Passing pokie reform in the first place was a huge struggle for MP Andrew Wilkie and other responsible gambling advocates across Australia. Now, the federal government has decided to go back on its word to implement poker machine reform measures, which has come as quite the shock to local residents.
This week, the Coalition government introduced a bill that would annul many of the reforms that were passed to reduce the potential harm of gaming machines. These measures included ATM limits in poker machine clubs and pubs, more dynamic warning messages and pre-commitment technology.
The bill will also overturn the plans to establish a nation-wide gambling regulator as well as the trial of pre-commitment technology that was planned to take place in the ACT. The government has been accused of being too reliant on donations from poker machine venues and operators.
The games not only fund a wide range of community organizations; they are also responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of donations to major political parties. According to the Global Mail, Clubs Australia and the Australian Hotels Association donated $1.3 million to political parties over the course of just three months in 2010.
“You have to explain – when 70 per cent of the public want reform of pokies – how a government is so deaf,” says Reverend Tim Costello of the Australian Churches’ Gambling Taskforce. “The explanation is that they're captured by pokies’ donations.” To compensate, the Coalition has proposed the establishment of an advisory council which will include representatives of pokie clubs and other gambling venues.
Together, the council members will decide on the best solutions for problem gambling support and counselling services. While it is admirable that the government has attempted to counterbalance its repeal of pokie reform measures, responsible gambling advocates are concerned that the actions will have little effect on problem gambling rates. The bill will be put to vote by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews this week.