Chief Minister Andrew Barr laid the blame for the debacle over allowing $50 notes to be used in poker machines squarely with Gaming Minister Joy Burch on Wednesday, but it has now emerged that Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell also signed the December 22 regulation.
Mr Barr said the first he knew that the change had been enacted to allow $50 notes in poker machines, replacing a limit of $20, was when he read it in the Canberra Times on Monday.
Mr Barr has reversed the $50 regulation and apologised for the confusion of this week. He also rebuked Ms Burch in strong terms, calling her into his office on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, but stopped short of sacking her. Ms Burch remains Minister for Gaming, but Mr Barr told her he expects a change in approach.
"It's not enough for the minister in that portfolio just to consult with the club industry," he told the Canberra Times. "I want a broader level of consultation and community engagement."
Mr Barr said he was disappointed and concerned at Ms Burch's actions, and at the lack of public announcement cabinet had authorised further work on the $50 notes along with a new cap on the total amount of money that could be loaded into a machine. Ms Burch's decision to go ahead with the note change without the cap had been pre-emptive, he said.
"I've expressed my disappointment at the minister moving ahead of that process and indicated to her yesterday and again this morning that I expect a change in approach in terms of how the government engages with the community," Mr Barr said.
"... It was an error and one that needed to be corrected and it has been. And I've been very clear with the minister on what my expectations are around how we will manage regulatory reform in this area. It has to involve more than just consultation with the club industry."
But asked later about Mr Corbell's involvement, given Mr Corbell also signed off on the regulation to change the note limit, Mr Barr wouldn't comment, saying only that he had responded and was now moving on with gaming reforms.
A spokesman for Mr Corbell said, "The relevant portfolio minister is responsible for recommending a regulation be made. A second signature is then obtained from the next available minister."
Ms Burch maintained that her decision to sign off on a new $50 note limit had simply been about clearing her desk at the end of the year.
Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson said the situation was chaotic. "I would ask the question as to whether he will now admonish Simon Corbell as he did Joy Burch," Mr Hanson said, calling for Ms Burch's resignation.
"She made a policy decision and either intentionally or unintentionally hid it from her own chief minister who disagreed with that decision and that is an extraordinary bungle and it comes on the back of a litany of failures in every portfolio area that she has held ... We cannot have Joy Burch causing more damage in our community."
The debacle has left the clubs industry up in arms.
"I have some very, very angry members," Clubs ACT chief executive Jeff House said. "It is very, very disappointing that we've had a decision taken and reversed within very short order."
Mr House said he did not expect to see $50 notes back on the table in this term of government. "It's another example of the sheer difficulty in trying to achieve outcomes for the clubs industry, govern the extraordinarily complex and problematic politics around this issue," he said.
Mr Barr said it might be months or years before the $50 note proposal was back on the table, but he said the colour of the note that went into a machine was secondary to the amount of credit that could be loaded on, and he wanted a cap.
He was not a fan of poker machines, but prohibition was not the answer.
"I have a personal view that I think it is irrational to play poker machines because you will lose money. They are programmed to return a certain proportion of what you put in. And I don't see an entertainment benefit from it. But I fully accept that other people will have a different view," he said."I don't think it's unethical for clubs to operate them or people to play them."