed for the ACT is the key to the success of the ongoing reform process. That is, in my opinion, undeniable.
And I’ve blogged before (just two months ago, in fact) about how easy it would be for Clubs Australia to pervert a pre-commitment trial. I even stated that “whether or not a trial includes $1 pokies as well as pre-commitment machines, and no matter where it happens, it can never be a fair trial. The process has been hopelessly compromised. Clubs Australia have made sure of that.”
I stand by that statement. Clubs Australia have done everything possible to damage pre-commitment in the minds of the public, and they are not above telling club members how to behave.
Still, with the formalisation of a trial in the ACT in Julia Gillard’s proposal, and the confirmation that any trial would be not only overseen by an independent body, but would be assessed by the Productivity Commission, I do believe there are grounds for hope. And, at the risk of repeating myself, it’s clear that a trial must be transparent and comprehensive in order to succeed.
So you’d expect the industry would support a trial. After all, they’ve been calling for one for months now. Clubs Australia has criticised the government for not pursuing one (incorrectly, as it turns out… Tasmania was approached ages ago, but said no) and made a very big deal about it just before Christmas in this heavily-weighted media release.
And it’s clear that for an ACT mandatory pre-commitment trial to be successful, poker machine players must be encouraged to take part. Having venues available only a short drive away that aren’t participating in the trial would make a mockery of the process. Queanbeyan, for example, and Yass, are two towns full of poker machines that are geographically close to the ACT.
Well, the government formally approached Clubs ACT about a trial. Financial compensation was offered, ranging from $38 million to $80 million depending on which report you read. And the response?
We’ll think about it.
Right. I’m not smiling any more.
Here’s the media release from Clubs ACT where they confirm that they’ve received an “offer” of a trial, and that they’ll consider it. No mention of neighbouring NSW towns.
Here’s the media release from Clubs Australia where they announce that they’re “encouraged” by the prospect of an ACT trial. No mention of neighbouring NSW towns.
No official media release from Clubs NSW about the involvement of neighbouring towns in the trial. But spokesman Jeremy Bath stated that they had outlined a number of conditions that would have to be met before Queanbeyan clubs would consider joining the trial: who would pay, what financial compensation was on offer, and if the result would have an influence on the Government’s position.
Monaro MP John Barilaro flatly rejected NSW Government participation in an ACT trial.
And The Australian reported that “It is understood the powerful Clubs NSW lobby group will reject the push to expand the trial.”
Given that Clubs NSW and Clubs Australia are basically the same entity, this all smacks of absolute bullshit.
The Clubs industry can not, MUST not be allowed to call the shots. Limited financial compensation I can swallow, although it burns going down, given how many billions of dollars these clubs have already harvested from the community.
But as for the rest of it? Enough is enough. The clubs have been calling for a trial, and they’re going to get one. They don’t have the right to say how it will work, or whether or not they’ll take part, or how wide-ranging it will be.
They’ve been riding the high horse now for an eternity. It’s time they climbed down and shut the fuck up.
It’s time our government, having compromised this far, shows that they will compromise no further. Set the parameters of the trial and legislate it. Make it law, and make the industry comply. You’ve given the industry what they wanted; now make them deal with it. You’re the government, bloody well act like it.
And if our noble clubs baulk at the prospect of losing control of the trial, control they have no right to lay claim to in the first place?
Treat that as automatic validation of the immediate need for mandatory pre-commitment without delay. If they’re not going to toe the line, then they can go to hell.