Church leaders in Australia have denounced Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s u-turn on poker gambling machines, saying her decision to back away from plans to tighten regulations on “pokies” was a “serious moral” failing that would sapped the people’s trust in government.
The chairman of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee, Bishop Philip Huggins said the prime minister “did not just break her promise” to independent Tasmanian MHR Andrew Wilkie to implement reforms to address problem gambling.
“She broke it with the coalition of groups who then lent their support to these reforms. She broke it too with those problem gamblers who bravely spoke in public about their plight, hoping their support of the reforms might give some meaning to their suffering and that of their families,” the bishop said.
On 21 January 2012 the prime minister reneged upon her agreement with Mr. Wilkie to implement timely reforms to address problem gambling. In 2010 Mr. Wilkie agreed to support the government in parliament in return for the government’s support of recommendations proposed by the government’s Productivity Commission to address problem gambling.
However, the prime minister’s Labor Party has come under pressure from the gambling industry to loosen the proposed restrictions. The November election of Peter Slipper as speaker of the house gave Labor an additional vote, loosening Mr. Wilkie’s value as a vote in support of the government’s majority.
The dispute between the prime minister and Mr. Wilkie centers round bet limits and loss or pre-commitment limits for machines. Mr. Wilkie had urged the government adopt mandatory pre-commitment limits for gambling machines which would set binding limits on losses and the time gamblers spent playing on a single machine. The government’s new plan is to adopt trial of the pre-commitment system but without any bet limits.
Opponents of the gambling machines noted that the government’s proposals, which would come into effect in 2017 avoided the issue. Critics charged that problem gamblers are unable to set limits when in the midst of their addictions and chase their losses, incurring substantial losses.
Bishop Huggins said the proposed reforms were “sensible proposals to assist problem gamblers manage their addiction and put them on the path to healing and freedom.”
But the prime minister’s decision to break her promise also spoke to a deeper issue as when “confidence in a Government’s trustworthiness is shaken by broken promises, people withdraw and civil society is depleted.
“At its extreme, we see this now in the bitterness of citizens towards their Government in parts of Europe and the Middle East,” the bishop said, urging the prime minister to “return to her original agreement” and “endorse these reforms.”