The pokie wars look bound to erupt once again, as ClubsNSW announces its plans to sue the ABC for defamation over claims by former Labor MP Peter Garrett that he had been handed an envelope with cash — which he later said was a cheque — by a representative of the organisation at a campaign event in 2004.

The claim was made in Ka-Ching: Pokies Nation, a documentary to air on the ABC next Tuesday, and in his recently released book. When ABC reporters asked Garrett last week about a claim that he had been offered ”hundreds, if not thousands of dollars” in an envelope, he said subsequent conversations had made him remember it was a cheque, not cash. He amended his story through a slip placed in his recently released book, and the ABC published a piece noting the changed details in his story.

But the changed story came under fire by ClubsNSW today, with the body’s CEO, Anthony Ball, taking aim at Garrett’s “appalling memory”. The body denies any envelope with any contribution was handed over at all.

“We considered the initiation of legal proceedings very carefully before coming to this decision, and only decided to proceed once the ABC refused to issue a retraction or apology,” Ball said. “The fact is that ClubsNSW did not make or offer to make a contribution to Mr Garrett or his electorate council. There was no cash, no cheque, no EFT transfer. Neither Mr Garrett nor the ABC have any evidence to the contrary because this alleged incident never happened.”

“ClubsNSW makes donations within the law and they are fully declared. Any suggestion to the contrary is defamatory.”

After Garrett changed his story on the envelope, the ABC reshot the interview with him. A new interview, with the claim of a cheque rather than cash, will be what goes to air on Tuesday. In the new version, Garrett says he was at an event that included “representatives of clubs and hotels”, during which one of them approached him. “I was handed over an envelope which I unthinkingly took, thought it might be literature or something like that. But it was a cheque. I gave it back.”

ClubsNSW doesn’t appear to be suing Garrett personally, though it says it is considering going after his publisher, Allen and Unwin. The organisation believes the slip correcting the story is “inadequate”. The ABC had no comment. — Myriam Robin

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey