The proposed poker machine laws seem fair enough to me. Mandatory pre-commitment is just a way of fixing a price tag to the gambling experience. At almost every point of sale retailers have to declare their price and purchasers get a receipt in return. Why not at the pokies? It seems reasonable that something that has a social cost should pay a tax to ameliorate that cost, and act to disincentivize the something that leads to that cost. Alcohol, tobacco and firearms have all undergone similar processes of regulation for the purpose of moderating adverse consequences and yet still manage to produce profit enough to keep their shareholders happy.
The fact that the legislation is unpopular is hardly cause for concern. Not a week goes by without someone congratulating themselves about having the balls to make a hard choice and face the crowds baying for their blood. Usually these are invented choices about backing one horse or another, in the guise of thoughtful foresighted government. This time it happens to be one of those choices thrust on the government. As much as anything the Wilkie Reforms are a challenge to the government to govern: to exercise authority on behalf on its constituents for their benefit and protection.
It is fascinating to watch the Gillard Administration struggle with this challenge, as they feint and shy away from the exercise of their authority as well as managing to evade figuring out what might actually be the right thing, or the best thing, to do about poker machines. It may be that they run out of time before they manage to do either, or that they’ll manage to stall the conversation, a move that is so often the goal of Prime Ministerial press conferences these days.
What’s not fascinating but completely detestable and excruciating is that the poker machine industry does not feature in the debate. No significant role has been played by Aristocrat Leisure or Ainsworth Game Technology. Nope they don’t have to say a word. This is because substantial, locally invested, personally engaged, known and loveable community members are actually fighting this awful fight on their behalf. Men and women who are mainly volunteers are fighting tooth and nail for the poker machine industry.
The recent cross promotional intervention by Phil Gould and Ray Warren at the behest of Channel Nine and the Dragon-in- Chief, Peter Doust is but an example of the awful system of avatars in place. Football doing the fighting for Jamie Packer’s casinos, returned servicemen fighting to protect Star City’s right to be fleecing pensioners, and lady bowlers standing up for the rights of publicly listed gambling enterprises. It beggars belief that the crumbs from the gambling industry’s table are being fought over so ardently without even the merest acknowledgment of the fact that they are just and only crumbs, or that the community dividend clubs pride themselves on delivering is a dividend on investments in the misery of our neighbours.