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Warning from Wilkie as pokie reform talks close to collapse

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Australian Financial Review chief political correspondent

View more articles from Phillip Coorey

Time bomb… independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

Time bomb… independent MP Andrew Wilkie. Photo: Peter Mathew

TALKS between the government and Andrew Wilkie on watered down poker machine reforms are on the brink of collapse, prompting the Tasmanian independent to warn he will be a ''ticking time bomb'' for the government if no deal is reached.

During a meeting in Hobart on Monday, Mr Wilkie gave the Community Services Minister, Jenny Macklin, until the end of this week to meet his demand that the legislation states unambiguously that mandatory precommitment technology can be activated by a future government ''at the flick of a switch''.

If the two parties fail to agree by the close of business Friday, Mr Wilkie said he will not support the legislation, meaning the government will not put it before the Parliament and face certain defeat.

Mr Wilkie told the Herald yesterday that although he had pulled his support for the minority government in January after Julia Gillard broke the original deal to crack down on poker machines, there was a chance the government, which survives with a one-vote majority, may need him again over the next 18 months.

He cited the uncertainty surrounding the Labor MP Craig Thomson and the possibility any other MP could fall ill.

''If I don't support their watered down bill I'll be a ticking time bomb for the next 18 months because if they come back to me needing my support again, as far as poker machine reform goes, the price will be mightily higher.''

One government source said it would be preferable to strike a deal and keep Mr Wilkie on side but the political heat had gone out of the poker machine issue and the government was not desperate.

In January, following hostile internal and external resistance, Ms Gillard reneged on the deal to introduce mandatory precommitment technology by 2014.

Mandatory precommitment means a gambler would have to nominate in advance how much they were prepared to lose over a set time.

Instead, Ms Gillard offered withdrawal limits on ATMs at gaming venues, a trial of mandatory precommitment in the ACT, and a requirement that all new poker machines were fitted with mandatory precommitment technology at the point of manufacture.

This, along with the retrofitting of some existing machines, would ensure that by 2016, all machines in the country would have the technology ready to go if the government of the day were so inclined.

Under the watered down legislation, the machines would have the technology for gamblers to either voluntarily precommit before playing, or to not register at all and bypass any limit.

Should a future government want to introduce mandatory precommitment, it is not clear whether the bypass mechanism could be deactivated with a simple ''flick of the switch,'' Mr Wilkie said.

Ms Macklin said ''the government's advice from legal and technical experts is that our bill already does what Mr Wilkie wants it to''.

She proposes to include in the legislation:

"The precommitment capability prescribed would be the same whether the person chooses to be registered, or if amendments were made to this Act, the person were required to be registered before using the gaming machine."

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