Gambling can be a form of entertainment or a crippling addiction.
Gambling can be a form of entertainment or a crippling addiction.

Abbott government 'captive' to pokies industry

INDEPENDENT Senator Nick Xenophon has accused the Abbott Government of being captive to vested interests in the pokies industry.

Senator Xenophon made the comment after the government on Wednesday night passed bills to repeal pokier machine reform laws passed by the Gillard government.

Those laws, passed to appease independent Andrew Wilkie, were a watered down version of what Mr Wilkie originally wanted, but will now head to the Senate to be removed.

The repeal bills passed as part of a wider package of "social services" reforms, including removing the National Gambling Regulator, ATM withdrawal limits and a mandatory pre-commitment trial.

Proposed by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, the changes also remove the referral of gambling issues to the Productivity Commission and poker machine regulation levies.

While the reforms were originally passed under Labor, the Opposition did not vote against the bills in the House, and was not expected to when they come before the Senate.

Despite fronting a press conference on gambling reform with Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year, Sen Xenophon said the repeal of the reforms showed Mr Abbott had a "tin ear" on pokies reforms.

He said neither the Coalition nor Labor was prepared to take on the combined lobby of club owners and the pokie establishment, hence the lack of vocal opposition to the changes to date.

Senators Xenophon, John Madigan and The Greens' Richard Di Natale also spoke on their co-sponsored bill to introduce $1 limits on pokie bets on Thursday.

All three called for more support for their bill in an effort to help problem gamblers and reduce the impact of pokie addiction in the community.

But Nationals Senator John Williams hit out at the $1 bet bill, saying it would only hit struggling clubs in rural areas for more of their limited income.

He said clubs were a vital part of regional communities, and it was wrong to penalise the majority of responsible gamblers for those addicted to pokies.

Sen Di Natale said the roll-back of the changes gave a "free kick" to the pokie industry, only a few sitting weeks into the new parliament.

He also accused Labor of "backsliding" on the reforms of the last parliament, by not opposing the government's repeal of the laws.

It is understood The Greens were in talks with Labor in an effort to block the repeal in the Senate, but Labor sources have indicated the party would not be opposing the changes.

The bills were expected to be introduced in the Senate next week, where crossbenchers are expected to push a series of amendments to remove the gambling clauses from a raft of unrelated changes.


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