Bligh government speaks out against proposed poker machine reforms

Rosanne Barrett, The Australian, December 05, 2011

The Bligh government has come out against proposed poker machine reforms, adding pressure on the Gillard government as conservative state politicians ramp up their threat to lodge a High Court challenge against the measure.

In a move that puts the Queensland Labor government at odds with its federal counterparts, Child Safety Minister Phil Reeves yesterday told a Clubs Australia rally in Brisbane the Bligh government opposed pokie mandatory pre-commitments.

“We clearly do not agree with mandatory pre-commitment and we will not support it,” he said.

“Let’s make it quite clear that the Bligh Labor government clearly believes in voluntary pre-commitment.

“We strongly support the club and hotel industry and what it has done for our economy.”

The Queensland government has earned more than $1 billion in the last two years from poker machine tax and expects another $568 million in revenue in 2011-2012. Total gambling revenue makes up more than 9 per cent of the budget.

Under a deal forged with key Independent Andrew Wilkie last year, the Gillard government agreed to legislate preset limits on how much gamblers can lose in a session.

Clubs would have until the end of 2014 to comply but smaller venues will be allowed an extension of four years.

Mr Reeves told The Australian a High Court challenge was a waste of taxpayers’ money and would fail. “All states have received legal advice that the federal government have the constitutional power under the Corporations Act to act upon it,” he said.

Mr Wilkie said he was continuing to meet with the Gillard government to press ahead with the reforms, which were on “solid ground legally”.

“I remain quite confident that it will be realised,” he said.

He said states pushing for the legal challenge were posturing and it was not in the public interest.

Yesterday Opposition leader Tony Abbott joined up to 800 people at the rally, telling the crowd problem gamblers needed “individual solutions for individual problems”.

“I think that the deal cooked up between the Prime Minister and Andrew Wilkie is bad for the clubs of Australia, it’s bad for the social fabric of our country and it won’t do anything significant to help problem gamblers,” he said.

Queensland LNP Shadow Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said it would join conservative-led NSW and Victoria in a High Court challenge against the measure.

“This is a particular issue that we can’t let the federal government keep stamping on the rights of the states.”