Asia

Australia government loses MP's support over slot machines

Gaming venue with slot machines in Melbourne (file photo)
Image caption Betting on slot machines or "pokies" is a popular pursuit in Australia - and has become a hot political issue

Australian PM Julia Gillard's minority government has lost the support of an independent MP, leaving her with control of just 75 out of 150 seats.

Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie withdrew his backing after the prime minister broke her promise to bring in new controls on slot machines or "pokies".

The MP said he had no option but to end his relationship with the government.

Ms Gillard's Labor Party does still have a one-seat buffer as the non-voting speaker is an opposition MP.

The prime minister was able to form a government after tight elections in 2010 with the backing of a Green MP and three independents, one of them Mr Wilkie.

The Tasmanian had backed Ms Gillard after she agreed to introduce laws on gaming machines which would mean players had to agree a maximum potential loss at the start of their session.

Ms Gillard has now opted for a trial of the restrictions, which will last a year and take place only in the small Australian Capital Territory, which means any nationwide introduction would be delayed until 2016.

Mr Wilkie says the decision means the prime minister Mr Wilkie says this decision means the prime minister is in breach of their written deal, and he that has no option but to withdraw his support.

"Frankly, a deal's a deal and it must be honoured," he said.

Image caption Australian PM Julia Gillard leads a minority government

He was disappointed that the government was not taking the opportunity to "finally do something about poker machine problem gambling and its devastating social and financial damage cost".

Correspondents say delaying slot machine reform will cause many MPs in Ms Gillard's own party to breathe a sigh of relief as they feared losing their seats in the face of a campaign by Australia's gaming lobby.

Industry group Clubs Australia, which is opposed to Mr Wilkie's preferred reforms, said the concept of mandatory pre-commitment had been exposed as "a magic bullet solution to problem gambling".

Australians were "tired of Andrew Wilkie's posturing and threatening of the Federal Government", the group claimed.

The prime minister's compromise proposals will limit withdrawals at cash machines in slot machine venues to A$250 (£168; US$262), as well as trialling pre-agreed betting limits in the ACT.

Federal elections are due in Australia next year.

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