Archive for May, 2013

Gambling Love

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

You might have noticed the topic of gambling in the news lately (it’s pretty hard not to see Tom Waterhouse’s face fake-smiling like a campaigning politician on your telly at the moment). Most of the coverage of the live betting stuff has been filled with people united on their annoyance/disgust at seeing a footy game plastered with the latest match odds. There’s certainly been an explosion over the last couple of years in the amount of gambling advertising we see, and you could be forgiven for thinking that online and live sports betting was the biggest chunk of gambling problems in Australia. But you’d be wrong.


The amount lost on the pokies in Australia makes online gambling look tiny. The main reason so much goes into the one arm bandits is because of the way they rope people in and get them hooked. Addiction to the poker machines is as real as an addiction to a drug, and many pokies addicts describe “the zone” that people go into when they play them. It’s like a focus on the machine that’s so strong that players are only semi-aware of what’s going on around them. A mate of mine experienced the apathy of players who were in “the zone” on the weekend.


Adam and a few mates had just arrived at a club and were in the pokies area when he saw a middle aged woman start to stumble. She then fell, arms by her side, hitting her head hard on the ground as nothing cushioned the blow.


Being first aid trained, Adam immediately went to her assistance and talked to her to see if would respond. She didn’t and was frothing at the mouth and shaking, suffering an epileptic fit. As Adam and his mates cleared the area of stools so the patient wouldn’t hurt herself, they were stunned that nobody else helped. Nobody playing a poker machine stopped playing to render assistance, a few turned their heads briefly to take a look.


But the really ugly part of this experience was when the club employee called an ambulance only to have the woman’s mother say “Don’t worry, this happens every time we come here.” The mother stopped playing the pokies long enough to address the gathered first aiders and to retrieve her daughter’s handbag, before trying for the next jackpot.


I’m no medical expert but I imagine that the flashing lights of the machines may be a trigger for the woman’s fits, and that it would probably be a good idea for her to stay away. The fact that this lady’s mother didn’t seem to give a rat’s about the size of the egg that had appeared on her daughter’s face has all the hallmarks of an addiction being a greater pull on her than the concern for her own flesh and blood.

Who’s Watching Your Money?

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

I learned today of a shocking case of conduct on the part of a debt recovery agency which borders on theft and invasion of privacy.

A friend of mine, Narelle* recently discovered an amount of $600 missing from her Westpac bank account that didn’t make sense to her as to who had taken it and why. A few enquiries later and it turns out that her husband, Gary*, had been driving a tad too quickly (5kph over the limit) in Sydney. Five years ago.

Unbeknownst to Narelle and Gary, the speeding fine had been sent to their old address so the first they knew about it was only a couple of days ago. The authority that issued it had made no attempt to contact them other than, presumably, to mail a reminder that they had not paid the original $200ish fine. After a while the authority had passed the matter on to a debt recovery agency.

You’d reckon that at this point the debt collector would’ve made a rude phone call or Googled them and sent a message via Facebook to track Narelle and Gary down to get the money back. Nope. It seems that the agency sat and waited, watching Narelle’s bank account ready to pounce.

The thing is, not only have this lovely couple not had a run in with a debt recovery agency before, but they’re pretty good with their money. Narelle’s account is set up to transfer her pay over to their mortgage as soon as the dosh hits her account. They’d had this arrangement for several years and it pretty much always meant that she had next to nothing in her account.

Then one day recently that changed when they sold some shares, depositing the money into Narelle’s account. Taking their opportunity, the debt recovery firm suddenly pounced and withdrew $600 without Narelle’s knowledge or permission. How the hell the law allows any individual or company to monitor someone’s bank account without the account holder’s prior knowledge or permission, let alone withdraw money, is beyond me. And why Westpac allows customers’ accounts to be monitored without letting them know an outside organisation is wanting to track them down also makes no sense. But the debt collection agency has rudely informed Narelle that if she wants to contest it that she must prove that she and Gary never received the original fine in the mail and that they’d better get a lawyer.

So it’s now up to Gary and Narelle to either spend an unknown amount of money to fight the case, or have a black mark on their credit file for the next five years that’s not their fault.

Oh, and the agency also says that because Westpac charges a $13 withdrawal fee, Narelle and Gary have to cough up to cover this fee too.

*Names have been changed for privacy.

The Medicare Levy

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

If you live under a rock, you will not have heard of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and you also won’t know about the government’s proposal to raise the Medicare Levy. Ok, I’ll assume you have some idea that the NDIS is proposed legislation to help out those Australians who have a disability and those who care for them.


Firstly, what’s a levy? Well, it’s not something you drive your Chevy to, only to find that it’s dry (that’s a levee, as all fans of Don Mclean and karaoke would know). A levy is another name for a tax, used by politicians when they don’t want to use the word tax ‘cause they don’t want to sound like they’re taxing people more. Levies usually have a specific political agenda attached to them, such as the Flood Levy that was raised to compensate Queenslanders after the 2010-11 floods and the levy that paid for the buyback to gun owners after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. In the past, special levies have been temporary and they have generally been seen by the public as necessary to raise the funds needed for a fair dinkum worthwhile cause. (When thinking about how successful the gun buyback has been for reduced gun homicides in Australia, nobody actually says “Whoop-dee-f*&cking-doo!”)


Ok, so what’s the proposed increase in the Medicare Levy? The Gillard government wants to raise the Medicare Levy from 1.5% to 2% to pay for the NDIS (partly pay for that is, as the states pick up the rest of the bill). The difference it would make to someone on $75,000 a year is $375. Whoop-dee-doo. Low income earners would obviously pay heaps less than this, and those on the lowest incomes, below about $20,000, don’t pay the Medicare Levy at all. Considering the difference the NDIS would make to the lives of thousands of struggling Aussies and their families, I reckon it’s the least we can do to help these people out.


*I must disclose that this blog was written 5 days after I stuffed my ankle at touch footy and had to use crutches for the first time. It’s the closest I have ever come to appreciating (to the tiniest degree) what life could be like if I were not able to walk freely. This week has been a struggle, but the big differences between my temporary medical condition and the permanent situation of those who will be eligible for the NDIS are 1) there’s really bugger all wrong with me and I’ll be fine in a couple of weeks, 2) I don’t need a carer (I hope Claudia doesn’t read this!), 3) I have not been financially disadvantaged, and 4) there’s no stigma attached to bung ankles.