By Ian Neubauer
It was always going to be controversial and perhaps a little unnerving — inviting the independent Senator from South Australia who rode the ‘anti-pokie’ ticket to Canberra to address the 2008 Australasian Gaming Expo (AGE) in Sydney yesterday (August 24).
But when Senator Nick Xenophon called delegates “misery merchants” and said their business was “obscene” — not before warning it was only a matter of time until he put them out of business — it sparked heated debate.
“You are smart people. How can you pretend you don’t know the damage your product causes? How can you pretend for a moment that a poker machine addict’s money is better spent making you rich than feeding their children," Xenophon demanded in a unwavering tone.
Francis Wevers, CEO of the Charity Gaming Association of New Zealand and Bill Healey, CEO of the Australian Hotels Association, were among some of those present who took the Senator to task.
But question time quickly descended into verbal sparring, with the Senator accused on more than one occasion of not answering the question at hand.
Moderator Ross Ferrar of the Australasian Gaming Machine Manufacturers Association (AGMMA) had to step in and cool fraying tempers, reminding the audience it was incorrect to take offence over a difference in opinion. “I do not agree with him but I am not offended,” Ferrar said.
Xenophon tried to alleviate tension with humour at one point, saying he could no longer purchase a powerball ticket because it would not look good if he won $15 million.
But he stood his ground and said it was pointless arguing with the industry over definitions, statistics, research and reports, describing such debate as stall tactics designed to consume his energy and delay reform of the gaming industry.
“Your product is an unsafe product and I am sick of seeing it cause harm… and ultimately you know your position is untenable,” he said.
Xenophon left the auditorium without haste when it was over, only to be followed into the foyer by some of his more vocal detractors.
He appeared visibly shaken but kept a brave face while shaking hands with officials and a handful of well-wishers who came to show their support.
Senator Xenophon will sit in Federal Parliament for the first time this Thursday (August 28).
To comment on this story, click here.