what does “double standard” mean?

A Richard Willingham article in Friday’s Age had me scrambling for my Flip Dictionary, which is best described as an intuitive thesaurus on steroids. No, it wasn’t something Richard wrote, but rather an expression that immediately came to mind as I read what he had to say.

The expression I looked up was “double standard”. And there within the pages of my Flip Dictionary, under the heading “double standard”, was a picture of the current Victorian Government, with Michael O’Brien front and centre.

Here’s the situation. Back in June, gambling reform heavyweights Senator Nick Xenophon, Rev. Tim Costello and PokieAct’s Paul Bendat wrote to the Victorian and South Australian governments. The gist of these letters was to put both governments on notice; unless a number of breaches of the Gambling Regulation Act were addressed, legal action would be forthcoming. These breaches included the operation of unrestricted pokies in casinos, the practice of “losses disguised as wins” on poker machines, and ongoing violations of the laws intended to keep children out of poker machine venues. This wasn’t some political stunt, not was was it posturing for the sake of publicity; these were legitimate and serious allegations.

Both the South Australian and Victorian governments were given 14 days to respond, which would seem like plenty of time, and the SA government did just that. The Victorian government, however, made no response, although Gambling Minister Michael O’Brien did find time to say that “…Xenophon should know that assertions are not the same as evidence.”

And so the deadline passed.

Naturally, the trio began receiving counsel on how best to proceed with suing the Victorian government… as they said (quite clearly) that they would. Another two weeks would go by before the Victorian government, through O’Brien, bothered to respond, and when they did, it was with a non-response and a threat.

Not our problem, O’Brien said; talk to the VCGR. Oh, and we stand by our policies, we’re spending $150 million on a new problem gambling foundation. And why aren’t you guys talking about removing ATMs from venues?

Not that any of that has anything to do with the breaches detailed in the original letter. Classic political misdirection; forget about the question, here’s some other stuff. Ooh, shiny! But as if that wasn’t enough, O’Brien then went on to issue a thinly-veiled warning. “Victorian taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for politically-driven stunts,” he said, and implied that if any forthcoming legal action were unsuccessful, the trio would be responsible for the costs.

Hang on a minute.

This is the Victorian Minister for Gambling (forget “Gaming”, let’s tell it like it is) blowing off a list of actual breaches of the Gambling Regulation Act, and warning against legal action because Victorian taxpayers “shouldn’t have to foot the bill.”

That’s the very same minister who, in May of this year, stated quite clearly that his government would pursue every opportunity to fight the impending Federal poker machine reforms… and that “that may include a High Court challenge.” They will go to court to try and ensure that pre-commitment for poker machines in Victoria is voluntary, not mandatory… meaning they will fight for a system that no one has to use, and spend taxpayers’ money doing so.

That’s what sent me diving for my Flip Dictionary. For a government that in its short tenure has developed a reputation for avoiding the hard questions and pointing the finger everywhere else but at themselves, this is a double standard that is hard to swallow, even for them. In a nutshell: if you want to sue the Victorian government, no matter how serious the issue, you’re “wasting taxpayers’ money”; but if the Victorian government wants to sue you, it’s simply a case of “ensuring the integrity of their policy.”

Try this, Michael: look long hard and hard at the breaches in the letter. Never mind who wrote it, just look at the issues. Speak to the VCGR, they may be independent but you are the Minister for Gambling after all. Get all the advice you need from the myriad of advisors or experts that you have at your disposal.

And then actually do something about it. That’s what the Victorian taxpayers that you seem so concerned about pay you for.


8 Responses

  1. Libby Mitchell says:

    Great article Tom…What I cannot understand is why Nick, Tim and Paul left out the fact that ALL Victorian and South Australian pokies gamblers are not receiving their rights under the new national Australian Consumer Law 2010. The laws apply to both groups of gamblers and are being ignored. There are a lot of double standards here, when dealing with pokies gambling consumers. These men all know of this law and its breach yet they have not included it in their complaint? Why?

    According to that law (Chapter 3, Division 4, Section 100) every consumer must be given a receipt…a transaction record of spending…for spending over $75. The Cash Transactions Reporting Act 1988 clearly identifies casinos and gambling venues as dealers in cash transactions.

    Just like other consumers slow up their future spending when they see and review their past spending (eg when we turn lights off more often after getting hit with a high power bill)…pokies gamblers could be expected to slow up their future gambling if they could see exactly what they had spent previously. This measure would apply especially to newer pokies users who may never reach the addiction stage, if they could be warned of over-spending, soon enough.

    It seems like everyone is ignoring the elephant in the room? For what purpose? No wonder O’Brien did not mention that one in his response. It is too blinking obvious! But for Xenophon, Costello and Bendat to leave it out is very disturbing.

  2. Sue Pinkerton says:

    Excellent point cyenne! It’s not unlike the industry’s claim that pokies reform will decimate the industry while at the same time, hundreds of business persons throughout Australia are pushing hard to obtain a licence to buy and operate poker machines!

    What the?????

  3. cyenne says:

    Libby, I’m no lawyer. I’m familiar with gambling legislation but I don’t know the intricacies state by state, nor am I completely across Australian consumer laws. But I know some people who are. I’ve asked them about this, and their advice (given on condition of complete anonymity) was that poker machines, in Victoria at least, are NOT covered by the ACL. They are covered by the Gambling Regulation Act.

    That would explain why this matter wasn’t included in the list of breaches. If there is no legal basis, then it would not have been included; to do so would have undermined their position completely on all the other breaches.

    This is not my position; I’m not going to argue the point because, as I said, I don’t know. I can only rely on the advice of people that I trust, who are knowledgeable in these areas.

    SHOULD they be covered? That’s another matter entirely.

  4. cyenne says:

    Spot on Sue. The South Wagga Sports & Bowling Club (for example) is still forging ahead with their push for 284 additional machines to fund a complete redevelopment of their club, going from a bowling club to a multi-million-dollar sports & entertainment complex. They obviously don’t expect the reforms to hurt!

    Double standards abound.

  5. Libby Mitchell says:

    Fine Tom. That explains it from your point of view at least. Sounds a bit odd to me though.

    I am still awaiting a response from Treasury, as I referred the matter to them. My early responses are though that the ACL 2010 applies to all businesses unless these are exempted in the Act. I will wait and see what responses are given…however if pokies gambling consumers ARE disadvantaged because they are not covered by the ACL 2010…then that is another complaint again! How dare they be missed out of consumer protections legislation?

    The Victorian CAV certainly did not give that answer in 2005…they acknowledged that Victorian pokies should be covered by the Fair Trading Act 1999…so is the Gambling Regulation Act new then I wonder? I will check. However what of SA I wonder? oxox

  6. cyenne says:

    Not my point of view Libby… I tried to make it clear that I don’t know enough about the relevant laws and legislation to have a position on this. I have a lot of opinions, but I try to make sure they’re informed opinions, and this is one area that I simply don’t know enough about.

  7. Cathy says:

    I don’t think it is a case of them not expecting the reforms to hurt. I just think deep down they don’t really expect the proposed reforms (unless they are watered down significantly) to go through at all. They have had it so good for so long with these machines, in their minds it just can’t happen.

  8. Libby Mitchell says:

    Sorry Tom I expressed that loosely. I did of course mean the view that you reported. Not sure anyone does know too much about the parameters of the gam[bl]ling laws Tom as they have never really been tested, as far as I know. Still there is always a first time. I hope that Nick’s / Tim’s / Paul’s case drives that fact home that the laws can be challenged.

    When Duty of Care Inc tried to take a case against the gambling industry and governments, the judge told us to find $1 million before he would hear the case fully. We couldn’t…so the case had to die. Not a bad way to kill citizen rights!

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