Published: 11 November 2021

A Labor MLC representing the part of the state most heavily saturated with poker machines says the reform debate is no longer of much interest to his community as he signals his intention to vote in its favour.

Elwick MLC Josh Willie spoke in the Legislative Council on Wednesday after being heavily lobbied by pokies reform advocates over recent months, given his position as a representative covering Glenorchy, home to the state's largest pokies venues.

The government's reform bill passed the lower house last month with Labor amendments that included consideration of card-based pre-commitment, facial recognition and higher return rates. It is now being debated in the upper house.

Mr Willie echoed other Labor MPs by saying the party had to change its position on pokies in response to its 2018 election defeat, and instead focus on harm minimisation measures that the Liberal government might agree to.

He said Hobart's northern suburbs community was no longer overly engaged in the issue.

"It may surprise some, but I've only been contacted by three genuine Elwick constituents over the matter despite the media coverage of this bill recently," Mr Willie told the upper house.

"People aren't raising the issue in discussions in the community.

"There is a much stronger sentiment that they don't like being told what to do by others who think they know better."

His speech drew immediate criticism on social media from Tasmanian Labor former president Ben McGregor who said Mr Willie did not provide any "credible reason" to support the government's bill.

Labor member and former candidate Fabiano Cangelosi said there was a lack of vision from the party.

Mr Willie expected such criticism, and in his speech he addressed the lobbying he had received over the issue.

"Whilst I've been called a coward, grubby, corrupt and many other things from those who like to present this argument as black and white, the reality is the legislative process is complex and it contains many nuances," he said.

"Reducing the argument to name calling overlooks that complexity."

He said delaying the passing of the bill could result in an extension of Federal Group's monopoly license.

Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest said the "smashing the monopoly" argument was a "smokescreen", however.

"It is taking away that monopoly and the monitoring system, but in my view, we would have been better to stick with that in a tightly-regulated monopoly ... and have the benefits spread and tax rates fair," she said.

"When I hear people out there talking - and even in our every day - breaking the monopoly like it's the best thing since sliced bread. It's not."

MLCs spent much of Wednesday in briefings over the bill, including from former gaming commissioner Peter Hoult, pokies expert Charles Livingstone and those within the Tasmanian industry.

Ms Forrest said she had concerns about the inequity between pokies and non-pokies venues.

"I noted the industry's comments that EGM financing will be harder for smaller venues making them more amenable to offers of help from predatory service providers," she said.

"I took special note of the statement that pub values would increase six or seven times the amount of increased profits.

"Even just from the hospitality industry perspective, is it fair that a few pubs with EGMs get a massive boost, compared with all the others in the hospitality sector and those without EGMs having to compete in this space with a pub down the road getting extraordinary financial benefit courtesy of this bill?"

Debate continued on Wednesday, and a debate on a motion to send it to a committee will likely take place next week.

McIntyre independent MLC Tania Rattray spoke of her general support of the bill.

The Examiner, Wednesday 10 November 2021


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