Tasmanian Treasurer accuses Labor leader of going into hiding as he flags timing of pokies changes
Tasmania’s Treasurer expects legislation to grant individual poker machine licences will be brought before Parliament next financial year.
- Treasurer announces timeline for new licence deal
- MLC Ruth Forrest says Labor is “letting a lot of people down”
- Welfare sector wants to see detail of legislation
Federal Group, owned by the Farrell family, holds the monopoly over Tasmania’s poker machines, with the licence due to expire in 2023.
The Tasmanian Liberals plan to end the pokies monopoly and move to an individual venue licence model, and cap the number of machines in the state’s pubs and clubs at 2,350.
Treasurer Peter Gutwein said he expected the bill to allow the changes to go before Parliament in the 2019–20 financial year.
“We are looking at this legislation at the moment, it is complex,” Mr Gutwein said.
The legislation is set to pass the Lower House, after Opposition Leader Rebecca White announced on Friday the party was ditching its policy to ban pokies in pubs and clubs because Labor had not won the state election.
Labor has not held a press conference since, prompting Mr Gutwein to accuse Ms White of going into “witness protection”.
“Ms White can’t go into hiding as she did on Friday morning, drop the single-biggest backflip that we have seen in recent history from the Labor Party and expect others to come out and speak for her,” he said.
Labor ‘letting people down’
The vacuum has also prompted Independent MLC Ruth Forrest to question Labor’s decision to abandon its policy.
She was surprised and disappointed at Ms White’s comments.
“I think it’s really important to understand who is influencing this decision,” she said.
“Why the sudden change? Why not go back to the people before such a significant change? Because they’re letting a lot of people down.”
Ms Forrest said any future pokies legislation could now face an easy passage in the Upper House.
“You’ve got four members of the Labor Party, two members of the Government,” she said.
“That’s six out of 15. You really have to convince every independent that this is not a good idea if it was to be defeated.”
Upper House poll looms
Elections will be held for the seats of Nelson, Montgomery and Pembroke in May, which could change the make-up of the Upper House.
Liberal MLC Leonie Hiscutt is expected to retain Montgomery, and the Liberals are yet to announce a candidate in Pembroke.
Nelson is expected to be the most hotly contested, with Jim Wilkinson retiring from Parliament.
Manager of Anglicare’s social action and research centre Meg Webb, who campaigned strongly against pokies at the last election, has announced she will contest Nelson as an independent.
If elected, Ms Webb will not need any convincing.
She said the latest from the Labor camp had reinforced her decision to run.
“This week we’ve seen that the Liberals have been bought and Labor has backed down,” Ms Webb said.
“For Labor to have their leader effectively trash their policy, that was a unifying policy in their party, would be gutting.”
TasCOSS chief executive Kym Goodes is waiting for a full briefing from Labor on the issue.
She accepted Labor’s position to ban pokies was not easy to implement after losing the election, but said it did not mean the Liberals had a mandate to keep pokies in pubs and clubs.
“What has changed is the uncertainty in terms of what will be in the legislation, if and when it’s tabled, and so we do need to think about our response to that,” she said.
Ms White used social media at the weekend to ask people to lobby the Liberal Government on the issue.
“It is Will Hodgman that needs to explain how his policy will work for all Tasmanians,” a post on her Facebook page read.
Labor has been contacted for comment.