Abbott takes a punt on repealing legislation

gamblingTony 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.

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Social stigma costs the unemployed

jobsLast week was Anti-Poverty Week, an initiative designed to draw attention to the millions of Australians and billions of people around the world who live in poverty and the enormous disparity between their plight and the lives of the super-wealthy.

One of the principle causes of poverty is unemployment. In many developed countries, the negative consequences of unemployment are mitigated to some extent by social security, which provides a safety net for people who cannot support themselves financially. Unfortunately, in Australia there is a great deal of stigma associated with being on unemployment benefits, brought about in no small part through the hysterical scapegoating of ‘dole bludgers’ in the mainstream media and in some political quarters. In the minds of many Australians, a substantial proportion of welfare recipients deliberately cheat the system, even though only a tiny proportion actually does so.

Recently, research by The Australia Institute was designed to explore how the stigma of being on unemployment benefits influences what people think about what constitutes an adequate safety net. In a controlled experimental study, 1,034 Australians were asked one of two questions:

1. How much money do you think a single adult living in Australia needs per week in order to meet the cost of living?

2. How much do you think a single unemployed adult should receive per week from Centrelink?

Respondents who were asked about the cost of living provided an average dollar figure of $454. Those who were asked about unemployment benefits gave an average dollar figure of $329, or $125 less than the estimated cost of living. We could conclude from this that the social stigma associated with being on unemployment benefits has a dollar value of $125 per week, or $6,500 per year. With around 550,000 people on Newstart Allowance, this means that the total value of the stigma associated with being on unemployment benefits is around $3.6 billion per year.

We might also conclude that Australians tend to think about other people in very different ways to how think about themselves if they were in the same situation – that is, in desperate need of financial support. If it is the job of our political leaders to provide a vision for a better Australia – rather than pander to community prejudice – then encouraging greater empathy and compassion for people in difficult situations would be a great way to start.

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yesPolitics in the Pub – In conversation with ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher

The Australia Institute will host its final Politics in the Pub for the year in Canberra on the evening of Wednesday 23 November. We are pleased to annouce that our guest will be the ACT’s Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. Ms Gallagher became the ACT’s sixth Chief Minister in May of this year. This will be an opportunity to hear about her vision for Canberra and to ask her questions about the issues that are important to Canberrans in the lead-up to next year’s election.

Wednesday 23 November6.00 – 7.00pm (doors open at 5.30pm)The Lounge Bar, Level 3, The Uni Pub17 London Circuit, Canberra

This event is free.

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Recent publications

TAIBulky Billing: Missing out on fair and affordable health care, D Baker, 28 October

The Australian wine tax regime: Assessing industry claims, D Richardson and R Denniss, 28 September

Mining the truth: The rhetoric and reality of the commodities boom, D Richardson and R Denniss, 8 September

Mining Australia’s productivity, D Richardson and R Denniss, 24 August

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Recent media

news Industry straddles both sides of ‘free trade’ debate, The Canberra Times, 28 October

Patients $900 a year out of pocket, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 October

Think tank questions value of resources sector, Lateline Business, 8 September

Mining offers less than people think, The Age, 8 September

You can catch Richard Denniss on The Bolt Report on Channel 10 this Sunday at 10.00am (4.30pm ACT)

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