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Calls for Ban on Gambling Donations to Political Parties

2 February 2018 at 1:36 pm
Luke Michael
The Alliance for Gambling Reform has called for a complete ban on political donations by licensed gambling operators, after newly released disclosures revealed the gambling industry donated at least $1.5 million to the major parties in 2016-17.   

Luke Michael | 2 February 2018 at 1:36 pm


Calls for Ban on Gambling Donations to Political Parties
2 February 2018 at 1:36 pm

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has called for a complete ban on political donations by licensed gambling operators, after newly released disclosures revealed the gambling industry donated at least $1.5 million to the major parties in 2016-17.   

The Australian Electoral Commission published the 2016–17 annual financial disclosure returns from political parties on Thursday.

An analysis by the Alliance for Gambling Reform found there were 20 separate gambling industry donations to the federal Labor Party in 2016-17 totalling $330,650, while the Coalition received almost $1 million in donations, including $500,000 from Ros Packer, the mother of Crown Resorts controlling shareholder James Packer.

As well as Packer, the alliance identified Crown Resorts ($209,964), Tabcorp ($200,000), Clubs NSW and Clubs Australia ($173,783) and the Australian Hotels Association ($153,230), as major gambling donors.

Alliance director and spokesman Tim Costello, said with Australian gambling losses expected to reach $26 billion in 2018, gambling harm will continue until the “political funding tap is completely turned off”.

“With the world’s worst per capita losses of $1,000 a head, that’s an awful lot of largesse for the industry to spread around and we’ve seen it again this year in the 2016-17 political donations data with gambling industry entities donating more than $1.5 million. And that’s only what we know about,” Costello said.

Current donations disclosure laws require parties to only disclose donations larger than $13,200, meaning that the source of many political donations remain hidden.

The alliance commended the federal Labor Party for voluntarily dropping their disclosure threshold from $13,200 to $1,000, providing transparency for 96.47 per cent of the $32.3 million the party received in 2016-17.

But Costello said New South Wales had “long been the most pokies-captured jurisdiction”, and he expressed suspicion that a large chunk of undisclosed donations in the state were coming from gambling entities.

“Since the NSW Coalition first signed the notorious Memorandum of Understanding with ClubsNSW before the 2011 state election, when you include free or subsidised venue hire I suspect the clubs industry in NSW has delivered as much as $5 million to the Coalition parties and their candidates, much of it undisclosed,” Costello said.

“In 2015-16, the NSW Liberals disclosed $21.13 million of total revenue but only identified $9.64 million. The alliance suspects a material chunk of this undisclosed $11.48 million came from gambling interests, particularly associates of those 1,400 registered pokies clubs.

“It was a similar story in 2016-17 when the NSW Liberals received $17.14 million but only revealed $11.6 million – how much of the $5.54 million of undisclosed revenue came from gambling interests? I call on the NSW government to ban all gambling donations and improve the disclosure regime.”

The alliance said other state divisions were worse than NSW regarding revenue transparency, with the Tasmanian Liberal Party only revealing the source of 20.8 per cent of their revenue, while the South Australian Labor Party only disclosed $345,654 of the $2.1 million it received in 2016-17.

But the Tasmanian Labor Party was found to be the least transparent division, disclosing only 5.51 per cent of the $751,411 it received in donations.

Dr Charles Livingstone and Maggie Johnson from the Gambling and Social Determinants Unit at Monash University, expressed concern last year about the “considerable influence” the gambling industry had over public policy through donations.

In their submission to the Select Committee into the Political Influence of Donations in October, the researchers said: “The Australian gambling industry has utilised political donations as a mechanism to exert considerable influence over relevant public policy.

“This has been facilitated by the current donations regime, which has numerous flaws from the perspective of transparency and support for policy that acts in the genuine interest of the public. The industry is both significantly resourced and politically organised, and has actively sought opportunities for political engagement via donations to politicians and political parties.”

Their submission noted that one of the gambling industry’s major peak bodies, ClubsNSW, had used their donations to significantly shape government policy.

“ClubsNSW AEC records further indicate that in multiple instances individual politicians or their campaigns (both Coalition and ALP) were earmarked to receive significant donations. This suggests that ClubsNSW tactically targeted certain individuals or campaigns in their efforts to influence policy during this time,” the submission said.

“There is also evidence that ClubsNSW was remarkably successful in its advocacy of EGM [electronic gambling machines] policy in NSW. Donations appear to have played a role in this.”

Costello added that ClubsNSW undertook a political campaign opposing gambling reforms proposed by Julia Gillard and Andrew Wilkie, which resulted in the rejection of the reforms.

“ClubsNSW spent about $5 million fighting the Gillard-Wilkie reforms and the gambling industry, thanks to Australia’s fragmented pubs and clubs industry, have thus far mastered the art of political influence but will one day be treated like tobacco,” he said.

ClubsNSW declined to comment on the nature of their political donations when contacted by Pro Bono News.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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