Aussie Senator Could Lose Position over Net Betting Vote

6 July 2001
The effects are already being felt by the Australian Senate's passing of the Interactive Gambling Bill.

The bill, which effectively bans online casinos and other forms of gaming--except sports betting, horseracing and online lotteries--was passed last week. The vote could turn out to be the swan song for the County Liberal Party's (CLP) Grant Tambling.

Tambling, a senator from the Northern Territory, went against the wishes of his party and voted in favor of the bill. The CLP, along with other parties from the NT, were adamantly opposed to a permanent ban mainly since Lasseters, the country's largest online operator, is located in the NT.

But the issue was even greater than just covering for one of its constituents. CLP President Suzanne Cavanagh said Tambling should have voted against the bill because it prevented the NT government from setting its own laws and regulations. Cavanagh made it known ahead of time that if Tambling voted for the bill, he would have to face the consequences of his actions.

"Grant knew our views before he took the decision to vote with the Coalition and as far as we're concerned we had an obligation to take action," she told the Australian Broadcasting Association.

The action the CLP central council took was to strip Tambling of pre-selection for the next election. Without his party's blessing in the next election it will be very difficult for Tambling to be reelected.

In response, Tambling, who said he was stunned by the action, is considering legal action to save his political career.

Tambling told ABC that his vote wasn't just about going against the territory's wishes; he was voting for something he thought the residents wanted to see happen.

"It (his vote) represented the proper view of the community, from the representations that I gauged," he said. "I believe that history will record that it was the right decision about Internet gambling."

The recent announcement by the CLP has brought some heavyweights into the debate. Prime Minister John Howard came to Tambling's defense, but also admitted that there was nothing he could do to help Tambling's future.

"I think he's done a good job and he did the right thing, and that's a matter between him and the party organization," the Prime Minister said. Howard pointed out that the CLP is a separate party from the Liberal Party and that his parliamentary secretary for health is probably doomed.

Cavanagh said the issue of territorial governments making their own laws, versus the federal government telling them what will be allowed has come up before. Tambling knew, she felt, what to do when the issue of online gambling was brought to the Senate.

"We felt that it was a case of him standing up for the territory on something as fundamental as protecting our rights to make our own laws," she said.

The CLP will begin a new pre-selection process to endorse another candidate, effectively ending the career of Senator Tambling, the party's only federal representative.

Tambling said he would consult lawyers to determine what action he could take to restore his pre-selection.

NT officials also accused the Howard government of interfering in its affairs over mandatory sentencing laws and euthanasia.

Senator Tambling said he was deeply saddened by his treatment after 20 years of service. There is irony to Tambling's story though. Many who oppose the bill feel it was passed only as a pre-election issue so the Liberal Party could show voters they tried to do something in regards to online gambling. Now Tambling feels he is being used as a pre-election scapegoat as well.

"What worries me is the Internet gaming issue itself was secondary," he told The Canberra Times. "The debate turned in the course of the discussion to what I describe is a very unnecessary and silly debate about territory rights. The territory party is heading into an election campaign in the near future and one of the tenets of their platform is always bashing up Canberra, so in effect I've become a scapegoat."

Cavanagh said she can't understand why Tambling would be surprised with the party for lashing out against him for voting against their wishes. But Tambling still struggles with the idea of why he is facing repercussions.

"It wasn't the principle of gambling. It was about whether I was being seen to be standing up sufficiently to protect the territory," he said. "I am very proud of my history of having done that in the past. Adding to the confusion of his vote, Cavanagh said in the past Tambling had been a staunch supporting of territorial government, but Tambling said that wasn't the issue with the Internet gambling bill."

"I think, if anything, I've probably overdone it," he said referring to his voting record on past issues. "On every issue from euthanasia to mandatory sentencing to native title I've been leading the push on territory rights. I think they are confusing territory rights with a false sense of territory pride for the political party."

Tambling is worried that the CLP's move to pull his pre-selection before the election could open a can of worms for other parties and restrain legislatures' voting freedom.

"I am concerned that what they have done will create a precedent which won't give any Canberra representative the freedom to operate in the normal conservative conventions. It is much more akin to the Labor Party disciplinary style," he said.