The Parrot has taken a bizarre stand in favour of dumping more pokies on the pokie-saturated Liverpool area in the controversial “Oasis” development. But why? Crullers speculates.

Even more interesting was his stance on the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ salary cap rorts, which we noted in our subscriber-only email of Tuesday, 21 August.

In it, we noted that the Parrot was tying himself in knots in defence of the Bulldogs’ indefensible salary cap cheating. To our thinking, the SMH had composed a pretty compelling case against the club, and certainly wouldn’t have gone into print the previous weekend without a fair bit of substance to back their case up.

The Parrot’s quite extraordinary defence of the Bulldogs on salary cap rorting – which they ‘fessed up to later on the very day of Mr Parrot QC’s closing submission for the defence – piqued our interest.

Why was the Parrot bending over backwards and arguing that black was white to defend the Bulldogs over salary cap rorting?

Initially, we somewhat naively thought this was just payback for his old pals at Macquarie Bank – after being jilted from the Oasis project, the Millionaire Factory has been threatening to sue for $1.2 million in fees.

Anything to spite Mac Bank, we thought.

But then another Bird Watcher pointed us in a different direction.

We were told to have a look at the Parrot’s squawks when he was cooped up in his old cage at 2UE.

Sure enough, the Parrot had delivered 6 stirring editorials in favour of the Oasis project specifically and / or the gaming industry generally while he was at 2UE, the first on 26 August 1999, the most recent on 2 September 2001, not too long before he flew the coop.

But hang on.

The Parrot we’ve come to know and love, protector of Struggle Street, couldn’t be such a fan of pokies, which even the Parrot’s researchers told him were hitting hard on the hip pockets of Struggle Street?

The Parrot’s sermons in favour of pokies

The first of the Parrot’s Oasis- and pokie- friendly editorials, from 26 August 1999 sets out pretty clearly just where the Parrot stood, a stance he continues to maintain. “We pick and we stick”, indeed:

“I was in Melbourne yesterday and I was surprised when I came back to see a bit of a splash given in some of the papers to the Liverpool Council’s approval of a 1,000 poker machine proposal for Canterbury Bankstown’s twelve story resort in Western Sydney.

Look, it’s time the psalm singers and the do-gooders were put in their place in all of this.

And I have to say that Mr Carr is disappointing in the way in which he has equivocated on the matter.

This will be a magnificent resort in Western Sydney.

The Liverpool Council were right to approve it.

It’s a massive high density area which lacks appropriate facilities.

And at this same resort, which will have the poker machines, which will provide profit to the club, at this same resort, there will be all sorts of magnificent facilities and benefits for people in Western Sydney.”

– Ends –

Seasoned Bird Watchers do find it curious that the Parrot should be such a strong advocate in favour of pokies, given how much misery they inflict on the Parrot’s favourite nesting ground, Struggle Street.

But this squawk was indicative of others that were to come. From 8 February 2001:

“George Paciullo, the Liverpool Mayor [who has since “stepped aside” while ICAC investigates whether he has a case to answer regarding salary cap rorting] has done a fantastic job serving the interests of the people of that area.

… And what does Bob Carr say?

There could be a 12-month extension of the State’s freeze on poker machines.

For this to go ahead, the project needs licensing court approval for a minimum of 600 poker machines for the sporting and entertainment complex.

Who are the government serving?

The wowsers of this world, or the people of Western Sydney?

… But let’s not knock off the beneficial returns to a community like the Liverpool Community purely to satisfy the moanings and meanderings of someone like Tim Costello.”

– Ends –

Hmmmm.

If we throw the Parrot’s own question back at him, who is the Parrot serving by taking such a strong stance in favour of another 600 poker machines in an area that the Parrot later noted has one of the worst gambling expenditure per capita ratios in the state?

Here are a few more classic grabs from the Parrot from 2 September 2001:

“Their [the NSW government’s] knee-jerk reaction to gambling in this State means that the life blood of developments like this, namely the legitimate returns from poker machines, is cut off from such proposals.

It sometimes makes you wonder what representative Government is about.

But well done to the local government authority out there, the Liverpool City Council and Mayor George Paciullo.”

One of the Parrot’s more curious contortions of logic occurred in his editorial of 20 November 2000. He noted all the statistics which confirmed the Canterbury-Bankstown area as a low income, high gambling region, but came up with an easy explanation – it was all the Asians’ fault, you see!

“Everywhere you turn today, and in the Daily Telegraph which, more often than not gets it right, has got acres devoted to poker machines.

I’m not quite sure what the point is that’s being made.

We’re told that the Fairfield – Liverpool and Canterbury – Bankstown areas have got rather frightening per resident expenditure on poker machines.

In Canterbury – Bankstown it averages $181 per week.

Fairfield – Liverpool $178 per week.

And then the rather obvious point is made that these areas are areas of highest unemployment and lowest income rates.

Now all of this sounds horrific, and it most probably is…

… But let’s not be squeamish.

Let’s add two other statistics which are very significantly represented in these figures.

These are big areas of drug trafficking and high penetration of Asian residents.

Now you don’t need a degree in population theory to know that the Asians are massive gamblers.

The casino here is full of them…”

– Ends –

You get the picture.

The survey that the Parrot summarily dismissed showed that the there were some 1,400 pokies in the area within 5kms of the proposed Oasis development.

And the Parrot wants MORE?!

Why is the Parrot such a Pokie fanatic?

So, after bending over backwards to prove that Struggle Street in Canterbury Bankstown is demonstrably low income and high-gambling, but that’s OK because the dreaded Asians skew the gambling figures, why has the Parrot made all these representations in favour of even more pokies, specifically at Oasis?

As we said earlier, we’ll rule out a gratuitous, spiteful Mac Bank bash as the Parrot’s driving force.

Bird Watchers are only too aware that the Parrot loves squawking wherever there is an audience, and one audience that has heard his rants a couple of times recently is the Australasian Gaming Machine Manufacturers’ Association.

AGMMA, along with pokie industry bodies, hosts an industry conference each year, and the Parrot has been a keynote speaker at this year’s conference in the past week and also at the 2001 conference.

AGMMA have confirmed with Crikey that these talks are a one-off each year (for which the Parrot gets paid via an events management company which organises speakers for the event) and the Parrot isn’t on a retainer of any sort with AGMMA.

So we can rule out any seed for squawks from AGMMA. But what is interesting is that one of the members of AGMMA is a company called Stargames, the second biggest pokie manufacturer in the country, behind Aristocrat Leisure.

The Parrot connection comes through one of the directors of Stargames, one John Messara.

All but the keenest of Bird Watchers will be asking “John Who?”

But his name surfaced way back around the time of the Seed for Squawk inquiry in 1999.

The Kolback connection

Back then, Messara was chairman of a waste management company called the Kolback Group.

Messara’s wife was co-owner of the racehorse Dr Freeze along with the Parrot and rugby league legend Ricky Stuart.

Messara – one of the biggest breeders of racehorses in Australia – and the Parrot had even travelled to Ireland to check out stud farms, shortly before the Seed for Squawk inquiry commenced.

The Parrot helped out his chum by flapping his wings at the then Planning Minister, Craig Knowles, after the Parrot was outraged at a decision to announce that Collex, a competitor of the Kolback Group, was the preferred tenderer for a $1 billion “superdump”.

What’s more, the minister’s preferred site was in the Hunter Valley, where Messara had a horse stud.

The Parrot chastised Knowles for not meeting with the Kolback Group and threatened “if I were on air I would have to have something to say about this”. (The Parrot was resting his tired beak on a well-earned sabbatical at the time.)

The Parrot naturally argued there was nothing untoward in these representations to the minister, saying that this issue was a serious matter of public policy and had nothing to do with any seeds for squawks.

And indeed the independent watchdog agreed, saying “the matter should not be the subject of further inquiries or investigation by the ICAC”.

So what is wrong with this?

Well, nothing per se.

But we know that the Parrot has form in making representations to government which might be favourable to John Messara’s commercial interests.

We should stress, though, that these representations in the past were of course motivated by the Parrot’s over-riding concern for the correct adherence to procedure in important matters of public policy.

Any commercial benefit that a pal of the Parrot might get from such representations is merely a happy coincidence.

The Kolback Group, by the way, eventually purchased a pokie manufacturing business, gradually weaned itself out of the waste management business and became Stargames, our second biggest pokie manufacturer.

As our second biggest pokie manufacturer, surely they would be in with a show for a lucrative contract if the Oasis project went ahead and required up to 1,000 new poker machines?

Messara is a director of Stargames, which is currently trading around the $1.30 mark in a pretty competitive market.

According to the latest notices lodged with the ASX in January by Stargames, Messara owns 1 million options in Stargames directly. Two companies in which he has an interest, the Arrowfield Group and Lozune Pty Ltd, own 2.425 million shares and 5.812 million shares each.

The Parrot’s contortions over Oasis and the Bulldogs have been amusing for some Bird Watchers, but for the conspiracy theorists among us, we just can’t help wondering if a mate of the Parrot’s will benefit from his efforts to ensure the Oasis project goes ahead.

And on this particular issue, where is the compelling “public policy” argument for the Parrot’s spirited intervention?

Despite his best efforts to argue that even more pokies will be great for the already pokie-saturated Liverpool community, we remain totally unconvinced.

Peter Fray

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