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.