Friday, 17 August 2012

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

Instead of showing leadership Michael O'Brien has turned to diverting the discourse away from poker machine reform in today's Herald Sun column.

Here's what the  Minister writes
It was a financial disaster for Victoria that the Coalition strongly opposed from Opposition. So it was curious, to say the least, to read Paul Bendat's claim (Herald Sun, August 15) that I "endorsed" the former government's gaming auction.

On the day the decision was announced I said that the then-premier had blown a once-in-a-generation opportunity and that Victorians were the worse for it.

As a former lawyer, Mr Bendat should know that the factors that led to the poor auction result, including the setting of a rock-bottom reserve price and ending the auction while bids were still being placed, were decisions taken solely by the government of the day and did not come before Parliament.

This is not an "endorsement" and it seems less than honest to pretend otherwise.

Here's the response

It was my recollection that all aspects of this legislation were passed unanimously. This recollection is confirmed by the online record of The Greens. It shows all unanimous votes on all things gambling in 2009 when these amendments were enacted.

So the Minister agreed to  and thereby endorsed the termination of the Tabcorp and Tattersall's poker machine licenses, the root cause of the action by Tattersall's.

It seems that the Minister's real problem is something else, that the auction did not raise enough money.

I believe that the Gambling Regulation Amendment (Licensing) Bill 2009 - the enabling legislation - gave the then Minister (Tony Robinson) the power to make rules with respect to the allocation of entitlements. So Mr O'Brien assented to the Minister  having these powers not to have to come back to Parliament. He should have specified this at the time.

But he did not.

His recollection that the Opposition "strongly opposed" when he voted for and thereby endorsed legislation should be questioned.

It is, of course, open for Mr O'Brien to criticise the Minister after enabling him.

The Minister's stated concern is not whether an auction was conducted but how it was conducted. But the auction was doomed from the beginning. In June 2011 I blogged:
"The true core problem in not getting more $$$ is that Victoria has an effective monopoly with Woolies / Mathieson joint venture. No one could realistically bid against them so probably no one did. Firstly,  Woolworths would always have more money. Secondly, because of the takeover of the Fosters and Taverners pubs with Woolworths $$$$ there was no pub real estate left."

"And it is the metro pub pokies where the significant deficiencies between earnings and the cost of the entitlements occurred."

I emailed Michael O'Brien's office on three occasions voicing concern about Woolworths' domination in March 2009 without response.

It was not the way in which the auction was conducted (what Mr O'Brien whines about) but that there should never have been an auction in the first place.

Mr O'Brien spruicks his accomplishements;
"We have removed ATMs from gaming venues, ensuring that any cash-out transaction via EFTPOS involves interaction with staff."
The system has already been the subject of critical reports in The Age and Crikey. In essence past ATM limits have been lifted and staff are not mandated to intervene.

In Crikey, the Woolworths joint venture spokesperson was invited to comment about intervention but demurred.

I was present when a reporter from The Age questioned staff at a poker machine venue who said that how much was being withdrawn was none of their business.

There is many things that he has not done. Implementing the evidence based recommendation of the Productivity Commission of the $1 bet limited so that hourly losses can be no higher than $120 is the main thing.

The use by Mr O'Brien of the 0.7 of the total Victorian population figure is misleading. In fact, the Productivity Commission found that describing problem gambling prevalence in this way was "misleading". Their finding was:
"though problem gambling is indeed low in the total adult population, it is pronounced among those who gamble regularly."
 The number is high as 31% (Productivity Commission report page 5.25)

The undisputed fact remains that Victoria has the highest prevalence of problem gambling of any Australian state.

Instead of irrelevant arguments, the Minister should adopt the evidenced based recommendation of the Productivity Commission to legislate the $1 bet maximum so that gambling losses are limited to $120 per hour.


Anonymous said...

What's the problem gambling rate in WA Paul?

PokieWatch said...

Hi Anonymous,
Given you interest in the minutiae of state by state prevalence rates, I strongly suggest you have a look at the Productivity Commission's report on Gambling.
You can find it here:

Chapter 5 concerns prevalence.

Hope this helps!