ALP wins Wilkie's support for poker machine tech

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ALP wins Wilkie's support for poker machine tech

Smartcards to curb problem gambling.

Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie has announced his support for Julia Gillard, giving the ALP a total of 74 seats in its bid to form a minority Government.

Addressing the press in Canberra this afternoon, Wilkie said he hoped his announcement would prompt the three other independents to support a party that would "bring maximum stability to Australia".

Wilkie said the ALP best met his criteria that the next Government be "stable, competent and ethical".

"I have decided to support the ALP. A future Gillard Labor Government will have my vote," he said.

"With my vote, they [ALP] have 74 seats. I think that it is quite likely that one or two, maybe three of the independents will come on board with the ALP.

"I think that it is more likely that the ALP will have the numbers now."

Wilkie said his support extended to issues of supply and any unwarranted no-confidence motions against Gillard, and he would approach any ALP policies on their merits.

Poker machine negotiations

Wilkie said his negotiations with the two major parties centred around improving public healthcare systems and introducing 'pre-commitment technology' on every Australian poker machine by 2014.

Pre-commitment technology would require gamblers to use personal smartcards when they played, to track how much money they spent on the slot machines.

It was recommended by the Productivity Commission as the "most effective way to target problem gamblers" following a public inquiry that concluded earlier this year.

"The Prime Minister has agreed that the Government will work to implement pre-commitment technology on every poker machine in Australia by 2014," Wilkie announced.

"Once you’ve got these pre-commitment technologies at work, you can adjust the variables to try and rein in problem gambling."

Wilkie said the Prime Minister had agreed to "take a leadership role" in urging State Governments to adjust their gambling laws.

If the states did not fall in line voluntarily, the Federal Government would "create legislation to force the states to act on gambling and poker machines in particular".

Later this afternoon, Gillard told the media that mandatory pre-commitment technology was "a major step forward".

"The Commonwealth ill act if the agreement of States and Territories does not go ahead," she confirmed.

"I will seek legal constitutional advice [on how the Commonwealth can override states and territories] and I'll be guided by this advice."

The announcement was welcomed by independent senator Nick Xenophon, who has championed poker machine reform in the Upper House.

"This really is a historic day when it comes to poker machine reform," Xenophon told the press in Canberra following Wilkie’s announcement.

"For the first time, the Commonwealth government will be intervening... Labor and Liberals have both been bastards when it comes to poker machine reform.

"It is great that Andrew Wilkie has focused both parties on poker machine reform. No longer will this be an issue that is overlooked," Xenophon said.

Funding for hospitals

Wilkie said the Prime Minister had also committed to opening up $1.8 billion from the Health and Hospitals Fund to hospitals around the nation.

A "modest amount" of $340 million had already been promised to refurbishing the Royal Hobart Hospital in Wilkie’s home state of Tasmania -- a project expected to cost a total of $565 million.

Wilkie said Opposition leader Tony Abbott had offered to spend $1 billion on building a new hospital in Tasmania – "on the face of it, an extraordinarily generous offer," he said.

"However, I think this is an example where seeking a more modest amount but being more conscious of a proper process, and being more conscious of equity, is a more ethical way to go."

Stable government

Wilkie said he was committed to a stable government that would serve a full three-year term, and would not stand in the way should Abbott gain power.

"I’ve already rung the Opposition leader Mr Abbott, and thanked him for the very cooperative way he has approached me," he said.

"I will work with whoever is the next Prime Minister to ensure a stable government for Australia ... He would not find me an obstructionist."

Following the 21 August Federal Election, Gillard and Abbott have been locked in negotiations with one Greens and four independent MPs over forming a minority Government.

Greens MP Adam Bandt signed an agreement (pdf) with the ALP yesterday. The remaining three independents, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, have yet to announce their support for either party.

"I thank Mr Wilkie for bearing in mind the national interest," Gillard said. "He has clearly been motivated based on his view of the national interest."

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