The COVID-19 crisis has reconfirmed some fundamental truths.
Health and wellbeing take precedence over literally everything. All other policy areas, including the economy, can be bent in service of health.
Leaving anyone behind hurts us all. The more we support those most in need, the better position we'll be in to face the future.
An evidence-based approach saves lives. But ideology and vested interests can put them at greater risk.
We can apply these same fundamentals when it comes to challenging social issues, like poker machine policy and regulation.
Evidence tells us over $43 million has stayed in Tasmanian households during the COVID-19 shutdown that would otherwise have been lost to pokies.
For 13 weeks, all pokies in this state have been turned off. Many of us wouldn't have noticed, but for tens of thousands of Tasmanians whose daily lives are affected by pokies addiction, it's been incredibly significant.
At a time many households have struggled to cover essentials and many Tasmanian businesses have needed every dollar of support from customers, that extra nearly half a million dollars a day was a real boon.
Government stimulus payments, increased levels of JobSeeker and new JobKeeper payments have not been lost to pokies and have provided a more effective economic benefit to Tasmanian businesses and our broader economy.
In the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09, government stimulus payments resulted in significant spikes in pokies losses nationally, including in Tasmania. The evidence clearly demonstrates pokies hurt our economic recovery as a state at that time.
This time around, so far, we've been protected from the economic sabotage of poker machines. But that's about to come to an end, with pokies due to reopen this week.
NSW was the first state to reopen pokies in early June, and even with 40 per cent of the machines turned off for social distancing, the evidence shows losses have skyrocketed there. Tasmania can expect a similar result.
Our hospitality industry is not the poker machine industry.
We know the overwhelming majority of businesses in our hospitality industry are pokies-free - more than two-thirds of Tasmanian hotels and over 97 per cent of licensed clubs, not to mention every café and restaurant.
It's well known that pokies create an unlevel playing field. Pokies-free businesses compete against the handful of venues that profit from pokies, with half that profit coming from addicted and at-risk gamblers.
The economic evidence says poker machine gambling employs only three people for every million dollars spent, compared to 20 people for the hospitality industry. At this time, we need to pull out all the stops to revitalise our hospitality industry. But the money pumped into pokies if they reopen will be a real kick in the guts for all pokies-free businesses trying to keep people employed and recover from COVID-19.
For many Tasmanian families, it will be devastating. We know that for every person who has a problem with gambling, research says there are five to 10 people around them also experiencing harm - families, friends, employers and workmates. We know pokies contribute to family breakdown, homelessness, crime, family violence, poverty, mental ill-health and suicide.
When it comes to poker machines, we know the government can and should align its goals to those of the community. As we rebuild our community after COVID-19, the last thing Tasmania needs is a return to the same high levels of pokies harm.
By delaying switching pokies back on, we can continue to put the health and well-being of Tasmanians first and also boost our state's economy.
This is a perfect time to develop initiatives to encourage pubs and clubs to become pokies-free and be reborn as community-building social hubs.
The rates of problem and at-risk gambling have gone up under this government.
The government must commit to legislating evidence-based harm minimisation measures, like lower maximum bet limits, slower spin speeds, lower maximum jackpots and shorter opening hours.
We need to reach out with more proactive support for people who struggle with gambling, and their families.
Experts warn that the government's proposed new licensing model will increase levels of pokies harm in the Tasmanian community. The government needs to prove this isn't the case and immediately release its social and economic modelling.
In this time of pokies respite, when we've reconnected to what is most fundamental, our state has the opportunity to reset its approach to pokies. Health and community first; evidence-based policy decisions; and leaving no one behind for a stronger future.
An evidence-based approach saves lives. But ideology and vested interests can put them at greater risk.Meg Webb MLC
- Nelson independent MLC Meg Webb