It is not often as a state that we have the opportunity, with one decision, to right a longstanding wrong.
Imagine a single decision that supports local businesses, boosts the Tasmanian economy, and saves lives all at the same time — now that’s a dream platform for politicians of any stripe to run on.
Throw in the idea that Tasmania would be positioned as a nation-leader and you have gold standard public policy that deserves tri-partisan support.
Right now, in Tasmania, we have that opportunity. With one decision next year, our leaders can free local suburbs of poker machines and alleviate the damage they do.
This is something the residents of Pembroke might bear in mind when they head to the polls this weekend and cast a vote for their next Legislative Council representative.
All our state leaders, in both houses of parliament, will be called on to play a positive role for the communities they represent when the decision time comes at the end of the current licence in 2018.
About 25,000 voters live in Pembroke and the electorate is home to 150 poker machines.
More than $8 million was taken out of the Pembroke community last financial year by these machines. Money taken by poker machines generates few jobs and is largely lost to our state.
This is $8 million every year that could have been spent at the local restaurant, the corner shop or in other Pembroke small businesses — boosting the local economy and creating more jobs.
Each of the 16 schools in Pembroke is located within 2km of at least one poker machine venue. And three of the five venues are very close to major shopping centres and other local services.
This proximity is relevant for those people who have or are developing an addiction to poker machines — the machines simply can’t be avoided as you go about your normal everyday activities.
Easy accessibility is the biggest risk factor for developing an addiction.
Pembroke is just one of Tasmania’s 15 Legislative Council electorates, but we see a similar picture repeated in every region of the state. Which is why removing poker machines from local suburbs will be an active issue in all upcoming local and state elections.
Pokies cause harm, there is no way around it.
These rigged-to-addict machines are designed for one purpose, and one purpose only — to keep you coming back.
And almost half of the money taken by poker machines comes from those who are addicted to them.
For many years, Anglicare Tasmania has been campaigning on the matter of poker machines and has seen vested interests put above community interests at every turn.
But this time is different.
With the licence period ending and a state election looming, never before has there been this tangible opportunity for the community to be heard and for the best interests of the community to prevail.
For some people, a flutter on the pokies every so often is just a bit of casual entertainment.
But for the thousands of Tasmanians addicted to poker machines, their effects are far from casual or entertaining; they are the cause of relationship breakdowns, homelessness, mental health crises, and suicide. One in six people who regularly use poker machines will develop an addiction. That is what these machines are designed to do.
Research tells us that for every person whose life is being ruined by an addiction to poker machines, there are five to 10 people who are also being harmed — family, friends, co-workers, neighbours.
Because of stigma and feelings of shame, it can be difficult to gauge the true extent of the problem of poker machine addiction. Research suggests that only one in 10 people with a problem seek help.
But we have a fundamental question to ask ourselves: how much harm would need to be demonstrated to justify a major change to poker machine policy in Tasmania?
How many ruined lives would it take to outweigh the opportunity for some of us to engage in an easily replaceable source of entertainment? Is it one life? Ten? One thousand? Ten thousand?
At what point does the personal cost to so many count for more than the profits extracted by the powerful few?
Through our research and during our campaigning we have listened to the community and we hear the clear and overwhelming call for change on poker machines from our fellow Tasmanians:
“As an ordinary member of the public it distresses me to learn of the callous harm foisted on people who are economically vulnerable in our state, through poker machines,” one Pembroke resident told us.
“I would love to see what Tasmania could be without the impact of these dangerous, addictive machines sucking the life out of our state,” said another Pembroke resident.
Tasmanians care about one another. They know that these dishonest machines tear families and communities apart. They no longer want our state to be captured by vested interests, but to be free to choose a better future and see our communities thrive.
Poker machines are holding our state back. It is time for Tasmania to step up and to lead the nation with lifesaving reform.