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Problem gambling is a tragedy that affects the lives of many Australians. It is a significant factor in mental health problems, marriage breakups, homelessness, domestic violence, suicide and even murder.

Prompted by a nurse’s curiosity over what tipped patients into crisis, a program at The Alfred Hospital found that 17% of suicidal patients seen by the hospital’s emergency department were problem gamblers.

According to figures released by the Victorian coroner in 2013, gambling addiction was a contributing factor in 128 suicides and two murders in Victoria over the past decade. The true figure is no doubt much higher, and that’s only one state.

In 2010 the Productivity Commission’s report into Australia’s gambling industry estimated that Australians lost about $19 billion per year gambling, and that much of this — some 41 per cent, in the case of poker machines — came from problem gamblers.

They recommended that by 2016 (or 2018 for smaller venues) all poker machines be limited to $1 per button-push, the imposition of ATM limits, and fitting of machines with pre-commitment technology.

When Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie made poker machine reform a condition for his support to form minority government, Julia Gillard broadly accepted his reform agenda, which sent the gambling industry into overdrive, targeting MPs in marginal seats and club members and employees with their “It’s Un-Australian” campaign.

Very quickly, the $1 limit was scrapped. The other two measures were adopted as part of a watered down National Gambling Reform Act which was passed by the Gillard government in late 2012.

Enter the Abbott government.

In what can only be described as a blatant capitulation to the power of the pokies lobby, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews chose to repeal these harm-minimisation measures as one of his first acts on assuming office.

One might wonder why, with the avalanche of evidence showing the harm problem gambling causes to so many Australians, the man charged with protecting our most vulnerable considered this a priority. The answer may have something to do with the donations received.

Most industries tend to cluster their donations around federal elections, when parties are hungriest for cash. Not so for the poker machine industry. There was a clear and dramatic spike in late 2010.

Unusually, it did not come before polling day, as is the usual pattern with donations. The federal election in August registered just a small bump in donations.

However by September, when most other business donors had tapered down their election gift-giving the figures for the poker machine industry began to swell.

The AHA gave more than $235,000 that month. Then a similar amount in October. And then a whopping, half-a-million dollar Christmas bonus in December. ClubsNSW also gave with unprecedented generosity over the period, handing out nearly $200,000 in November 2010.

Together, they 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 2009, some years after he had left the organisation, former ClubsNSW chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon admitted that ClubsNSW’s political fundraising largesse had a distinct purpose.

“There was absolutely the view that supporting fundraising helped our ability to influence people,” Fitzgibbon told The Australian newspaper.

“We did support political party fundraising, which was a legitimate activity, and it certainly assisted us in gaining access,” he said.

Which brings me to Joe Hockey and the North Sydney Forum whose members, in exchange for thousands of dollars, gain privileged access to the treasurer.

Despite Mr Hockey’s recent claims that the NSF was a “chamber of commerce for North Sydney”, the organisation has many members who are not based in North Sydney, including the AHA and Fortune Corporation, a New Zealand owned and operated gaming industry company.

Then there’s the Millenium Forum. This is the group responsible for the fundraising for Liberal Party Federal election campaigns, including that of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Paul Nicolau, who has recently appeared before ICAC, is not only the head of the Millenium Forum, he is also the NSW chief executive of the Australian Hotels Association.

And then we have Woolworths who, aside from selling groceries, are huge owners of poker machines in Australia. They also donate hundreds of thousands to political parties.

During his election campaign, Tony Abbott held many press conferences from within Woolworths stores.

Simon Berger, former head of political relations at Woolworths, infamously donated a jacket made of chaff bags for auction at a Young Liberals fundraiser in a reference to shockjock Alan Jones’ comments encouraging the assassination of our then Prime Minister.

After public outrage, Berger was dumped by Woolworths, only to be employed by Tony Abbott to head what has been called a “secret political hit squad” attacking Abbott’s political foes. As reported by Malcolm Farr, the under-the-radar Coalition Advisory Service supplies Government backbenchers with media information and ammunition to aim at the Labor Opposition. It is a taxpayer funded body which has offices in Parliament House. Mr Berger has a staff of at least six but a potential allocation of 10 who are paid from $75,000 to $175,000 a year and so far have been issued laptops and mobile telephones worth a total of close to $22,000.

It is undeniably apparent that the gambling industry exerts undue influence over this government’s policy making who, in so many areas, seem more beholden to their donors than their constituents.


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  1. roscoe

    if Joe had nothing to do with the North Sydney Forum, why didn’t he make his diaries available to show there was nothing to the stories?

  2. Kaye Lee

    He’s probably using the Brandis excuse. George Brandis said it would take too much time to release his diary.

    “Mr Brandis has refused to release his diary, claiming that complying with the FOI request would unreasonably interfere with the work of his office after Labor’s request for weekly printouts of Mr Brandis diary for his first six months in office.

    Mr Brandis’ office claims processing this simple request would occupy the Attorney-General himself for at least 40 hours and require considerable further effort from senior ministerial advisers.”

  3. Terry2

    Kevin Andrews is the worst type of hypocrite : he not only capitulates to gambling interests and the AHA lobby but then he insults our intelligence by offering us $200 vouchers for marriage guidance counselling.

    Has he ever sat down to consider the devastating impact that chronic gambling has on families and that as a politician, as a Minister and evidently a Christian he could have done so much more during his tenure in office.

    If I were Andrews I would take a serious look at myself and reflect on how many opportunities to do something worthwhile I have missed. How do these people sleep at night.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Andrews is an Adjunct Lecturer in Marriage Education in the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne. With the new tertiary education funding rules the Institute, which offers course units including “Theology and Practice of Natural Family Planning” and “Marriage in the Catholic Tradition”, is now eligible for federal support.

  5. Sad sack

    The CLP gave the clubs the notes in facility as soon as they got in and the revenue went up 35%. The $1 machine went from the least played to most played. In July the clubs and pubs can increase the number of machines (I think 20 in a pub and 40 clubs) and they will be introduced into Aboriginal communities. I am an addict and I play every morning 7 days a week. But I am not a gambler. I have no cards and have a $50 to last me the hour or two. A gambler will gamble till they are broke or the venue closes. The history of NT gambling revolves around ‘tong’. An Aboriginal family would arrange a card game provide all the food and beer and take 10% this would be used to purchase white goods mostly. On the communities gambling is rife but the money circulates in the community and as possessions are communal little is lost.(drugs have somewhat upset this process) When the machines are put in the community clubs the money will leave the community the same day it arrives. This is a potential disaster worse than alcohol. I feel so sorry for Wilkie who has a genuine concern and had the power in the lower house till Gillard did the dirty on him with slipper rendering wilkie’s vote unnecessary. But near contempt for Xenophon, who was elected on anti pokies to the SA upper house till he got his pension then into federal till he gets his pension. Sadly he had years of balance of power under Howard without mentioning pokie reform. SA has the most pathetic of gamblers, and perhaps I am too harsh on Xenophon because there are important rules like one machine and $1 coins in force outside the casino. (As soon as labor goes so will any restrictions).
    To blow my bags, I am the fastest white man to play the favourite community card-game, based on baccarat, but most 6 year old Aboriginal kids are faster. How can Aboriginal people with NO arithmetic play a card game using ace to 10 that add two cards, three cards and 5 cards three of which must make zero and the other two unit digit? Because they know the combinations, I have to add and arrange. The missionaries couldn’t follow and assumed to loudest took the money and was a bully.
    This form of redistribution has stopped in darwin, also in most of the pokie towns down the track, where last year I saw only one game and that was in the Elliott carpark(I played one hand of 2 3 5 card and lost $5) and I don’t know about the Alice but the casino pokies are well attended. The card games are strong in the bush.
    Still put pokies in Arnhem Land will empty the homelands for a couple of days a fortnight???

  6. Sad sack

    ps the point I missed making was children aged 5 are gamblers, in the communities I visited over the last nearly 50 years. Tong is 10% of every pot.

  7. Kaye Lee

    Sad sack,

    I majored in maths at university and my part time job was as a bookmakers clerk at the trots at Harold Park in Sydney. The guys I worked with had little formal education but amazing mental arithmetic.

    I became a maths teacher and I remember one of my students whose parents owned a fruit shop. If I gave him an equation to solve, for example 4.5x=27 he didn’t have a clue how to solve it but when I said 4.5kg of bananas cost $27, how much for one kilo, he rattled off the answer immediately.

  8. Peter Anson

    Let’s not forget that the member for Reid, Mr C Laundy, comes from a family who have a substantial interest in poker machines. The family is no doubt delighted to have one of theirs inside the tent.

  9. Lee

    Good work Kaye. I must admit Kevin Andrews’ efforts had escaped my notice.

  10. Sad sack

    Thanks, Kaye. There are wonderful skills within our brains. The ability to remember and apply ‘permutations’ of 2, 3 and 5 cards from a pack of 32(no J, Q, Ks) is common in young Aboriginal children because it is a need not a want.
    Sadly I am unable to explain properly but it is obvious to me that, for example, the Aborigines who live in Arnhem Land have no need of balanda schools for daily life. So the political assertion that attendance is the answer is crap and will remain so until Aboriginal people have schools that fulfill a need.
    Urban Aborigines find themselves in a different situation with access to the $96000 fee help for TAFE/VET and the government creating a need for ‘paper’ qualifications in employment. Labor missed the opportunity to oppose the government’s lack of safeguards when inducement adverts began arriving in January 2014. I sent these on to labor with a warning that the educationally vulnerable will be put deep into debt at 6% compounded with no prospect of earning enough to pay the gov loan.
    Why no labor pollie could get a handle on this catastrophe they were fixed on the top end of education and $100000 degrees. Couldn’t any of them see that is only $4000 more than any young school leaver wanting to emulate abbott’s daughter and sign up with the institute for a $60000 course??? Can’t they see debt of hundreds of thousands?

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