By JR on Sunday, January 22, 2012
JULIA Gillard's axing of the pokies reform promise that secured her power has triggered independent Andrew Wilkie's abandonment of the Labor minority Government. The move means the PM is back to a one-seat buffer in the event of a no-confidence vote that could force an election.
Mr Wilkie said yesterday: "Frankly, a deal's a deal and it must be honoured." "Our democracy is simply too precious to trash with broken promises and backroom compromises. So I will walk, take my chances and so be it," Mr Wilkie said.
The Tasmanian MP scrapped his agreement to automatically support the Government on Budget Bills and defend it against Coalition motions of no-confidence after Ms Gillard tore up her agreement with him to overhaul poker machine laws - meaning there will be no $1 bet limits, and only a limited trial of technology that forces punters to pre-program how much they are prepared to lose.
The decision by the Government to break its commitment to Mr Wilkie followed a major campaign by Clubs Australia and fierce lobbying from Crown casino boss James Packer.
Ms Gillard defended the compromise plan, arguing the support among other key independents was not there for further reforms. "You do have to make compromises, that's the nature of politics," she said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the outcome only reinforced that the Prime Minister had secured the keys to the Lodge under false pretences.
But Mr Wilkie said he would not back Tony Abbott or an early election in the interests of stability, with the Prime Minister retaining a one-vote buffer even if Mr Wilkie were to switch camps.
Government spin doctors seized on Mr Wilkie's pledge not to back a no-confidence motion that could spark an election unless serious misconduct or corruption was proved, arguing this was similar to his original deal with the PM.
If the Liberals' Peter Slipper had not defected for the job of Speaker late last year the Prime Minister would now be be on a knife edge, but the political coup rendered Mr Wilkie's repeated threats to bring down the Government hollow and cleared the way for Ms Gillard to walk away from the agreement.
Hopes of a $1 bets compromise to reduce losses rather than forcing punters to register to bet were rejected by the Government, which said it would cost $1.5 billion.
The compromise was a first step, Mr Wilkie said, but remained "in breach" of the Prime Minister's original agreement with Mr Wilkie to deliver by 2014. "I can no longer guarantee supply and confidence for the Government because the Prime Minister has told me she can't honour the promise to introduce mandatory pre-commitment on poker machines by the end of 2014," Mr Wilkie said.
"Consequently, I regard her to be in breach of the written agreement she signed, leaving me no option but to honour my word and end my current relationship with her Government."
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon agreed: "How can you respect someone who backstabs the very person that backed her into office?"
Clubs Australia, whose anti-reforms campaign cost millions, welcomed the Government's trial. "Clubs are not seeking the status quo on gambling policy," executive director Anthony Ball said. "However, this reform must be evidence-based and should not destroy the club and hotel industry as we know it."