The shift towards renewable energy is arguably the most important initiative of our age. Its success or failure carries significant consequences for future generations. It is a truly global theme, and although the scale of the energy crisis is easier to envisage in the more densely populated cities of the world, it touches us all.
As if to prove the point, an initiative is underway in one of the least populous regions of one of the least populous nations. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) covers a little over 900 square miles and is home to 430,000 people.
The ACT Government’s Community Clubs Building Energy Efficiency initiative is making tens of thousands of dollars available to community clubs and other businesses if they install solar panels and switch to other energy efficient systems and products. But there is a condition, and it relates to another political potato that is almost as hot a topic in Australia as the energy crisis. To take advantage of the rebates, clubs are tacitly expected to remove their electronic gaming machines, or pokies as they are popularly known.
The land of the pokies
Before we get into the whys and wherefores of how the removal of pokies is relevant to clean energy production in Australia, it is necessary to understand the wider landscape, both literal and political. The Australian people love their pokies and have done so ever since they first arrived in the country in the 1950s. There are thousands of real money pokies in Australia, 4,000 of which are in ACT. That is a reasonably large number given that the population here is less than half a million people – in fact, it is one pokie for every 100 people.
Pokies are a common sight in pubs, clubs and other public places, and they have been part of the landscape for decades. However, that is a situation with which the current Australian administration is not entirely comfortable. Placing a bet is part of the Australian national culture, and until recently, few people have thought twice about it. However, an increasing awareness of the risks associated with problem gambling has led to political discomfort. Australians place more than $1,000 per capita on bets every year. That’s almost double the amount spent by the second highest spenders, the Republic of Ireland. It’s not a banner that the Australian government carries with pride, and lawmakers are constantly putting themselves and each other under pressure to “do something about it.” Exactly what that something should be is less clear.
One fact is beyond any doubt – Australians bet more on pokies than on every other type of gambling put together – in other words, more than the sum of other casino games, poker, sports betting, lottery, all of it. It is unsurprising, then, that pokies are so often in the crosshairs when it comes to government initiatives to make gambling less accessible to those with problems.
A mixed political agenda
ACT’s energy efficiency initiative is an important part of the Territory’s aspiration to be carbon zero by 30 June 2045. The initiative has already had buy-in from 16 clubs, eight of which have now had their initial energy efficiency assessments to identify key areas for improvement.
The fact that removal of electronic gaming machines is at or near the top of the agenda for all of them does not sit well with everyone. Ostensibly, the reason is that a pokie uses around 250W of power, and unplugging for good will further boost the club’s carbon footprint. But defenders of the pokies, of whom there are many, argue that this is less power than the average jukebox, and there have been no suggestions that these need to be removed.
Only time will tell as to how effective the energy efficiency initiative will be. As things stand, there are certainly strong indications that the mixed political agenda attached to the initiative is likely to do more harm than good.