By TONY FOSTER
Mayor of Brighton
WITH less than six months to go before the next State election, we are about to be bombarded with promises, policy announcements and claims of past achievements from political parties and candidates seeking to win our votes for parliament.
The key issues for Brighton remain the same as they have been in past elections – health, education, economic development, employment, roads and transport, public safety and the provision of essential community services.The election will give voters the opportunity to express the opinions on a range of matters that concern them and to support (or reject) the candidate or candidates that best meet their policy expectations.
One issue that should be important to Tasmanians is gambling and the future of poker or electronic gaming machines (EGMs) in our community.
Brighton Council has long been an opponent of the proliferation of poker machines in Tasmania and particularly their placement in lower socio-economic areas, where the local community has no say if, where and how many machines can be located,
EGMs have been described as voluntary taxation of those who can least afford to pay.
It’s a good description, but as well as the State Taxation office (the State Government) being a big winner from the poker machines, so is Federal Hotels as the exclusive owner of all the machines in the State.
There are currently some 2380 machines in pubs and clubs and around 1100 in the two casinos. Federals has an exclusive licence for all these machines until 2023.
The latest, most extensive and independent research conducted by Anglicare shows that 84 per cent of Tasmanians believe the community receives absolutely no benefit from poker machines and 50 per cent of people want them removed from hotels and clubs. This community view has been consistent over the years and it’s high time that our politicians responded to this.
Poker machines are rigged for the house to win and designed to addict. The result is that the profit-seeking of poker machine owners causes real harm to people including loss of homes, marriage break-ups, criminal acts of desperation, and worse.
The recent Parliamentary Select Committee looked into the poker machine issue, but could not reach a consensus, so the parties are now left to determine their policies so the voters can cast judgement.
The Liberal Government has already put forward its policy and that is very much a continuation of the status quo. Oh, yes, it promises to reduce the cap on the number of machines allowed in the State by 150, but that is disingenuous as the current number is precisely 150 fewer than the number now legally allowed.
The Greens have cleverly mirrored their policy on the findings of the Anglicare research and want poker machines removed from all hotels and clubs.
Labor is yet to announce its policy. We’ve heard rumours of a reduction in numbers, removal from hotels and clubs and even the ridiculous notion of a buy-back scheme to compensate the owners for the loss of their money-making EGMs.
Labor Leader Rebecca White says she is consulting stakeholders about poker machines and at face value, this is appropriate. But it is an important issue and there is plenty of valid research and credible information available about the harm being caused to Tasmanians. Of course, the vested interests in the EGM machine industry say jobs will be lost in pubs and clubs if the machines are removed, but this has little validity as the money will still be spent, on food, clothing, other entertainment and the like and overall, employment will likely be unaffected. The only losers will be the owner of the machines, but then, they’ve had it too good for a long time.
It is important the Labor Party determine and announce its policy very soon if it is to have any credibility and if it is to convince Tasmanians that it has the best approach to manage this vexed issue.
While I appreciate that gambling is an accepted part of the Australian way of life, there can be no doubt that the proliferation of electronic gaming machines and particularly their disproportionate location in lower socio-economic areas, is causing serious harm in Tasmania.
This is not just about problem gambling. It is also about money being bled from local communities and this impacts on families, small business and the community in general.
Undoubtedly, the community will have its say on polling day and poker machines is and will be, an issue. Voters know where the Liberals and Greens stand on the matter. It is now up to the Labor Party to make its position clear.