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Jun 23, 2011

James Packer shows off his Labor Right pulling power

The James Packer ALP advisory team of Graham Richardson, Karl Bitar and former Kim Beazley chief-of-staff Gary O’Neill, today have played one of their trump cards in the campaign to head off Andrew Wilkie’s pokies reform agenda.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

The James Packer ALP advisory team of Graham Richardson, Karl Bitar and former Kim Beazley chief-of-staff Gary O’Neill, today have played one of their trump cards in the campaign to head off Andrew Wilkie’s pokies reform agenda. It came in the form of an exclusive interview granted to The AFR’s leading feature writer Pamela Williams. The front-page treatment led with the claim that Julia Gillard was anti-business but the body of the story detailed a long line of ALP Right heavyweights who have travelled to Crown in Melbourne for an audience with James Packer to hear his complaints. These include Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy, Mark Arbib and Bill Shorten, the factional players most associated with the discredited NSW Labor Right and symbolised by the tactics of people such as Richardson and Bitar. The only Left figure to turn up at Crown was Jenny Macklin, the minister who has carriage of the reforms and appears genuinely committed to helping pokies addicts. Interestingly, Gillard appears to have had no contact with Packer, a stark contrast to the old days when Kerry Packer would personally ring and meet with the likes of Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard to demand favours from government, most notably through protection of the free-to-air television oligopoly. Wilkie has also confirmed publicly the level of his engagement with Crown,  which has comprised several phone calls and meetings. The problem James Packer has got is sustaining an argument that it is just fine for a billionaire to further enrich his family by targeting pokies addicts from poorer suburbs who traditionally look to the Labor Party for support and protection. As is well known now, Australians are the world’s biggest gamblers in per capita terms and poker machines produce a majority of the $20 billion-plus in annual losses. Crown’s argument continues to revolve around the need to support Australia’s tourism industry through the high-roller business at the Crown and Burswood casinos, which are under assault from new offerings in Singapore and Macau. Packer first mounted this argument publicly at the 2009 Crown AGM and it is absolutely true that rich tourists have lost more than $7 billion at these two casinos since they opened. However, this has nothing to do with the proposed Wilkie reforms. Asian high rollers play table games, with a particular focus on baccarat. They all know that Australian pokies are a mug's game when it comes to player skill and the odds offered. The business case of investing billions in lavish facilities to accommodate Asian high rollers is totally separate to the targeting of local pokies addicts for the so-called "grind" business. In terms of the retribution, Packer is threatening if the reforms proceed, the best he can offer is the old "we’ll take our capital offshore". The obvious problem here is that the $3 billion invested so far in Crown can’t exactly be popped on a barge and shipped to Macau. Besides, Crown is just coming to the end of a heavy investment program in its two Australian casinos and it last week announced plans to invest $US2.5 billion in a third Macau casino anyway. This is an entirely different situation to the Resources Super Profits Tax where the global mining giants were able to genuinely threaten a capital strike on the $100 billion-plus capital investment pipeline if Kevin Rudd’s revenue grab proceeded. Truth be known, Packer’s real trump cards in the pokies campaign are the two old favourites of political donations and media coverage. His great mates Alan Jones and John Singleton are dutifully using 2GB to slug the Gillard government at every opportunity. Packer has also teamed with billionaire mining heiress Gina Rinehart to back Lachlan Murdoch into the CEO’s chair at Network Ten where Andrew Bolt has been hired to broaden the coalition of major commercial media outlets campaigning for the government to fall. Rinehart famously paid for climate sceptic Lord Monckton to come to Australia last year and with Tony Abbott today forced to criticise Monckton for labelling Ross Garnaut a fascist, the anti-Gillard Coalition will need to be careful not to overplay their hand. After all, when it comes to the pokies it really does look like the Prime Minister is almost Thatcher-like in her stance that "this lady is not for turning". Wilkie is equally determined, again telling Senators, crossbenchers and ALP factional heavies alike that he’ll happily bring down the government if the pokies reform package is not through both houses by May 31 next year. Talk about an amazing game of cliff-top poker.

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “James Packer shows off his Labor Right pulling power

  1. david

    As if we didn’t know, Packer doesn’t give a stuff about problem gambling, people or the damage his gambling institutions are doing…his only concern is profit and he doesn’t give a toss how he makes it. He is a great candidate for UNAUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

  2. CHRISTOPHER DUNNE

    Who said minority government isn’t at least worth a ticket? What a spectacle.

  3. Moz

    Interesting that Hywood’s first act in the boss’s chair was to come down to Crown and lead his editors in a warm embrace of James Packer, who proceeded to whinge about how tough it was having strict immigration laws (!) when you’re running a casino. Could it be that Hywood’s buddy O’Neill now has a very easy PR row to hoe? Check out the Crown foursome at the extremely exclusive Tiger Woods pro-am.

  4. AR

    Odd that Packer should claim that there is a threat high rollers will go to Macau – I seem to recall that he has invested a substantial chunk of his ill-gotten fortune in just such a competing casino there.
    All I can think when such types threaten to leave & take their mines/smelters or casinos with them is “Promise?”.

  5. zut alors

    It breaks our hearts to learn of the hardships facing Rinehart, Twiggy Forrester, Gerry Harvey, James Packer et al. These poor bvggers deserve a break, isn’t Australia supposed to be the land of a fair go?

    Some nights I suffer disturbed sleep worrying lest any of them may not be able to upgrade to a larger private jet in the next financial year.

  6. Barry 09

    David , what about Abbott and there should be a female candidate , Gina ?
    ZUT ALORS , i heard James had to sell his new Astin Martin and it had his name on the dashboard. Its hard being a Billionaire .

  7. zut alors

    Barry 09, that’s priceless. Why does Packer need his name on the dashboard, does he have trouble remembering it?

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