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The annual dump of political donations data was dropped by the Australian Electoral Commission at 9am yesterday and, as usual, media coverage was decidedly mixed because the information is out of date, incomplete and difficult to comprehend, and both the major parties and the donors refuse to properly discuss the issue.

Crikey produced a bumper edition on the data yesterday, analysing how much the financial services, mining and energy sectors gave, with the Coalition pocketing most of the corporate money on offer.

However, there has been little media scrutiny about the gambling industry’s continued largesse.

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The industry’s critics have long been of the view that political donations are a big factor in explaining how it manages to fleece $25 billion a year from Australians — the most in per capita terms anywhere in the world.

Gambling appears to be the only industry where Labor comes out on top. This is probably because it, far more than the Coalition, is responsible for the industry’s huge share of the consumer pocket.

It was Labor that gave us the Wrest Point casino in Hobart in the early 1970s, Labor that introduced poker machines to Victoria and Queensland in the early 1990s, Bob Carr’s Labor government that allowed pokies into NSW hotels, and Labor that gave us Crown Perth casino.

Similarly, neither Coalition party decided to set up party-owned pokies venues like the Labor Party did in Canberra and NSW, where gamblers lose more than $50 million a year — and that’s before considering the various union-controlled “workers’ pokies clubs” in Canberra and across NSW.

Anyway, let’s look at the specifics on how the gambling industry shared its donations in 2019-20:

Australian Hotel Association (AHA) national office: 26 transactions totalling $135,629 split evenly between the major parties, but noteworthy that the Tasmanian Liberals got the second biggest cheque of $13,800, perhaps as a thank you for defeating Labor’s 2018 proposal to remove all pokies from pubs and clubs. See return.

AHA NSW division: 23 transactions totalling $232,301 with the ALP pocketing a clear majority of about $180,000. See return.

AHA SA division: 18 transactions totalling $57,709 with the Coalition parties pocketing almost $40,000, reflecting the fact it pushed through more pokie-friendly legislation in 2019-20. See return.

Crown Resorts: 22 transactions totalling $184,566 with about $80,000 for Labor and $104,000 for the Coalition. Victorian Labor pocketed only $5000, potentially reflecting Crown’s concerns about excessive regulation in the latest five-yearly licence review. The Victorian Liberals got $38,000 and the WA Libs $47,000, potentially reflecting that Liberal Party heavyweight and close Julie Bishop confidante John Poynton is chair of Crown Perth and one of James Packer’s nominees on the Crown board. WA Labor received $35,000 which might explain why it has done sod all so far responding to the Bergin inquiry in NSW, which is due to publicly report later this week. See return.

Clubs NSW: seven transactions totalling $49,895 with federal Labor getting the biggest — $33,000 — and the balance going to the Coalition. The largest cheque was $11,000 for the Tasmanian Liberals. See return.

Responsible Wagering Australia: three transactions totalling $70,650 from the lobby group for foreign bookmakers such as Sportsbet, Ladbrokes and Bet365 — all of it to the Liberals. See return.

Sportsbet: Gave a single donation of $27,500 to the federal Liberals. Sportsbet is owned by Flutter Entertainment, the world’s biggest online gambling company, in which the Murdoch interests are one of the five largest shareholders. See return.

Tabcorp: 13 transactions totalling $190,445. The Coalition got $72,000 and Labor $118,000. The four biggest contributions were $50,000 to federal Labor, $30,000 to the Victorian Liberals, $25,000 to the Victorian ALP, and $22,000 to the federal National Party. See return.

Star Entertainment: five transactions totalling $43,900. The Liberals got $36,000, the biggest cheque being $22,000 for the NSW division, which is inappropriate given the Liberal government is its direct regulator. Nothing for the Queensland branches despite operating two casinos in Queensland and just $8000 for the federal ALP. See return.

All up, Labor received about $510,000 from these nine gambling-related entities and the Coalition parties about $490,000, making this one industry that prefers Labor to the Coalition. As mentioned, this may well reflect Labor’s shameless history of support for the pokies — despite the enormous damage they cause, primarily to Labor’s working-class voters in safe Labor seats.

It really is nothing short of state-sponsored abuse and should be stopped. If only the two big parties would get together to stare down the industry thugs who bully and intimidate every time potential reform rears its head on the political agenda.

If it’s good enough for the Lib-Lab duopoly to voluntarily ban tobacco industry donations, surely it’s time they adopted a similar approach to gambling.

Stephen Mayne has previously worked as a communications adviser at The Alliance for Gambling Reform.

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Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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