Introduction by Croakey: The Alliance for Gambling Reform has joined calls for Communications Minister Michelle Rowland to resign her portfolio, and has urged the Federal Government to implement long overdue reforms to tackle gambling harms.
Carol Bennett, the Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer, says the conflict of interest involved means the public cannot have full confidence the Minister can effectively and independently fulfill her responsibilities.
Carol Bennett writes:
Sometimes the numbers around gambling in Australia just don’t add up.
For example: $13,770. That is the trifling amount that sports gambling company BetNation was fined by the Northern Territory regulator after it outrageously emailed a promotional gambling offer to hundreds of people who had asked to be excluded from gambling advertising and offers.
With such a small fine for such a flagrant offence, it’s no wonder gambling companies see fines as a cost of doing business, and regulators as not much more than a minor inconvenience.
Let’s look at another number: $19,000. That is how much Sportsbet donated to now Communications Minister Michelle Rowland – almost $9,000 for a dinner and a $10,000 donation – all to support her campaign at the 2022 Federal election.
Since these revelations came to light recently, the Minister, who has responsibility for online betting regulation and advertising, has come under pressure to resign.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform supports the call for the Minister to resign, and has asked that the Prime Minister hold his Minister to account under his Government’s own Code of Conduct.
After all, such a clear conflict of interest – or even perceived conflict – means the public cannot have full confidence that Minister Rowland can effectively and independently fulfill her responsibilities.
Prior to becoming Minister and immediately after her appointment, the Alliance sought a meeting with the Minister. The request for a meeting was rejected.
Public interest matters
Let’s look at another figure: $2.165 million. This is how much alcohol and gambling companies and their lobby groups donated to Australia’s major political parties in 2021-22.
This figure represents a 40 percent increase on the previous year, according to an analysis of disclosure returns published by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
This huge increase in the number and value of donations from alcohol and gambling companies and their lobby groups to the major political parties is extremely concerning.
The community expects politicians to make decisions that are in the public interest and not influenced by donations made by vested interests seeking to profit from government decision making.
Of course, there is a simple solution. The Labor and Liberal parties moved a long time ago to exclude political donations from tobacco companies. They should now extend this to alcohol and gambling companies.
Like tobacco, alcohol and gambling cause significant health and social harms to Australians and they should not be allowed to buy political influence through an opaque donation system.
Let’s look at one last figure: $25 billion. This is how much Australians lose each year to gambling. Australians lose more per head of population than any other country in the world – by a very wide margin.
There is a lack of good research into the impact of gambling in Australia, but we know first-hand how devastating gambling losses can be to individuals, families and communities. The Alliance works with people with lived-experience to help amplify their experiences and knowledge about the impact of gambling.
Of course, many people are shamed into silence about their gambling issues by blame-shifting slogans such as ‘gamble responsibility’. This slogan seeks to imply gambling products are always safe, but can be misused by those who lack control.
In fact, a ruthless and greedy industry spends countless millions of dollars ensuring their products are more and more addictive. The unfortunate reality is that far too many gamblers take their own lives because of their gambling, and their story is never told.
Yet there is growing hope that Australia is experiencing an historic moment where our political leaders are at last starting to understand the cancerous impact of gambling in our society, and some are willing to make a stand.
They make this stand even in the face of misleading and bullying scare campaigns launched by the industry.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has proposed a mandatory cashless gambling card that is designed to reduce money laundering and the proceeds of crime being poured into machines across the State’s pubs and clubs and also allow people to set a limit on their losses before they gamble.
The move is a political watershed for NSW – which for so long has been captured by the gambling industry. It has drawn the support of a number of politicians who have bravely called out for gambling reform including Helen Dalton, Alex Greenwich and Jo McGirr.
Critically, cashless gambling has failed to receive bipartisan support from Opposition Leader, Chris Minns, who instead is standing by a flawed and unnecessary proposal for another trial of a cashless card.
It is good that both leaders in NSW have pledged to ban political donations from gambling organisations and their lobby groups. This is an important step in the right direction.
But we still need so much more to be done to ensure the integrity of our political system against a predatory industry that is intent on buying its way out of much needed and long overdue reform.
Postscript: Since the public outcry about Minister Rowland receiving gambling donations to support her electoral campaign, the Alliance has been invited to meet with her next week. We intend to raise the issue of industry influence, the responsibility of the Federal Government for gambling commensurate with the level of harm nationwide and the long overdue implementation of reforms in her portfolio, including the introduction of Betstop (the national self exclusion register), advertising and online gambling reform.
Note from Croakey: We have asked Minister Rowland’s office to respond to the calls for her resignation and concerns about conflict of interest.
Save the date
On 1 May, the Alliance for Gambling Reform will hold a joint forum with the Public Health Association of Australia: Social Justice meets public health: tackling gambling harm in Australia.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on gambling as a public health concern
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