Like most Australians, I like having a bet on the Melbourne Cup and I don’t mind donning a fascinator and a pair of uncomfortable stilettos for the Spring Carnival.
I’ll also back the Swannies from time to time and if I’m near a club on Anzac Day, a round of two-up doesn’t go astray, either. For me, gambling is a bit of fun on special occasions and a personal choice.
The other week, I was one of 10 women who spoke at the first “Women Against Pokies” rally held on the steps of state parliament. I took part because playing poker machines these days is nothing like having a bet on the Cup or the Grand Final.
The other speakers included four women — Anna Bardsley, Gabi Byrne, Joanne McKenzie and Libby Mitchell — whose lives were severely damaged by an addiction to the pokies.
Unbeknown to them, it’s something the machines are designed to do.
All 128 Victorian MPs were invited to attend the rally and all female MPs were offered an opportunity to speak. Sadly, no one from the government or the Opposition turned up.
The rally heard numerous calls for the government not to rush its legislation to issue new 20-year pokies licences through until 2042 — a move which will soak an estimated $70 billion from the Victorian community.
Alas, just a few hours after the 50 women at the rally took their leave, the government brought on the pokies debate in the Legislative Assembly and it sailed through 81 votes to 3.
The first 10 speakers over the two-hour debate in the Lower House were male MPs from both sides, several of whom talked about the importance of looking after the pokies industry which has drained $50 billion from Victorians over the past 25 years. No one mentioned the 400 gambling-related suicides each year in Australia.
What a contrast with the events on the steps that morning, where the female speakers spoke about “bloodsucking pokies” causing misery, distress and widespread community harm. Even the new AFL president, Richard Goyder, said he “hates” poker machines and wants to wean the AFL clubs off them.
When you look at the boards and senior management, gambling is very much a male-dominated industry — yet it is women who suffer disproportionately from the pokies, whether from increased family violence, addiction or financial abuse.
More than half of the $23 billion that Australians gamble each year is wagered on the pokies.
I’’ve worked well with the government, achieving reform in areas such as safe access zones around fertility clinics, voluntary assisted dying and the North Richmond medically supervised injecting facility. The Andrews Government has to be praised for the way it has thought about those issues and changed its position. It takes leadership and courage to do that. But now they need to consider poker machine reform. The legislation is due to hit the Upper House today or tomorrow and I’ll be putting up a range of amendments which deserve support.
I’m no wowser but we’ve got to do better than the “business as usual” approach of the government to rush this 20-year licence extension through the parliament almost five years before the current 10-year licences expire.
This Bill should be delayed until 2018. After all, with 23 Bills to deal with in only six more Legislative Council sitting days, why rush this pokies legislation before the community has even cottoned on to what is being proposed.
I won’t be supporting this legislation in its current form when it comes to the Upper House.
In my electorate of Northern Metro, we suffer some of the highest losses in the state with residents in local government areas such as Whittlesea and Hume together dropping more than $200 million a year.
It is time for Labor and Liberal women in parliament to speak up and fight for the hard-hit communities they represent across Melbourne’s outer north and the west. It’s time for them to take a stand and not allow their male counterparts to wave this legislation through without proper community consultation.
The ACCC recommended that we stick to $1 maximum bets and I agree.
We know that $5 bets are too much. These places are open 20 hours a day and these machines are designed to addict and be programmed to mentally reward losses.
They prey on vulnerable people, magnify inequality and perpetuate poverty in families across Victoria. It’s state-sponsored abuse and it needs to stop.
This parliament must not pass this legislation before Christmas. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something about pokies and we need to have an extensive community debate.- –
– Fiona Patten