Sunday, November 21, 2010

State independents should back Wilkie on pokies

Media release

Independent candidate for Northcote, Darren Lewin-Hill, has backed the latest strong stand on pokies by new federal independent Andrew Wilkie, saying that, if elected as a State independent, he would pursue similar measures in the electorate, which faces an ongoing threat from problem gambling.

The Sunday Age has today reported Wilkie's call on the Gillard Labor Government to honour its post-election commitment to effective, nationwide measures to limit the damage from electronic gaming machines - including through the ability of gamblers to set binding pre-commitment levels on their losses.

The call follows a Productivity Commission report stating that there are around 115,000 problem gamblers in Australia, with a further 280,000 at moderate risk, and a cumulative social impact estimated at $4.7 billion a year.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has backed strong action on pokies, pointing to an overstatement of costs to the industry by its peak lobby group, and the likelihood that money not spent on gaming machines would have greater benefit when spent elsewhere in the economy - an important additional point to the social impact costs mentioned above.

The Sunday Age report is significant in the context of next Saturday's State election because it shows the benefits of strong action by independents to deliver public interest outcomes, including the potential to limit damage from nearly 27,000 gaming machines in Victoria.

In Darebin, this means nearly 1000 machines across 15 venues that took more than $87 million from local pockets in 2009-2010 - a large slice of which (around 40%) came from problem gamblers.

In a blog post on his campaign website, Northcote Independent, Mr Lewin-Hill welcomed recent action by Preston local, Susan Rennie, and her success  at VCAT in stopping 30 pokies that were set to be installed at a pub in Plenty Road on the boundary of the State seat of Northcote.

However, he said it shouldn't take courageous action by individuals to stop the severe impacts of problem gambling.

"It's not about stopping people having a bet; it's about reducing the excessive opportunities for people with a problem to go too far," Mr Lewin-Hill said.

He said that, if elected, he would support broad adoption of differential council rates (200%) charged on pokies venues, such as the scheme adopted by the City of Moreland, now under threat from a potential deal between pokies operators and the Victorian State Government. Mr Lewin-Hill also voiced support for the responsible gambling initiatives of the Victorian Local Governance Association.

"It's time to act on pokies," Mr Lewin-Hill said.

(See pokies policy for further information and links to Victorian Government data on gaming machines. Full election policies are also online.)

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