Akin to Diderot’s l’esprit d’escalier, politicians often find a bluntness and courage as they leave politics to say things they could never quite muster while in the thick of it. Let’s call it la puissance d’escalier. And NSW minister Rob Stokes, who leaves politics in March, had a strong dose of it on Wednesday in NSW Parliament. Stokes gave the gambling industry, and especially clubs, a red-hot serve.
“Where else in the world,” Stokes wondered, “can you so easily lose thousands of dollars gambling, in the space of a few minutes, in every town and city? And none of these gambling operations would remain sustainable without countless souls blowing their life savings playing addictive video games … Areas with some of the lowest-paid workers have some of the highest losses to poker machines, further entrenching inequality, further entrenching disadvantage, creating more broken homes, more lost opportunities and more unrealised potential.”
Stokes wants major reform, and not just the cashless gaming card his Premier Dominic Perrottet has committed to. “Precommitment systems enable gamblers to set binding limits on their losses. Ban gambling advertising that programs young people to a lifetime of addiction. Change the culture.” He sees it as an issue of social contract.
Gambling generates demonstrable social harm but ephemeral community benefit. The social contract justifying the capacity of clubs to offer harmful services is broken. The community has had a gutful. We need to renegotiate the social contract with clubs to ensure the equation adds up to hope, not harm.
Perrottet remains very much in the thick of it, and has spoken in less stark terms, suggesting he’ll negotiate and consult with clubs on the introduction of cashless cards. But there’s a real sense now that one of the worst examples of state capture in Australian politics, the grip of the malignant gambling lobby, is beginning to shift in NSW.
The NSW Nationals are reportedly unhappy about the speech, but we can expect little better from a party of devoted rorters and pork-barrellers.
NSW Labor, which has its own direct flow of poker machine revenue via labour clubs, is aware the ground is shifting but remains wedded to ClubsNSW and the gambling lobby. Opposition Leader Chris Minns has changed position, moving from refusing to support Perrottet’s commitment to a cashless card to supporting a trial — but only on a voluntary basis.
That’s an entirely political ploy, because a voluntary trial would show nothing — criminals laundering billions in cash could simply move to a club still taking cash. It’s a ploy designed to create the illusion Labor is prepared to address money laundering, without doing anything of substance.
Minns would like people in NSW to focus on the government, rather than talk about problem gambling and money laundering and the malignant influence of lobby groups like ClubsNSW. On this issue, however, it is increasingly Minns who is in the spotlight, along with Labor’s apparent addiction to gambling revenue and its reluctance to upset powerful donors.
Bipartisan support for a cashless card would render the Nationals irrelevant and neuter a ClubsNSW scare campaign against it. The gambling industry, used to having politicians ask how high when it says jump, would find itself in the unusual position of having no major political allies to frustrate a much-needed reform.
It might even lead to a debate about how much healthier our politics would be if such influential donors were permanently neutered by donation reform.
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