Image for Questions, but no Answers, in Hobart

I wasn’t invited, so I watched online, and I had to wait until it was almost over to see the best bit of the ABC’s Q and A in Hobart – a really feisty, really old man telling our po-faced Premier exactly what he thought of her, and her slavish commitment to the mythical ‘value-adding’ temple of pulp in the Tamar Valley. 

Mr Cundall faced Miss Lara square on, reminding her of the mill’s corrupt approval process.  ‘There is no more fanatical supporter of that dirty, stinking pulp mill than you in this state’, he thundered.  I hope his breath was a bit funky, because she surely would have copped a nose full.

The Premier’s response was exactly as we have come to expect – disingenuous stupidity, delivered robotically, in the hope that it will look like measured consideration.  ‘In hindsight, the process could have been different’, she said, complacently, ‘but there was no corruption.’

From this point on, the debate was unremarkable – Giddings spruiked the wonders of the Tasmanian economy, Abetz bashed the Greens, and Milne made some modestly sensible suggestions.  Two moments were worthy of attention, however. 

Regardless of her motivation in saying so, married-into-the-Liberal machine forestry lawyer, Melanie Kerrison, noted that the Statement of Principles agreement ‘smells a bit dead already, doesn’t it?’  Good call, Mel.  It’s reeking like a dead rat stuck behind the kitchen wall (don’t ask!). 

A few breaths later, Ms Kerrison proclaimed herself a 5th generation Tamar Valley resident, and proud protector of her homeland.  ‘If the pulp mill does pollute, I want it shut down tomorrow’, she declared.  So, follow the party line, and assume that the mill will become reality, but spoil the sentiment with an ill-considered remark countenancing its closure.  Abetz would have been seething.  Let’s hope that gaffe earns young Melanie nothing more than a slap on the wrist, as a concession to her media inexperience.

And, summing up, Garry Bailey displayed perfect understanding of Tasmania’s dilemma when he announced that ‘no-one – Greens, Liberal, or Labor – has a strategy for where Tasmania needs to go next’.  You could almost forgive him for rabbitting on about Tasmania’s ‘robust’ media earlier in the evening – he might be strangely delusional about the quality of his daily publication, but at least he acknowledges that Tassie is being flushed down the shitter in ever-larger lumps by a pack of so-called leaders whose only talent is pulling the chain.

But, forestry wasn’t the entire agenda of the program.  Apart from Mr Cundall’s passionate outburst, the only genuine moment in the proceedings was the work of audience member, Stephen Menadue – a man with a gambling problem.  Mr Menadue described the losses – of family, of children and of liberty – he had suffered because of his addiction to poker machines.  He is now abstinent, and on two occasions when that abstinence faltered, he applied the basic premise of pre-commitment gambling to himself.  He took a certain amount from the venue’s ATM, knowing he could take no more that day – ‘I walked out without spending all my money, for the first time in my life’, he said.

Mr Menadue’s question to the panel – ‘Is Tasmania too addicted to its enormous gambling revenue to trial the pre-commitment system?’

The panel responses to this question were telling – a brief, but informative insight into the personalities, and sensitivities of some of the individual members.

Peter Cundall was, as you would expect, supportive of any effort to reduce the misery caused by problem gambling.  You only need to spend a short time working in community services to see the impact of poker machine gambling on addicted individuals and their families. 

And, even a basic understanding of human responses will tell you that poker machines extract the maximum response by employing a random-variable reward schedule.  A phenomenon discovered by eminent psychologist, Fred Skinner, and elevated to an art form by gaming machine manufacturers.  Chuck in a battery of flashing lights, quirky, cartoonish themes, and an endless supply of free food and drink, and you get a glitzy room full of glassy-eyed punters, some of them connected to the gaudy boxes, with cords running from their ‘loyalty cards’ into a slot on the machine – sort of a lifeline in reverse, sucking money from the faithful.

And, the machine always wins.

Ms Kerrison, and Mr Abetz wheeled out the standard Liberal response to the gambling issue – harm minimisation is okay, but neither is in favour of ‘Big Brother’ solutions, or the ‘nanny state’.  If individuals wish to gamble away their livelihood, and their pride, and their freedom, they should be able to do so, largely unfettered by government interference. 

Abetz quoted a single, random statistic from a trial of pre-commitment technology in Nova Scotia in support of his position, and even suggested that lack of food on the table could equally be the fault of poor business decisions, or gambling on the horses, or the roulette wheel.  Mr Abetz is so far out of touch with the practical reality of gambling in the Australian community, he may as well be living in mid-20th century Germany.

But, hang on, isn’t that where he came from – the body has grown older, in a different place, but the psyche obviously hasn’t outgrown its genesis. 

Ms Kerrison sought some solace in the fact that she acts for people who have suffered robberies perpetrated by problem gamblers.  So?  If she understands her clients’ pain, she should have more motivation to support measures addressing problem gambling.  Another unfortunate slip of the tongue, Melanie.  I hope hubby and his cronies stepped out for a beer when you dropped that one.  Ms Kerrison was clearly under pressure – you could see the hamster wheel spinning furiously just behind her eyes, as she tried desperately to come up with the ‘correct’ (Liberal) answer to each question.

But the star of this show was the inimitable Miss Giddings, and her endless, mindless platitudes.  She tried really hard to talk the gaming industry into trialling pre-commitment technology, but they just weren’t interested. 

Of course she wants to support the poor, addicted masses, but people need to have freedom of choice.  And, what about those sad old people whose only entertainment is a trip to the pokie parlour?  Don’t they deserve some small measure of enjoyment?  At this point, an audience member commented that such a situation was a poor indictment of society – she was blithely ignored by the girl who governs us.

The man who asked the question about problem gambling shook his head in disbelief.  He spoke again, and reminded the Premier that forty per cent of poker machine profits are made out of problem gamblers.  Children are suffering from this blight on society, and he wanted a chance to put his side of the story to someone who really wanted to hear it. 

Clearly this person was not Miss Giddings.  As he spoke, her face was a mask of bland indifference, overlain with an almost imperceptible sheen of distaste at the prospect of engaging with a person struggling to survive somewhere way below her own social station.  I have known women like Miss Giddings – young women born into relatively privileged circumstances, but indoctrinated from birth in the theories of socialism.  Well-educated and full of overblown ideas, but with no down-and-dirty first-hand knowledge of the members of society they purport to represent – of their lives, and their aspirations for themselves and their families.

Like her self-interested male counterparts, the Premier thinks that courting big business and promising ‘jobs’ to the lesser classes will entirely fulfil her obligations.  Unlike the blokes, however, Miss Giddings appears to believe the drivel she serves up.  Meaningless pap, served with a smirk, as though it was manna from heaven – part of our regular diet, as citizens of good old Tassie.

Pic: From HERE