After being paid millions by the Packer family empire since he quit federal Parliament in 1994, Labor Party fixer Graham Richardson yesterday admitted his long-term retainer came to an end about 12 months ago.
While much has been made of the warming relations between James Packer and Kerry Stokes, it clearly doesn’t extend to sharing the services of Richo because his departure from the Packer payroll coincided with the signing of a three-year deal with Channel Seven shortly before the 2010 federal election.
Richardson has pocketed payments from all sorts of colourful people over the years and yesterday he picked up a few thousand dollars from ratepayers when the Municipal Association of Victoria decided to pay him to speak at its Future of Local Government summit.
When it came to questions, I was toying with asking for advice about setting up Swiss bank accounts or whether Richo was embarrassed to have been a consultant for Sydney developer and alleged murderer Ron Medich.
Alas, Richo had used his MAV speech to launch a stinging attack on Andrew Wilkie whose “wild eyes” proved he was a zealot. He also predicted Wilkie’s pokies reform would fail and he would bring down the government in 12 months.
The obvious opening question to ask here was whether Richo was simply pushing the Packer anti-Gillard line on casinos, something we’d suggested he was involved with in this piece last week.
Alas, when asked if he had an interest to declare, Richo said the Packer retainer ended 12 months ago.
I then went on to explain that the Green, Labor and Liberal councillors at Manningham had all supported a motion promoting the Wilkie position at our council meeting on Tuesday night (see p191 of the agenda and asked for advice as to how the pro-reform agenda could be promoted and the powerful clubs and pubs neutralised.
Despite being mates with John Singleton, the adman and pokies pub owner behind the industry’s “licence to punt” campaign, Richardson observed that he believed Bob Carr made a mistake in allowing pokies into NSW pubs.
Richo predicted his comments “would probably make me a few enemies”, which presumably refers to the traditionally close relationship between the gambling industry and the NSW Right, as was demonstrated with James Packer’s recent recruitment of Karl Bitar.
The other big pokies story yesterday was the release of this remarkable report by the Victorian Auditor-General slamming the Brumby government’s $980 million auction of its 27,500 pokies licences last year, when they were actually worth an estimated $4.1 billion.
The normally reserved Stephen Bartholomeusz neatly summarised all the issues in this strong column on Business Spectator yesterday, concluding that the issue was “at the very least a debacle, bordering on a scandal”.
Victorian taxpayers would have secured at least $2 billion for the licences if it had retained the incumbent operators, Tabcorp and Tatts. Instead, taxpayers are expecting compensation claims running to $1.3 billion from the duopolists once their licences expire in August next year.
Further complicating this situation is the current negotiations around a new Victorian wagering licence for Tabcorp, which is taking longer than expected.
Woolworths and billionaire pokies mogul Bruce Mathieson were the biggest winners from Victoria’s auction debacle, shelling out an estimated $200 million for entitlements that Victoria’s Auditor-General now claims are worth about $1 billion.
The only problem with this valuation now is that the Wilkie brinkmanship has created enormous uncertainty. Reducing the maximum bet in Victoria from $5 to $1 would significantly reduce revenue, although not necessarily by the 40% that the industry is erroneously claiming Wilkie has predicted, as Media Watch exposed on Monday night.
*Stephen Mayne is a City of Manningham councillor who was not paid for this contribution. He is also interviewing new Tabcorp chair Paula Dwyer at this Women in Finance lunch tomorrow.