Sometimes the hand wringing of Woolworths CEO Roger Corbett is a bit too much like Uriah Heep. There he was on ABC radio’s Sunday Profile program last night, busily distancing himself from his company’s involvement in the gambling industry, a point the avowed Christian found uncomfortable in the interview.

Nothing major has happened at Woolworths in the past seven years without Corbett’s input, so it is amazing that he can wash his hands of the company’s plunge into gaming and hotel management through the Bruwando joint venture with hotelier Bruce Mathieson. Corbett is due to depart the retail scene (though he will still work as a consultant for five years at $600,000 a year), but last night he was trying hard to find someone else to pin the blame on for Woolies becoming the largest operator of gaming machines in the country.

Corbett said the decision to buy large numbers of hotels was ultimately made by the board: “Pokie machines was an issues that I have given a great deal of consideration to,” he said. “It was a judgment of the company’s, not mine.”

“But who am I to say that anyone who likes playing a poker machine is any less a person than someone who doesn’t? I don’t think that’s a moral judgment, I think what is a moral judgment is that one needs to be careful and concerned about the environment in which they sell in the market facilities of that nature.”

Corbett, a conservative Anglican, said last night his corporate responsibilities often conflicted with his religious principles. “I believe that I’ll be accountable one day for my life and so to that extent I’ll be accountable for my integrity,” he said. “Yes there are instances where I think and on occasions pray very carefully before I act.”

Oh, Corbett also told Sunday Profile that he would sell ammunition for firearms if it were legal.

Peter Fray

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