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Worlds collide as UK parliamentary committee comes to Oz

When you’re in the business of campaigning journalism, the key performance indicator is securing change for the better. Are you making a difference?

After banging away for many years on Rupert Murdoch’s missing moral compass and the scourge of poker machines in Australia, it is fair to say governance reform at News Corporation and Andrew Wilkie’s gambling agenda are the two highest priorities right now. Both look highly prospective.

In a bizarre case of worlds colliding, I’ll be dining next week with five members of the UK parliamentary committee probing phone hacking and then, wait for it, taking them on a bus tour through the pokies venues of Manningham.

It is fair to say the British House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has a very broad brief. Not only has it led the way on phone hacking, but it oversees the BBC and is currently conducting an inquiry into gambling, looking in particular at the implementation and operation of the Gambling Act 2005.

The 11-member committee has invited written submissions and requested views on the following issues:

  • How effective the act has been in its core objectives to:
     — ensure that gambling is maintained crime-free and conducted in an open and fair manner
     — protect children and vulnerable people from the adverse effects of gambling
     — update the legislative framework with regards to online gambling;
  • the financial impact of the act on the UK gambling industry;
  • the effectiveness of the Gambling Commission since its establishment, and whether it represents good value for money;
  • the impact of the proliferation of off-shore online gambling operators on the UK gambling sector and what effect the act has had on this;
  • why the act has not resulted in any new licences for casinos or “super” casinos;
  • the effectiveness of the classification and regulation of gaming machines under the act;

As part of its inquiry, the committee is visiting Sydney and Melbourne to learn from Australian experience of issues relating to gambling.

And why wouldn’t you come to the gambling capital of the world before deciding whether the Brits should unleash Australian-style high-intensity pokies on an unsuspecting public?

The committee members attending the dinner hosted by Britain’s Consul-General in Melbourne are Conservative chairman John Whittingdale, along with two Conservative colleagues, Therese Coffey and Philip Davies, Labour’s Jim Sheridan and Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders.

Three of these five are former local government councillors and they are keen to understand the role that local government plays in gaming regulation. It’s fair to say in Australia we’re pretty side-lined, although a range of Victorian councils have recently been passing motions endorsing the proposed federal reforms.

The latest to wade in was the City of Glen Eira. Hopefully local member and shadow finance minister Andrew Robb will take note of item 9.6 on the agenda of Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Gordon Brown’s close friend Tom Watson, the crusading anti-Murdoch campaigner, hasn’t made the trip, presumably because he’s girding his loins to quiz BSkyB chairman James Murdoch at the AGM in London on November 29.

While the pokies discussion will be lively, there will no doubt be plenty of opportunities over dinner in Toorak to discuss phone hacking and media regulation. Indeed, it would be great if the man running Australia’s independent media inquiry, razor-sharp former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein, could hook up with committee chair John Whittingdale while he’s in town. Emails have been sent suggesting this occurs.

Manningham has been chosen in part because it has the highest concentration of Woolies pokies of any council in Australia. Whoever would have thought Australia’s biggest retailer would apply its highly honed skills at maximising sales to the dangerous game of running 12,000-plus high intensity poker machines.

And it is Woolies that really pushes the boundaries on marketing to children, loyalty programs, all-night trading and securing prime venues on main roads and near shopping centres.

The trip from Toorak to Manningham could quite easily include a drive down Riversdale Road in Camberwell past the Trinity Presbyterean Church where Sir Keith Murdoch was living in the manse in 1903 when he started out in journalism as Malvern reporter for The Age. Here’s a scratchy video made at the church four years ago.

We might even manage a drive down Murdoch Street in Camberwell, which is presumably named after the suburb’s most famous family, and also happens to be where Crikey was based in 2003-04.

*Disclosure: Stephen Mayne is a City of Manningham councillor

2
  • 1
    Paul Quill
    Posted Thursday, 24 November 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Disclosure (possibly superfluous): Stephen Mayne is a self-promoting wanker.

  • 2
    lorraine benham
    Posted Thursday, 24 November 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but he’s OUR self-promoting wanker and good luck to him too.

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