Tony Abbott is making a habit of making promises he knows will be very difficult to deliver on. First, he promised to rescind the carbon price legislation if the Coalition takes government at the next election. As The Australia Institute pointed out, doing so would involve a protracted process which depends on many contingencies going Abbott’s way, such as winning a double dissolution election (that is, the election after next) and then repealing it through a majority vote of a joint sitting of Parliament. If the Coalition’s objective is to give business certainty – as they are fond of saying – then this is precisely the wrong way to go about it. Indeed, the so-called Direct Action Plan that forms the basis of their climate change policy could take until mid-2018 to get properly underway.
This week, the Opposition Leader took a similar approach to the debate on gambling reform. He told a Clubs NSW rally that “if this legislation is passed by the Parliament and if we then subsequently form a government, I predict we will rescind it”. Of course, if the Coalition does attempt to dismantle the government’s mandatory pre-commitment scheme he will face a hostile Senate, and would need to rely on the same drawn-out and convoluted process required to wind back a price on carbon.
Mr Abbott’s new gambling policy is apparently based on the premise that poker machine reform would risk “renting the social fabric of this country”. This is the same fallacious argument put by clubs which rely on gambling revenue. They contend that all sorts of worthwhile pursuits would be impossible without it, at the same time wilfully ignoring the human misery and family breakdown associated with their lucrative revenue stream.
Recently a number of high-profile identities from the major football codes have joined the campaign against poker machine reform, adopting the stance of Clubs Australia. They argue that the loss of gambling revenue would put at risk their support for local sporting teams. What they haven’t acknowledged is how much public support there is for gambling reform. A survey by The Australia Institute found 81 per cent of respondents supported people being given the opportunity to set a spending limit before they play the pokies and 67 per cent thought it would help gamblers if they were required to do so. Liberal voters were just as likely as Labor and Green voters to think setting a limit makes sense.
The proposal by the Gillard government to help problem gamblers, their families and their communities places the football codes in a dilemma. Having walked successfully on both sides of the street for the past two decades, this issue forces the football codes to decide whether they are there to help communities, or to milk them. Their decision to side with the gambling industry on this issue makes it pretty clear which side they are really on.