wilkie vs the pokies

Take a look through the pokie-related news stories of the past few days, and one name pops up nine times out of ten. Andrew Wilkie, Independent soon-to-be Federal MP for Dennison. Wilkie has been receiving broad national coverage for his stance on a number of issues, primarily pokies reform, and his insistence that any major party wishing to deal with him will have to go a long way towards accomodating his list of priorities.

Andrew Wilkie has found himself at the eye of the storm, but it’s not the first time this has happened. A few years back, South Australian politician Nick Xenophon ran for the Federal Senate on an anti-pokies ticket, and thanks to a unique combination of preferences and a groundswell of public support, he made the cut. Since then, Senator Xenophon has been front and centre on a number of issues, but the pokies have always been his number one target, and he’s used his notoriety to great effect.

This time around, it’s Wilkie’s turn. Riding the wave of a backlash against the sitting Labor MP, and campaigning on local issues as well as his no-pokies ticket, Wilkie is all but assured of a seat in the House of Reps when the dust from this election has settled. But the political landscape is different now than it was three years ago, drastically so, and it appears that in terms of gambling reform, Wilkie may just have found himself in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time.

I have no time for those naysayers who point out that Wilkie has only received a minor percentage of the actual votes in a small electorate in Australia’s smallest state. All points of irrelevance. Wilkie has played by the rules, and in classic Aussie fashion, has scored a terrific underdog victory. More, he now finds himself in a position to make more of a difference than I’m sure he ever dreamed of doing.

I still get a great deal of enjoyment out of the notion that an election contested by two major parties who had nothing to say about problem gambling, or gambling reform, could have its outcome determined by which of those parties is willing to do more to address this very issue. Wilkie has put it on the line. He has a list of priorities, which he’s already given to Gillard and will soon give to Abbott, and he wants them accomodated. Of course, there will be some room for movement, but on the topic of gambling reform, and specifically the introduction of $1 caps on poker machines, Wilkie has said there will be no negotiation.

At the same time, Wilkie is refusing to act in a bloc with the other independents, and for this he must be applauded. He’s making his stand, based on his principles and requests (none of which are ridiculously extreme, to be honest) and he’s already indicated that he’ll continue to stand alone if neither of the majors want to play ball.

It may well be that we’re witnessing the birth of significant gambling reform, on a Federal level, in this country. And you know what? It’s not before time.

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