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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 944

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (12:00): I rise to speak about the issue of referring the gambling bill, in particular—the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013—to inquiry. It is remarkable. The coalition campaigned mercilessly for months in the lead-up to the last election about the new sort of grown-up government we were going to get. It was going to be open, honest and accountable, with no broken promises—and in the space of a few short weeks we have seen this government do everything it can to avoid scrutiny, whether it be on this issue of poker machine reform, the issue of refugees and asylum seekers or a range of other issues.

This bill needs to go to inquiry and we need to ensure that it gets the proper scrutiny. People have very short memories in this place. Occasionally this is referred to as a bit of a goldfish bowl because we look up and we are like goldfish swimming around in an aquarium, but I think it is more because people in this place have the memories of goldfish. Poker machine reform was one of the key issues of the last parliament. It was one of the issues that defined the 43rd Parliament. We saw an election result that hinged on the support of one of the Independents, who made poker machine reform one of the key issues on which that government would be formed. We saw the whole circus of Clubs Australia coming to town. We saw the conniptions that both sides of politics got themselves into because of the brutal campaign of lobbying from Clubs Australia. People forget we ended up replacing the Speaker of the Australian parliament in an effort to avoid voting on a piece of legislation that the then government had agreed to. The issue of poker machine reform was one of the things that triggered the demotion, or resignation, of the then Speaker, Harry Jenkins, and his replacement with Peter Slipper. That was because of the debate around poker machine reform.

We saw the government change the Speaker and renege on the deal it signed with the Independent Andrew Wilkie. It then did everything it could to get the support of the Senate—particularly through Senator Madigan, Senator Xenophon and me—for its watered-down reforms. We spent months negotiating with the government and with the minister at the time to introduce a number of measures that would strengthen that bill, in some effort to try and salvage reform on pokies. It was an issue that caused so much angst, so much heartache, so much grief, for all sides in this chamber, and now we have the government hiding the repeal of that piece of legislation that caused so much angst in the previous parliament—hiding the repeal bill in amongst a range of other measures in an effort to avoid scrutiny. And now we are contemplating the idea of not even referring it to an inquiry? The defining issue of the 43rd Parliament is suddenly going to be dealt with in the space of a few minutes here in this chamber?

Let us just hope that the first few weeks of this new government are an aberration, that its words around open, honest, transparent government were not a promise that we thought it made but it did not really make, just like with Gonski. Let us hope it was a promise that it will keep. Let us make sure we get the appropriate scrutiny that the repeal of these modest reforms deserves and let us ensure we do everything we can to highlight to the community that we have a government intent on doing the bidding of the big end of town rather than supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Australia.