Independant MP Andrew Wilkie remains committed to withdrawing support from Julia Gillard next May if his poker-machine reforms are not passed by parliament — even if the government supports the legislation and negotiates strongly for its passage.
The Tasmanian MP said Ms Gillard’s government was only in power because it had promised him it could achieve the introduction of mandatory precommitment to high-intensity poker machines.
He told ABC1’s Insiders program yesterday he would “hold the government” to this promise, despite intense campaigning by Clubs Australia and other gambling industry figures against the reforms.
“If they don’t pull off this reform I will withdraw my support,” he said. “I will do it regrettably, but . . . I will hold the government to the commitment they made to me.”
Mr Wilkie’s ultimatum comes as Labor backbenchers meet increasing pressure from opponents of the technology that would impose limits on poker machines. The clubs industry has issued pamphlets in at least three Queensland seats opposing the move, and is directly targeting sitting Labor backbenchers in NSW seats.
The Australian understands opponents of Mr Wilkie’s scheme plan further meetings with Labor MPs this month.
NSW federal MPs met on the issue two weeks ago. One backbencher said the issue was one of the most difficult the party had ever faced and declared “we will need a miracle to get through this”.
But senior Labor sources said the Prime Minister and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin remained determined to implement their agreement with Mr Wilkie.
Mr Wilkie said that while there was much said about him “holding” the Prime Minister to ransom, he was just keeping Labor to its promise. And he would not give them any time extensions.
“The government is only the government because they agreed to it,” he said yesterday. “Because they thought it was worth achieving, they thought they could achieve it, and I think they can achieve it.”
He conceded that if he was forced to walk away from Labor he would be in “uncharted waters” in terms of who he would support and what would happen to the parliament.
He said if he was in the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s shoes he would move quickly to a no-confidence motion in the government.
But he said fellow crossbenchers Bob Katter and Tony Crook — neither of whom signed agreements to support Labor — might support the government for the sake of stability.
Despite this threat, Mr Wilkie said he had no regrets about siding with Ms Gillard and he stood by his decision.
He said it was impossible to say Ms Gillard if would be the Prime Minister by the next election. “I think she will, that’s my assessment. I hope she is,” he said.
The government played down Mr Wilkie’s comments.
Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said there was nothing new in his remarks.