Jenny Macklin, the federal minister responsible for implementing the pokies deal with Andrew Wilkie, is complaining that the industry is refusing to offer up any venues that will trial a mandatory pre-commitment system with $1 maximum bets.

Jenny, ask your own party in Canberra. The Canberra Labor Club operates about 500 machines in the ACT and it represents the single largest investment asset owned directly by an ALP branch.

Labor’s role as the only major political party in the world that fundraises through operating gambling venues is just one of many conflicts of interest which dominate the pokies reform debate.

Here are a few other favourites:

  • Jeff Kennett: As The Australian reported today, the outgoing Hawthorn president is obviously conflicted in defending AFL clubs operating several thousand machines given his chairmanship of Beyond Blue and the known connection between depression and problem gambling. Kennett is further conflicted by his paid gig as chairman of Amtek, a private company aiming to becoming one of the biggest service providers to Victorian pokies venues after Tabcorp and Tattersall’s are kicked out of the system in August next year.
  • Colin Carter: The Geelong president has come out supporting the Wilkie reform package, even though he is seemingly conflicted as a Wesfarmers director given the retailing giant operates close to 2000 machines across Australia.
  • Richard Goyder: The Wesfarmers CEO is in a similar position after it was announced yesterday he would join the AFL Commission in November just as Andrew Demetriou was inaccurately claiming the proposed federal reforms would see AFL club gaming revenue fall by between 20% and 40%. This excludes the windfall gains Colin Carter has pointed to courtesy of many clubs picking up 10 years entitlements for a pittance in the Brumby’s government’s botched pokies auction.
  • News Ltd: Heavily conflicted given that it relies on pokies at NRL club venues to try and stem future losses on its 50% investment in the NRL which has so far cost it more than $500 million with little prospect of any recovery, save for the profits enjoyed on the NRL broadcasting side of the equation through Fox Sports and Foxtel.
  • Eddie McGuire: Conflicted through his brother Frank being a Victorian Labor MP and also from his history as the man who took Collingwood heavily into the pokies. Eddie also has a history as a gambling entrepreneur through a failed footy tipping joint venture with Tattersall’s 10 years ago which was sanctioned by the Bracks Labor government in Victoria. Also paid millions each year by Channel Nine, which is the rights holder for the NRL and open to pressure from Clubs Australia.
  • Roger Corbett: The Fairfax Media chairman is conflicted as it was his controversial decision to take Australia’s biggest retailer into the joint venture with Bruce Mathieson which made it the biggest pokies operator in Australia with about 12,000 machines. It is also the biggest manager of venues for AFL clubs through secret management agreements . Corbett is involved in other non-pokies ventures with Mathieson and retains an interest in Woolworths shares. However, anyone who read The Australian Financial Review’s strong editorial endorsement of pokies reform today should be comforted that the Fairfax tradition of directors not influencing editorial remains in place.
  • Andrew Bolt: News Ltd’s most widely read and powerful columnist was the man who kicked off the bogus line about the AFL joining the anti-pokies campaign in this September 21 column in the Herald Sun. He is clearly conflicted courtesy of being on the payroll of MTR owner John Singleton, the pokies venue owner who came up with the “licence to punt” advertising campaign for Clubs Australia as we explained here and here.
  • Helen Coonan: The recently retired Liberal Senator Helen Coonan was conflicted on Q&A last night as she expressed doubts over whether mandatory pre-commitment would work while failing to state that she last month accepted an offer to join the board of James Packer’s Crown Ltd on a package worth more than $100,000 a year. This will involve attending seven board meetings a year, plus some additional committee work.
  • Karl Bitar: Coonan’s colleague at Crown was appointed head of government relations in May on a generous six figure salary sanctioned directly by billionaire James Packer. Bitar is calling in favours from various NSW federal Labor MPs that he supported through pre-selection in his previous roles at the top of the NSW and federal ALP machines. Bitar showed off his pulling power with various right wing Labor heavyweights in a piece published by The AFR in June.
  • Daryl Melham: The federal Labor MP for Banks is chairman of the Revesby Workers Club which operates more than 500 pokies and has bankrolled and provided resources for numerous Labor candidates across all tiers of government, according to The Australian today.

As with any public debate, the challenge here will be getting participants to put all their cards on the table and declare these conflicts as they arise.

So far, such declarations have been few and far between.

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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