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23 April 2012
Deakin University's gambling expert Professor Linda Hancock has called on the government to act ethically, morally and for its own accountability in the public interest on gambling reform.
Her call made in the latest issue of Dissent magazine comes as Independent MP Andrew Wilkie threatens to destroy the government's poker machine reforms unless his demands concerning the proposed legislation are met.
"Public policy requires a 'policy window' to put an issue on the agenda and to keep it 'hot'," she explained.
"The policy window on gambling has stayed open for an unprecedented period.
"It has flushed out vested interests as opposition to meaningful reforms exposed the Clubs lobby $40 million fighting fund; backed quietly by the hotels, Australian Hotels Association and the Australian casino industry – all players with a stake in maintaining business as usual.
"The Wilkie agreement was a written, signed pledge to act.
"For ordinary people, does this mean when we sign mortgages, we can walk away and not owe the bank money?"
Professor Hancock said the Federal focus on reforming the gambling industry had been an opportunity to demonstrate national leadership and principled public policy and to show that the Prime Minister had enough clout to publicly put pressure on her pro-gambling backbenchers to honour the deal that put them into government.
"Surely respect for integrity is better than 'winning' at all costs?" Professor Hancock said.
"Shouldn't the Commonwealth government act ethically, morally and for its own accountability in the public interest?"
Professor Hancock said with in excess of 115,000 'problem gamblers' in Australia, and an additional estimated 280,000 at 'moderate risk' each year, gambling was a substantial cost to the Australian community.
"Player losses now exceeds $19 billion annually in Australia," she said.
"This is equivalent to the entire US foreign direct investment in Indonesia."
Professor Hancock said gaming machines in casinos, hotels and clubs were the main problem; accounting for at least two thirds of total gambling losses and the main gambling form cited by people seeking help for their gambling.
"This is money taken from everyday people's pay packets and frequently at the expense of household necessities like gas, electricity, food and children's education," she said.
"Other forms of 'entertainment' do not risk losing your house, your marriage, your children or falling into depression, crime and even suicide."
Professor Hancock and South Australian Centre for Economic Studies (SACES) Michael O'Neill have proposed a national action plan for gambling governance and regulation.
It includes a tough new regulator for the gambling industry, introducing a levy or super profits tax, strengthening of consumer protection across alcohol, tobacco and gambling, banning ATMs in gambling venues and imposing an eight-hour break in venue, including casinos.
"It suits both state and commonwealth governments to keep gambling reform quiet and limited," she said
" There are vested interests at both state and commonwealth levels.
"It's time to act, before the window closes."
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