Chief Minister Andrew Barr has put his foot down on Minister for Racing and Gaming Joy Burch’s plan to scrap the twenty-dollar limit on poker machines, a move that would have allowed gamblers to use $50 notes. Ms Burch made the change on 22 December, the very day before Andrew Barr became the Leader of the Labor Party. It is well-known that Chief Minister Andrew Barr wants to see a significant reduction in poker machines from nearly 5,000 to 4,000 in the ACT by 2018. But the revelation that Burch attempted to relax restrictions on the regulations surrounding poker machine laws has contradicted Barr’s desired message. Particularly damaging for Burch is that Barr was kept in the dark.
ACT Labor currently owns 488 poker machines. The machines generate around $25 million dollars per year. The ACT has more poker machines compared to its population than any other jurisdiction in Australia except for NSW which has more machines compared to its population than any other jurisdiction in the world. Australian state and territory governments are as addicted to the revenue of poker machines as the people who use them, and Joy Burch has highlighted this ugly truth to the dissatisfaction of pretty much everyone except perhaps for the Clubs ACT chief executive Jeff House, with whom she made the deal.
Earlier this week Burch and House both made the argument that the introduction of the $50 note to ACT poker machines was justified as ATMs in clubs can only dispense a maximum of $250, and that only stocking ATMs with $20 was an unaffordable burden for clubs. Community and advocacy groups, politicians, and even senior Labor figures saw through this argument like cellophane.
Senator Nick Xenophon, gambling researcher Dr Charles Livingstone, and leader of the opposition Jeremy Hanson have all lined up to condemn Burch’s actions and ACT Labor’s reliance on poker machines. And to cap off the condemnation, former chief minister Jon Stanhope has put a motion to his Mount Rogers sub-branch calling for the clubs to be sold – an action that has angered ACT Labor secretary Matt Byrne. If the motion was adopted by the party it would effectively divorce Labor from poker machines all together. That it not going to happen.
Yesterday, Barr forced Burch to backflip on the issue by releasing a joint statement reneging on Burch’s unilateral decision. The statement read, “As a result of discussion within the community over the past few days, the Government has decided to withdraw the regulation which allowed $50 note acceptors on electronic gaming machines in the ACT pending further work on practices in other states and implementation of cash input limits.”
Throughout the past year, Burch has undoubtedly caused more headaches for the government than any other MLA. She has made a series of blunders throughout her term so far. She has “accidentally” tweeted that Christopher Pyne was a c***. She has snubbed the advice of her education directorate by granting approval for an independent school which has now been deemed unsuitable for registration. And among many other misjudgements, Burch continues to receive criticism for handpicking last year’s director of the Fringe at the Multicultural Festival instead of tendering the position.
A senior Labor staffer yesterday revealed to The RiotACT that Joy Burch is no longer under the protection of former chief minister Katy Gallagher.
“Joy is no longer enjoying her job,” he said. “She dislikes public functions and avoids them as much as she can. She will either resign or not contest the next election. It is time for her to go.”