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Michael Pascoe: Integrity – the lack of it – is at heart of voters’ NSW election dilemma

When offered the privilege of voting, it is the elector’s duty to try to pick the least worst option.

That’s a tough job for most NSW voters going to the polls today.

For mine, it’s the integrity of the political party that matters most.

Get the integrity question right and most other matters fall into place.

If there are doubts about a party’s integrity, it follows that the party can’t be trusted to act in the best interests of the state or nation, whatever their announced policy might be about a bridge across a creek.

Despite the youthful leadership of its Premier and Treasurer, the Liberal-National Coalition is showing its age the way governments do after 12 years in power.

It has accumulated scandals that have left stains – the favours granted and owed, the deals done mounting up.

Premier Perrottet was Treasurer Perrottet during the worst of the Berejiklian/Barilaro government’s “pork barrelling” corruption – as bad or worse than anything the Federal Coalition managed.

The hand that signed the cheques

Mr Perrottet was the one signing the cheques.

He was the relevant minister and remains the relevant Premier for NSW’s icare disaster. (Heads should have rolled from the start just for not affording the country’s biggest workers comp scheme a capital letter, never mind the subsequent shoddy governance and exploitation by gravy train riders.)

Mr Perrottet even initially defended the appointment of John Barilaro as the state’s New York trade commissioner.

Yes, the Coalition has kept the NSW economy humming with massive infrastructure investments – but the integrity thing can’t be ignored, gnawing away at trust for what might happen over the next four years while branches are stacked and power juggled.

Enter stage left, Labor’s Chris Minns as opportunity for change knocked – until his own integrity was shredded by preferencing the clubs’n’pubs gaming industry over the people of NSW.

On the back of the NSW Crime Commission’s report that billions of dollars in dirty money was being poured into the state’s 90,000 electronic gaming machines in clubs and pubs, Dominic Perrottet to his great credit held out the possibility of genuine reform of the Rum State’s worst gambling addiction.

Like the inquiry into Crown’s money laundering before it, the Crime Commission recommended the introduction of cashless gaming.

The relevant minister at the time of the Crown inquiry, Victor Dominello, backed the recommended cashless gaming card – and was infamously removed from having that responsibility.

A sad capitulation

Such was, and is, the political power of Clubs NSW and the Australian Hotels Association. Such was the lack of integrity in the rest of the government.

But here was the chance to finally break, or at least substantially weaken, the hold of the pokies industry over New South Wales – and Labor dodged it.

To have any chance of succeeding, the policy needed to be bipartisan and locked in before the election.

Instead, Mr Minns stuck with the pokies millionaires’ script, backing Clubs NSW’s Mickey Mouse cashless gaming “trial” in 500 machines, parroting the industry’s spin in misrepresenting a deficient study.

All state governments bar WA are addicted to their cut of gambling addicts’ losses – an iniquitous mugs’ tax that is overwhelmingly raised in disadvantaged areas while providing seven-figure salaries for club casino managers and making pub millionaires fabulously richer.

gambling reforms pokies

Cashless gaming is a hotly contested issue in the NSW election campaign. Photo: AAP

All major political parties are conflicted by the pokies industry’s fat donations – donations that are not made with purely philanthropic intent.

But NSW Labor is more severely conflicted again as the party directly sucks on the machines in party-run clubs.

Being owned by an industry that feeds on misery, that is enriched by the proceeds of crime, that is ruthless in the pursuit of its own power over politicians and opinion makers, is not a good look for a political party.

NSW Labor was offered a chance to at least loosen that yoke – and it rejected it.

Where’s the integrity in that?

If you can’t trust Chris Minns to champion the welfare of people in our poorest electorates being damaged by an excessively rich industry, what can he be trusted with?

This does not give Mr Perrottet a free pass by any means.

The reason genuine reform has to be a bipartisan effort by Liberal and Labor is to keep both parties honest and ward off the influence of the National Party on one hand and the absolutely enmeshed end of Labor on the other.

The toughest of choices

As previously reported, Mr Perrottet’s policy has plenty of holes big enough for the industry to drive a casino through. It is far from tough on pokies, only tougher than the bugger-all proposed by Mr Minns.

Which all leaves non-rusted-on voters in a difficult place as they contemplate their democracy sausages on Saturday.

I’m one of the fortunate minority with the choice of an outstanding community independent candidate in my electorate – commiserations for those who do not.

The best outcome will be for a minority government forced to deal with a strong, integrity-first crossbench not prepared to compromise on fighting the corrupt hold the gaming industry has over NSW politics.

There already are such people in Macquarie Street.

The Greens are not owned by the pokies and neither are key independents – the inner-city’s Alex Greenwich and Greg Piper, Joe McGirr and Helen Dalton from the regions. (Ms Dalton knows what it’s like to feel the backlash of taking on Clubs NSW.)

They need more independent colleagues not beholden to the party machines and donors to force reform.

Preferential voting being optional in NSW makes it harder to repeat the federal election’s teal revolution, but the possibility is there.

Putting integrity first can change everything.

Happy voting.

P.S. Whoever wins today, there is another little pokies-related test of integrity that both major parties have failed for two decades – compensating the landlords who were dudded by a crook 2001 law that allowed licensees to sell a pub’s pokies out from under their owners.

It was wrong. It destroyed people.

The mistake was subsequently fixed, but the victims were never compensated for their loss.

Yep, that integrity thing.

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