On the 30th of January Shadow Minister of Families Kevin Andrews hit out at the Gillard government over its poker reform deal with Andrew Wilkie. Minister Andrews pounced on revelations that Jenny Macklin’s office had received technical advice in April 2011 that the 2014 deadline for national poker reform could not be met.
A spokeswoman for Ms Macklin claimed that Wilkie was briefed regarding this at the time it was received. Mr Wilkie has countered these claims stating that he never received any indication that the timeline could not be met until his meeting with the Prime Minister on the 15th of January 2012. With this information becoming public a can of worms has been open on Julia Gillard and her transparency as Prime Minister. Has this been an unfortunate series of events for the Gillard government or are we seeing a Prime Minister so desperate for power, she is willing to do or say anything, including misleading the public and her parliamentary colleagues.
Since the agreement with Wilkie, many commentators have questioned Gillard’s likelihood to keep the commitment; what started as a whisper became a roar after the defection of Liberal MP Peter Slipper to the Speaker's role which guaranteed an extra Labor vote and lessened reliance on the Independents. When this happened Senator Nick Xenophon claimed that Wilkie agreement would receive the Judas kiss of death.
Since the Prime Minister backflipped on her deal with Wilkie there has been an attempt at government spin with the PM and Families Minister Jenny Macklin claiming that the legislation was dropped due to failure to secure support for the bills passage. This at odds with statements from Andrew Wilkie who felt assured that support could be won from the Nationals Tony Crook.
Tony Crook also came outcriticisingthe government for not trying to sell the legislation. Crook confirmed the Prime Minister didn’t contact him or Jenny Macklin claiming that his only contact regarding the issue was five months earlier. Crook stated; “Given that it was a condition of forming government that the poker machine reforms be passed, it certainly seems the government hasn't put in the work required in regard to lobbying.”
It should also be kept in mind that the Gillard government could have arranged meetings with Liberal MPs and seen if there was a mood for change; Malcolm Turnbull may have been an option after he conducted an online survey gauging public sentiment. The findings he released showed that of 7475 respondents, 57 per cent supported mandatory pre-commitment technology and 66 per cent supported maximum $1 bets.
Setting aside the Gillard government’s spin about who would and would not support the passage of the legislation, it is important to examine what the Prime Minister had to lose from the passing pre-commitment legislation.
United Voice, a Union incorporating the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU) had stated their opposition to the Wilkie reforms. United Voice declared that if mandatory pre-commitment technology was introduced, the government needed to provide a multi-million-dollar compensation package for the industry.
United Voice has a number of associated MP’s in parliament as well as being a financial contributor to the party. The electoral commission financial returns show that the NSW ALP party received almost $90,000 from the NSW branch of the LHMU in the 2009-10 financial year. In the 2008-09 they received nearly $97,000.
If the policy had gone through the Labor Party may have compromised its position with United Voice and lost some financial support; Labor was also set to suffer a backlash from the gaming industry which was already targeting NSW Labor MP’s in marginal seats.
The Gillard government would be desperate to retain votes as marginal seats will be the most likely to fall to the Coalition at the next federal election. NSW would be of particular concern due to the major blow the ALP suffered after losing 32 seats at the 2011 state election.
The ALP has enjoyed a rather cosy relationship with the gaming industry over many years in state governments and may have been hesitant aboutjeopardising this. Equally there is the potential that NSW MP’s would cross the floor on this legislation.
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