Published: 24 November 2021

It's a terrible cliché but Tasmania is really at the crossroads.

The last few months of life in the corridors of powers has been a deeply unsettling experience.

The carefully nurtured growth in the Legislative Council as a respected house of review no longer has a majority of Independent Members. When both major parties join up there is little we can do to ensure full and proper scrutiny of legislation.

We work hard at our job, to act as a bulwark against the rushed and at times ill-considered legislation that lands in our chamber needing amendments. Rarely do we reject legislation.

This work is best undertaken with a regular stream of Bills that we have time to properly understand and consult with stakeholders. Recently the opposite has occurred with many contentious Bills presented at the same time. We are expected to pass complicated legislation in haste without adequate time for full consultation.

The current gaming legislation has shone a spotlight on the problems we are facing. The policy devised by industry, was adopted by the Government in 2018. It was supposedly approved by electors at the 2018 and 2021 elections but few understood the details.

Even Premier Hodgman at the time, more than halfway through the 2018 election campaign, had to be corrected by one of his staff after he erroneously claimed gaming licences would go out to tender which would have ensured we, the community, would get full value.

We now know those licences will be gifted resulting in a more than doubling of net profits by already very profitable businesses.

We also know of the harm that can be inflicted by gaming machines and how this harm can be lessened.

The government claimed there had been two rounds of public consultation and it was time to pass the Bills. But there was widespread ignorance about the effects of the Bill which arguably should have been the trigger point for the Legislative Council to have time to more fully consider many of the provisions of the legislation and the impact for industry, the State and the people of Tasmania. But no, on this occasion, the preponderance of party members in our chamber actively prevented this.

The government Leader did a sterling job in piloting this odious Bill through the chamber. But that's her job. The other Government members however were silent. At all times.

The Labor Opposition, in the house of review, where a Bill should be considered clause by clause, were likewise, almost completely silent. It was frustrating and disappointing that not all the facts were on the table, or fully understood and not all questions had been answered, for and on behalf of the community, before this Bill was waved through.

Did the broader community fully understand the high profits a small group of pub owners were getting from this Bill? I don't believe many did or even do now.

It is truly disappointing to know that there's a particularly disadvantaged school in Montello, in my electorate, in desperate need of improved facilities, which is situated barely a few hundred metres from a gaming pub, one of the State's most profitable, where net profits from gaming will double to almost $1 million. Every year. Year on year.

And yet the party members in our chamber combined to refuse to refer this gross inequity back to the Government to even consider a fairer model which I suggested. A proposal that would have seen all pub and club owners better off than the current arrangements.

A proposal that shared the profits from the pokies more equitably. A proposal that would provide greater returns to the smaller pubs in our regions with less pokies and lower profits.

The legislation as passed robs from the poor to give to the rich. It may threaten the viability of some of the smaller pubs.

It creates an entirely uneven playing field for pubs and clubs without pokies - many of which I have no doubt would welcome a government gifted financial boost.

The objects of the legislation called for the returns from gambling to be shared appropriately, among the gaming industry, players and the community as well as seriously addressing, not just tinkering with, harm minimisation. The legislation as passes comprehensively fails to meet its own objective.

For the first time in my 16 plus years in parliament we had the chance to fix the gaming issue. Instead we chose to give most of the rewards to a few pub owners.

I believe we have failed the people of Tasmania who rely on the Parliament to ensure the needs of all Tasmanians are served, not just those of a privileged few.

The Advocate, Wednesday 24 November 2021


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