Mon, Feb 11, 12:08pm by Staff Writer
A member of Tasmania’s Upper House has claimed that any changes to the state’s poker machine laws are now almost impossible after the Labor Party abandoned a policy that would have seen the machines removed from pubs and clubs by 2023.
Ruth Forrest’s comments to The Examiner came as Labor leader Rebecca White took to Facebook to confirm that Labor stood by its policy to remove pokies more pubs and clubs.
In the post, 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.
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,” Ms Forrest said.
Labor leader Rebecca White told ABC Hobart last week that her party could no longer pursue its policy of removing poker machines from pubs and clubs by 2023, because the Hodgman Liberal Government was planning to bring in legislation for a new license deed in this term.
Ruth Forrest MLC says pokies’ law changes unlikely https://t.co/ak4nNmDElp
— The Examiner (@ExaminerOnline) February 10, 2019
Last year’s Tasmanian election was won by the incumbent Liberal Party. Despite picking up three seats in the election, Labor needed six to win back government.
In her budget reply to the Tasmanian parliament in July 2018, Ms White didn’t mention the controversial policy, leading many to believe at the time that it had been abandoned.
When the ABC asked explicitly about the pokies policy Ms White said: “The Tasmanian Labor Party remains firmly committed to the policy position we took at the last election.”
In the wash up from defeat in the election, Ms White was asked whether or not the party’s pokies stance was too strong and cost her victory.
In response she said: “I know, and the Labor Party knows, that our decision to take this issue to this election was the right thing to do for the health of our communities and for the economy of Tasmania,” Ms White said.
Ms White and Labor’s recent back down comes after she made comments shortly after the March 2018 election that renewed Labor’s commitment to remove poker machines from the state.
Ms White did not reveal whether Labor would oppose the new license deed when it comes before parliament, only that the party would wait to see the legislation and assess whether improvements could be made in areas such as harm minimisation.
“The fact of the matter is once they [bring forward legislation], we’re not going to be able to continue to pursue our policy to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs because there’ll be a new deal struck until 2043,” Ms White said.
Ms Forrest is losing optimism that a result can be reached that fulfils the Labor Party’s original promise of banning the machines.
“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,” she said.
“There was broad support for this policy including some traditional Liberal voters who told me they had voted for Labor for the first time on the strength of this policy,” Ms Forrest said.
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