While everyone reels from the worst budget ever, a lot of other very insidious work is flying under the radar. One of the most blatant examples of STUFF YOU from our current government came from our Social Services Minister, Kevin bloody Andrews.
In the days after the 2010 election, Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie was a very popular man. In a bid to obtain his support to form government, Tony Abbott offered him $1 billion to build a hospital. Wilkie regarded this as an irresponsible bribe which made him wonder about Abbott’s suitability for the job. He chose instead to back Julia Gillard who promised poker machine reform.
The industry responded with a multi-million-dollar public lobbying campaign run by club lobby group ClubsNSW, and its pub counterpart the Australian Hotels Association, which targeted and turned wavering Labor MPs against the so-called Wilkie Reforms, and eroded parliamentary support for harm-reduction measures, such as mandatory pre-commitment, of which polls suggested most Australians approved. Mandatory pre-commitment would have required punters to nominate how much they’d lose in a given session, and then be locked out when they hit the limit.
And they didn’t limit their action to advertising. AFTER the 2010 election, the AHA and ClubsNSW gave more than $1.3 million in donations for the final quarter of the year. By an overwhelming margin these were directed at the Coalition.
In an ignominious backdown. Gillard reneged on the deal giving in to the power of the hotel and gambling lobbies, watering down the promised reforms and only committing to a limited trial in the ACT. I was disappointed with this decision and Mr Wilkie was rightly furious, but at least his integrity had begun the process of reform with the passing of the National Gambling Reform Act in November 2012. The Acts set out key requirements for voluntary pre-commitment on poker machines, dynamic warnings and $250 daily ATM withdrawal limits in gaming venues (excluding casinos).
And then along came Kev, who, disguised as a mild-mannered Christian from the extreme right, fights a never ending battle for donations, “normal” families, and the financial backers’ way.
A brief reminder of Kev’s previous form: He is against euthanasia, RU486, stem cell research, abortion, equal opportunity, affirmative action, refugees, homosexuality, and sex education. He is a member of many religious organisations which benefit from government funding and in 2011, said of the Greens that their agenda would threaten the “Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment synthesis that upholds the individual”. He was responsible for introducing Workchoices, and for the illegal victimisation of Dr Haneef. He is also a member of the Credlin led Star Chamber.
In December last year, less than three months into his term in office, this moral crusader introduced to the House of Representatives a bill repealing almost all of the gambling harm-minimisation measures passed by the Gillard Labor government in November 2012. He even changed the name to National Gambling Measures Act.
Australians are amongst the most prolific gamblers in the world. A 2013 report by the AMA studied the health effects of problem gambling making the following observations.
An estimated 2.5 per cent of Australians experience moderate to severe problems caused by gambling. For every person with a gambling problem, it is estimated that an additional 5 to 10 people are adversely affected by their gambling. This means that up to 5 million Australians feel the health, social and financial impacts of problem gambling, including friends, families and employers of people with a gambling problem.
Problem gamblers experience high levels of comorbid mental health disorders and substance abuse, and they or their families may experience stress-related physical and psychological ill health as a consequence of their gambling activities. Other adverse effects include family breakdown, domestic violence, criminal activity, disruption to or loss of employment, and social isolation. Additionally, problem gambling may compromise the capacity to afford necessities such as adequate nutrition, heating, shelter, transport, medications and health services.
Problem gamblers have a higher than average number of visits to a GP, and experience an increased incidence of illnesses such as hypertension, insomnia, migraine, depression, anxiety, stomach upsets, headaches, and other stress-related symptoms of physical and psychological ill health.
As gambling activities have expanded and diversified, particularly with the introduction of interactive gambling, so too have the ways in which gambling is marketed to different sections of the community. Young people and other vulnerable populations are increasingly exposed to messages from a broad range of media that endorse, promote and normalise gambling.
The expansion in gambling activities has not only increased the prevalence of problem gambling, but has also entrenched governments’ dependence upon gambling taxation. For state and territory governments, their dual role as regulator and beneficiary poses a structural conflict and obstacle to achieving gambling policies and regulations that prioritise public health and consumer protection objectives. If the expansion of gambling and its associated harm is to be reduced, it is imperative that governments’ reliance upon revenue from gambling is overcome.
The adverse consequences of problem gambling are not distributed evenly across the population. The prevalence and impacts of problem gambling are most pronounced among socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and communities, including Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, those with poor literacy, people with pre-existing mental health problems, certain cultural and linguistic communities, and people living in regions or metropolitan suburbs with high levels of unemployment and economic hardship.
Young people are at a heightened risk of developing problems with gambling and, the earlier the onset of gambling behaviour, the more likely problem gambling will result and continue into adulthood. Gambling during childhood or adolescence is typically associated with risk-taking behaviours, reduced educational performance, and mental health problems, including depression.
Gambling researchers say heavy financial losses are likely to be one of the most important causes of suicides among problem gamblers. Problem gamblers often have substance-abuse problems and other mental-health issues, but debt has been identified as the factor most likely to push them over the edge. Victoria’s State Coroner Judge Ian Gray has released a report showing 128 people took their own lives in Victoria in the past decade because of a gambling addiction though, due to the secretive nature of problem gamblers, the true figure is undoubtedly much higher.
In 2010 the Productivity Commission illustrated Australia’s gambling obsession in extraordinary figures: that Australians lost about $19 billion per year gambling, and that much of this — some 41 per cent, in the case of poker machines — drawn from problem gamblers. And a few more statistics.
•The social cost to the community of problem gambling is estimated to be at least $5 billion a year.
•Only around 15 per cent of problem gamblers seek help.
•One in six people who play the pokies regularly has a serious addiction.
•Some poker machines can be played at extremely high intensity – a gambler could lose more than $1,500 in just one hour.
•Young people (18-24 year olds) spend more on poker machines than any other age group. Many adult problem gamblers report having developed gambling problems during their teenage years
•Three-quarters of problem gamblers have problems with poker machines. It’s even higher for women – in 9 out of 10 cases poker machines are identified as the cause of problems for women
•Problem gamblers are six times more likely to be divorced than non problem gamblers
•Problem gamblers are four times more likely to have problems with alcohol and four times as likely to smoke daily than non problem gamblers
•Children with parents who are problem gamblers are up to 10 times more likely to become problem gamblers themselves than children with non gambling parents
With all this irrefutable evidence available, it is plain to see that our political parties are more interested in keeping their donations rolling in than in addressing this most costly, avoidable, evil of social diseases.
The 2012-13 annual financial returns from political parties and donors, shows the Liberal Party’s total revenue was $73.1 million last financial year, compared to Labor’s $54.7 million. The Nationals further bolstered the Coalition’s haul with $8.3 million. The Greens recorded $8.1 million in revenue.
Roslyn Packer, the widow of billionaire Kerry Packer, and mother of casino mogul James Packer, gave the Liberals $580,000 in 2012-13. The Australian Hotels Association gave Labor $150,000, which successfully neutered their gambling reforms, and hedged their bets, giving the Liberals $372,500. Given the cut-off for the disclosures was June 30, these figures do not include money taken by parties during the 2013 election campaign.
It just remains to say, Kevin Andrews, you are a moralising self-serving hypocritical political whore who is willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of the citizens of our country to serve your wealthy masters. I have no respect for you.
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