RICHARD WILLINGHAM May 22, 2012
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has ended months of speculation by announcing he will back the government's pokie reforms. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
TASMANIAN independent MP Andrew Wilkie has ''reluctantly'' backed the government's watered-down poker machine reforms, ending months of speculation and negotiation.
Mr Wilkie said that, while the reforms were modest, they was the best thing on the table right now and were a step in the right direction.
The government's watered-down bill will require all new poker machines to have precommitment technology from 2013, with all machines to have the technology from 2016. It will not be mandatory for players to use.
A trial of a scheme forcing punters to preset how much they are willing to lose will be held in the ACT, with plans for it to begin next year.
Mr Wilkie is now happy with amendments to the bill including that the trial will be in the legislation. He and the government had been locked in a stand-off over the wording of some clauses.
The bill will also require the Productivity Commission to assess the trial's effectiveness.
''Now explicit in the bill will be the requirement that all new and retrofitted machines are to be capable of mandatory precommitment at the flick of a switch,'' Mr Wilkie said.
''In other words no future government of good heart will have to deal with all the bleating about the supposed cost and technology hurdles of implementing mandatory precommitment.''
Mr Wilkie said the bill was a positive ''stepping stone'' to future meaningful reform.
While his support should help the bill through the lower house, the Senate is looming as a tough test for the modest reforms, with the Greens and independent Nick Xenophon unhappy with the bill.
Senator Xenophon said the bill would not get through the Senate in its current form.
"This watered-down deal still has to get through the Senate. I won't be backing it and I understand the Greens aren't happy with it either," Senator Xenophon said.
"This is a loss disguised as a win. This is a deal that will not materialise into anything. It's a plan to do nothing."
The anti-pokies senator will continue to push a bill in the Senate which is co-sponsored by senators Richard Di Natale and John Madigan that legislates $1 maximum bets.
The government's bill has the backing of the powerful clubs industry.
Mr Wilkie withdrew support for the government in January after Prime Minister Julia Gillard reneged on her deal with the Tasmanian MP for a national mandatory precommitment scheme.
The system was vehemently opposed by the clubs industry, which launched a multimillion-dollar campaign against it, targeting marginal Labor MPs.
Ms Gillard backed out of the plan because she said the government did not have the numbers to pass legislation.
For several weeks Mr Wilkie has said he would make a public decision on his position after Craig Thomson made his statement to the Parliament.
One of the reasons Mr Wilkie has yet to back the bill was that he did not believe that Ms Gillard's January comments, that if a trial of precommitment was successful the scheme could be expanded nationwide ''at the flick of the switch'', was reflected in the bill.
Mr Wilkie is now happy that the bill will make it easy to expand to a national mandatory scheme if a trial proves successful.
The bill will also limit ATM withdrawals in pokies venues to $250.
The government could table the bill as early as next week.
Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU