Australia’s highest profile anti-pokies campaigner, Gabriela Byrne, may have failed to crack the Victorian Parliament on Saturday but she picked herself off the mat yesterday morning and headed into the Tabcorp AGM.

Gabi’s Tabcorp board tilt was withdrawn due to the lack of regulatory clearance from the NSW, Queensland and Victorian governments, but chairman Michael Robinson still let her speak and she told the meeting about losing $40,000 on the pokies, marital problems and contemplating suicide.

There were actually three withdrawn resolutions on the day, which must be some sort of record. Changes to the constitution about board nominations had some hitch with the NSW government and was also going down on the proxies, while a generous options package for CEO Matthew Slatter was withdrawn with about 60% of the proxies against it.

This was another demonstration of the rising power wielded by proxy advisory firms ISS and Corporate Governance International, which both recommended against the incentive scheme.

Robinson attempted to claim that all had been resolved by increasing the performance hurdle rate after discussions with shareholders last week, but this was too little too late.

With the retirement of Brisbane-based Laurie Willett and Sydney-based Dick Warburton, I complained that the board was now full of Melbourne Liberal blue-bloods. Surely a company that is totally dependent on gambling licences from Labor state governments should get some NSW and Queensland Labor figures on board.

Robinson, a former chairman of the IPA who was put into the Tabcorp gig by Jeff Kennett and Alan Stockdale, totally rejected the notion that the company should play this game.

Labor’s biggest scandal in the Victorian election campaign surrounded revelations that former Kirner Government gaming minister David White was boasting of getting Tattersall’s an inside run on a new $2 billion pokies licence.

Robinson said Tabcorp has no equivalent of the Hawker Britton lobbyist and was instead making all representations to the Victorian government through formal channels.

However, he did confess that the board had given $40,000 to both sides of politics for the Queensland and Victorian election campaigns “to support the democratic process”.

Presumably that means Morris Iemma and Peter Debnam can pencil in $40,000 each early next year as well to help fund their campaigns. Surely such donations from state-licensed gaming companies are completely inappropriate.

And surely the press should have reported this disclosure which came 14 months earlier than John Howard’s laws require.

Peter Fray

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