Politics

The view from Billinudgel

Pokies industry wins in Tasmania
Gaming is the next corporate interest to govern in the state

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So Tasmania has a new government.

Yes, I know the Libs are still in office at 1 Salamanca Place and Will Hodgman is still premier. But the real government, the one run by the pokies industry under the Federal Group and the Farrell family, has now been confirmed as the successor of the dynasty of rent-seekers who actually manage the Apple Isle.

It was ever thus. Partly because of the smallness of the place, and partly because of the ruthlessness of the rulers and the apathy of the voters, corporations have held the real power for more than 40 years, which is as long as I have taken an interest.

In former times it was the Hydro – the Hydro-Electric Commission – a state-owned enterprise whose manic determination to build dams transcended all else. There were protests and objections, notably with the flooding of Lake Pedder, but until the 1980s the Hydro reigned supreme, the politicians following slavishly in its wake.

When Bob Hawke’s government and the High Court effectively scuttled plans for the Franklin Dam, the Hydro’s massive influence ebbed away. But it was swiftly replaced by Gunns, the timber merchants dedicated to destroying old-growth forests and shipping them off as woodchips for Japan.

After a series of bad decisions and political scandals, Gunns hit the wall, and there was a pause in which the politicians drew breath. But the vacuum was filled when the longstanding bipartisan agreement to allow the Farrells monopoly rights over the state’s pokies broke down with a courageous pledge from Labor’s Rebecca White to remove pokies from pubs and clubs.

The Farrells and their allies were perfectly prepared to buy an election, if only to show who is really in charge. The campaign has been horrendous; I was in Hobart for a week of it and was bombarded by lies about how thousands of jobs were at stake, and the overwhelming benefits the cashed-up pubs and clubs brought to their communities.

And it is true that after the Farrells and the government have taken their motza, a portion of what is left by the publicans (usually employees of the Farrells, unsurprisingly) may see a few bucks trickle back to more or less worthy causes. But given that every cent that goes into the pokies comes out of the community, the return is derisory at best.

The stentorian demands to Love Your Local (meaning lose a lot of your money on the pokies to enrich their absentee owners) were both absurd and deceitful. And of course, Tasmania being Tasmania and having relatively weak political donation laws, we won’t know for a year and a half how much the rapacious moguls have spent to maintain their rule, by which time the great scam will be well entrenched.

The irony is that Hodgman would probably have won legitimately; the local economy is doing pretty well and there had been no disastrous, Turnbull-like gaffes to derail what has been a mercifully uneventful government. But the pokies onslaught has ensured that Hodgman will forever be a client of the anonymous, greedy parasites who trade on human misery and who have now assumed the real power in the land.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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