Any changes to Tasmania’s poker machine laws are now almost impossible because of Labor’s decision to abandon its election policy, says Upper House member Ruth Forrest.
Ms Forrest’s comments came as Labor leader Rebecca White took to Facebook to reiterate that Labor stood by its policy to remove pokies from pubs and clubs and Treasurer Peter Gutwein suggested Ms White’s “leadership is on the edge”.
Ms Forrest, the Independent member for Murchison said she was “disappointed” Labor had backed away from the position it took to the 2018 election and the role of the Upper House would be vital to making any changes.
“The role of the Legislative Council will be more important if we are to make positive change to legislation needed to provide new licensing and taxation arrangements,” she said.
“However, with up to six party members, the opportunity for real change is almost impossible if the parties are aligned as all Independent Members would need to share the same view.
“The best we can hope for is to achieve licencing and tax arrangements that benefit the people of Tasmania and those harmed by poker machines, rather than vested interests.”
Ms Forrest said elections were never won or lost on one policy position.
“There was broad support for this policy including some traditional Liberal voters who told me they had voted Labor for the first time on the strength of this policy,” she said.
“We now hear Labor are taking a pragmatic approach to promote harm minimisation rather than to show real leadership by promoting a harm prevention approach when they know the harm pokies’ addiction causes.
“This is a generational missed opportunity to show real leadership, and remove pokies from pubs and clubs, as many AFL clubs have, preventing harm rather than merely focusing on harm minimisation.
“It now seems that both major parties are willing to accept the ongoing health and social welfare costs associated with pokies addiction.”
Ms Forrest said there was compelling evidence that addiction to poker machines led to family violence, relationship and family breakdown, adverse mental health outcomes and higher rates of poverty.
In a post on Facebook on Sunday, Ms White said Labor would “never abandon people with an addiction to poker machines or the issue of poker machines in our community”.
“We stand by the policy we took to the election because we know that Tasmanians want to see the harm caused by poker machines minimised,” Ms White said.
She urged people who supported Labor’s policy to lobby the government before legislation on new licensing arrangements were introduced into Parliament.
“The Labor Party will always put the health and welfare of people first and we will approach the debate and any amendments to the legislation from this perspective,” Ms White said.
“As I and others repeatedly said during the campaign, it was a once in a generation opportunity to do something about the number of poker machines in our suburbs and towns.
“That statement wasn’t an exaggeration.
“It was acknowledgement that Tasmania has one license to operate poker machines that was about to expire and that a new deal could be struck that restricted poker machines to casinos.”
Mr Gutwein said Ms White had “gone into hiding with more questions being raised about her policy position and her leadership”.
“Rebecca White must fully explain why, after a year of defending her job destroying policy, she has now demonstrated that her policy wasn't based on principle rather it was all about politics,” he said.
“This bizarre episode proves Rebecca White’s leadership is on the edge and that Ms White will put politics before principle every time to save her skin.”