Someone like Arbib would have heard Wilkie's high-minded position on pokies during last year's negotiations on government and known immediately that it was a dagger at the heart of two of Labor's major sources of funding: pubs and clubs. Aside from unions and property developers, NSW Labor's major funding sources are the alcohol industry and the outlets that sell it. NSW Labor have been extraordinarily generous in handing out pokie licenses to pubs and clubs, which have in turn donated millions of dollars to NSW Labor, and so on. The overlap between members of licensed clubs and those who vote Labor is significant, to say the least.
In the absence of a Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Imposing Limits on Poker Machine Gambling, someone like Arbib should have done the groundwork with pubs and clubs and the gambling treatment lobby, proving himself to be the sort of deft politician that he and others imagine him to be. He couldabeen someone who solves problems rather than someone who runs away from them shrieking "it wasn't me!". He couldabeen indispensable, the sort of power-behind-the-throne that Graham Richardson was after the 1990 election. All gone, and too late now.
Who else could have seen this policy through? All the other factional wide boys were busy with actual policy, in communications or financial planning or whatever. Arbib is the Minister for Sport, for goodness sake: what else does he have to do? The Minister for Sport doesn't re-engineer the economy or comfort the stricken. The Minister for Sport doles out cash to popular sports in the hope that the popularity of that sport might rub off onto the Minister and his party. It isn't like he was organising some nationwide effort to curb obesity or get people engaged in mutual community activities or something.
Arbib's political antennae should have been twitching overtime at an issue like this - if he had any.
Because Arbib has botched it - and he has - the government is bogged down yet again, in an issue that shouldn't be such a big deal. Yet again Arbib can project his political failure onto the leader silly enough to accept his backing. Just as he advised Rudd to drop the ETS, then blamed him for dropping the ETS. Now he can blame Gillard for botching the relationship with sporting clubs and take action against her because clubs are so important to NSW Labor, and mate you can't have a leader who goes against NSW Labor, come on.
It is an understatement to say that AFL identities like Eddie McGuire and Jeff Kennett are highly political. It is also true, both in the fact itself and the understatement, to say that of their counterparts in the NRL. Arbib is the first Federal Sports Minister these guys have openly and blatantly shirtfronted. He must be the first minister in that role to be so blatantly disrespected in living memory. He's finished.
Those sports take millions of dollars from the Federal government, and what does the government get for it? Gillard and Swan, as if they don't have enough to do, are going to have to sweet-talk and bribe a bunch of overstuffed sports administrators because Mark bloody Arbib couldn't execute the little responsibility with which he was entrusted.
Nobody blames the clubs administrators for trying it on, but club members know that's what they're doing: trying it on. Club culture, if you can call it that, is strongest in NSW and Queensland, where Eddie McGuire is just that guy on telly who hypes up an otherwise dull quiz show. In Victoria he has a far more all-pervasive presence, but north of the Murray he is seen as a grifter and if the government stands up to him then respect for the government can only increase.
And the man who helped install Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, former national ALP secretary Karl Bitar is now helping to coordinate the campaign in his new job as a Crown Casino lobbyist.Every last one of those 25 are morons. The clubs pump their propaganda into people's homes but only the truly gullible members really believe it. You have nothing to lose, you people: if ever you were ever a bit frustrated with Karl and Mark, this is your chance to grow some spine and save both yourselves and a Labor government (with nothing to lose but, well, Karl and Mark).
Up to 25 Labor MPs are also threatening to vote against the plan in Caucus.
Club members tend to be older people, claiming a public space in their club after being slowly squeezed out of workplaces (through retirement, forced or otherwise) and shops (low income earners don't have much to spend, retail is geared toward younger people). The club nearest my place is dominated by Anglo-Saxon people in a way that the surrounding suburb was but is no longer. They look the other way when confronted with the idea that their club, and all its works, is subsidised by those with serious problems. If Mr Wilkie and the government step in with their loss-limit devices, these people will respect them for doing so.
While Kennett displayed rare gutlessness in allowing tobacco advertising for the Grand Prix, the politicians who banned tobacco sponsorship of sport ran rings around a lazy arseclown like Mark Arbib.
The fruits of Mark Arbib's career can be seen in Macquarie Street. State Labor Opposition Leader John Robertson has a smaller caucus than William Holman before World War I, and Holman left that. It's doubtful that anyone in State Parliament who was also a member of the ALP would buy Arbib a cup of coffee. Those who would stoop and build up NSW Labor with worn-out tools have nothing to thank Mark Arbib for, nothing. A bit like the thousands of members of the Green Jobs Corps, really.
People complain about NSW Labor, but if the Keating-Richardson era NSW Right were still running things Arbib would already be on his way to some remote embassy, a cold-eyed killer would be slotted into the Sport portfolio to rearrange things and warn anyone that one stray word about a policy not directly related to sport might be very, very costly in all sorts of ways, and a chastened non-entity would humbly assume the role of NSW Senator.
So-called savvy Canberra watchers didn't blame Gillard for inviting so few new names into the ministry after the last election, and there is an assumption that all Labor backbenchers are dills like John Murphy. Here are seven Labor federal backbenchers for whom I have no particular brief, but of whom each would be a better than Mark Arbib:
- Laurie Ferguson (in this list from sheer pity, admittedly, but still a superior candidate)
- Ed Husic
- Kirsten Livermore
- Senator Gavin Marshall
- Deb O'Neill
- Julie Owens
- Senator Glenn Sterle
Journalists fail to realise that there is less likely to be a story in a politician who is shooting his mouth off than there is in one who's being very, very quiet. Mark Arbib is being very, very quiet. Journalists are leaving him alone because they are stupid, and they think that when a politician says 'no comment' then all possible avenues for a story are utterly closed, and oh look is that Chris Pyne turning cartwheels in order to draw attention to, um, himself? There was a time when one could simply say 'that's journalism'; but now the sheer slackness of the press gallery is nothing so much as an argument why at least 90% of them should be boiled in their own piss.
Mark Arbib has failed as a minister. He's had four years, longer than Morris Iemma got as Premier. His powers of quiet suasion no longer exist, if they ever did. He is a power vacuum and should be removed before others are sucked in and wedged fast. He should be removed and replaced with ... well, anyone really. The fact that he can't recognise that his own time is up is all the testament you need to the sheer political failure of Mark Arbib.