Pokie reforms passed after clubs win extension
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Greens MP Adam Bandt speak with Chief Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon during a division in the House of Representatives on Thursday morning. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Poker machine reforms have been passed after the industry won a two-year extension to comply with the changes following days of negotiations between crossbenchers, Labor MPs who have a large clubs presence in their marginal seats, and the industry.
The amendments secured crossbenchers' support in the lower house for the bill, which requires all pokies to offer punters the option to preset how much they are willing to lose.
Officials from the pokies industry have been in Canberra all week lobbying for concessions.
Under the amendments, clubs with 11-20 machines will have until 2022 to comply, clubs with 21 or more must make the changes by 2018 and clubs with 10 or less pokies have an unlimited period and are expected to get the technology when machines are replaced.
Many Labor MPs in marginal seats, mainly from New South Wales, where clubs have a large presence and influence, were keen for the extension.
The NSW Right, led by chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon, put pressure on both the government and the crossbenchers to extend the transition period to two years.
Suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson, who sits as an independent, was also heavily involved.
The Greens and independent Andrew Wilkie, who view a simple $1 maximum bet on pokies as the best way to curb problem gamblers, had already reluctantly agreed to the government's watered-down bill.
With the government and other rural independents keen on the extension, pressure was put on the Greens and Mr Wilkie to either support the extension or effectively kill poker machine reform.
The minor party and Mr Wilkie both voted for the legislation.
The Coalition opposed the legislation. It is likely to pass the Senate.
NSW independent Tony Windsor moved the amendments, which were seconded by the suspended Mr Thomson, who has been a big advocate of extending the timelines.
Mr Windsor said it was a tough issue and that "if I was God ... I would ban poker machines".
Fellow independent Rob Oakeshott said the reforms would lift the standards of tackling problem gambling and took a swipe at those voting against the bills.
"I can only find one sound reason for voting against this legislation and that is fear," he said. "It is fear of the power and influence of vested interests that are around this topic and that is not why I vote in this chamber, nor is it why any member of Parliament should vote in this chamber."
The reforms also pave the way for a $250 ATM withdrawal limit in gaming venues, and a trial of mandatory pre-commitment – where punters are forced to preset how much they are willing to lose – in the ACT.
Laws also require machines to be able to be switched over to a system that would force punters to set limits (mandatory pre-commitment) if a trial in the ACT proved successful.
Clubs and the opposition had argued the original 2016 deadline was not enough time for venues, particularly small ones.
Pokies reform was thrust onto the national agenda after the 2010 election, when in exchange for Mr Wilkie's support the Gillard government said it would roll out a national mandatory pre-commitment scheme.
Clubs launched a massive campaign against the reforms, with MPs in marginal seats targeted. Once Labor secured an extra vote with Peter Slipper becoming speaker, the reforms were dumped in January.