Abbott keen for gambling policy to toe line between Wilkie and clubs

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has commissioned his own problem gambling policy but one which avoids a fight with the powerful clubs lobby and tries not to aggravate the Tasmanian independent, Andrew Wilkie.

The shadow cabinet has charged the opposition’s families spokesman, Kevin Andrews, with preparing a policy which will include targeting poker machine addicts for counselling and education and possibly introducing voluntary precommitment on the machines.

The opposition will not embrace mandatory precommitment, which requires a gambler to nominate in advance how much they are prepared to lose over a certain time frame.

Mr Wilkie has demanded the government pass initial legislation for mandatory precommitment by May 31 next year or he will withdraw his support for the minority government.

Mr Abbott, who has flatly rejected key government policies, has been more guarded over gambling reforms, even refusing to commit to unwinding mandatory precommitment should it be introduced.

Senior Coalition sources have told the Herald the Coalition’s policy has three motivations. Firstly, there is the possibility of a compromise between Mr Wilkie and the government, which the opposition could support; secondly, Mr Abbott wants to do something about problem gambling but believes mandatory precommitment is ”using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut”; and finally, the Coalition wants to keep Mr Wilkie on side by making an effort on gambling.

Mr Wilkie has previously opposed government policy, such as the Malaysia plan. ”He’s not rusted on [to the government] like others, and from time to time he is useful,” the source said.

The latest Herald/Nielsen poll found nationwide support for mandatory precommitment has slipped over the past six months and plunged in NSW. Nationally, support has slipped from 66 per cent to 61 per cent, while in NSW it has dropped from 66 per cent to 52 per cent.

Mr Wilkie lauded that a majority nationally still supported the reforms. He said the NSW result was to be expected given the state had ”borne the brunt of the pokies industry’s $40 million disinformation campaign aimed at protecting its profits”.

An industry spokesman said yesterday $1.9 million had been spent on the campaign so far.

The Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, said the government would not be cowed by threats of campaigns against MPs in marginal seats.
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