Why did it take a NSW regulator to publicly confirm what Nine’s journalists, led by Nick McKenzie, had revealed about the profound failings of Crown, which operates casinos in Melbourne and Perth?
One part of the reason is to be found in the political donations of Crown. Since 2010, Crown has given the Victorian Labor Party more than $177,000 in contributions. It has given the Victorian Liberal Party nearly $274,000. It has paid the WA Labor Party nearly $290,000 and the WA Libs over $460,000, as well as over $60,000 to the WA Nationals.
The NSW Liberals, however, got just $25,000 and NSW Labor $43,000.
Not that prior to the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority being asked to investigate the revelations about Crown’s links to organised crime, money laundering and governance failures, the company had struggled in Sydney — it was the O’Farrell government that had waved through Crown’s unsolicited bid for a vast skyscraper casino just west of the harbour bridge.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation had turned a blind eye to Crown until the sheer weight of egregious scandal forced Daniel Andrews into calling a review of Crown’s licence in December.
That review won’t report for months and is entirely superfluous. Patricia Bergin SC and her inquiry team in Sydney have done the bulk of the work: Crown is unfit to hold a casino licence in its current form and its CEO and a number of its directors need to go, pronto. Two directors left today.
Andrews is desperately trying to pretend the Bergin report doesn’t exist and wants to wait for his own “frank and fearless” review. The regulator has been anything but frank and fearless in recent years.
The lesson of Crown is that it took high-quality journalism and an independent body with judicial-style powers to address the failures of politicians of all parties in three states (not to mention federal politicians, who have jointly secured $200,000 in donations from Crown since 2010).
The politicians could not be relied on to protect the public interest because of their self-interest and Crown’s effective exploitation of the way power works in Australia. Give generous donations, employ former politicians and staffers and you can exercise a colossal influence over the way you are regulated.
Crown also cloaked itself in credibility. Its board is a list of political, bureaucratic and business luminaries. Helen Coonan, former communications minister — and about the only board member to emerge from Bergin’s report with her reputation in any way enhanced — was on the board for a decade before becoming chair last year. Longtime senior bureaucrat Jane “kids overboard” Halton was on there. Former chief medical officer John Horvath. Ad and media doyen Harold Mitchell. Ex-AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou.
It’s a glorified line-up for a casino and hotel company. Directors provided not just whatever political and business connections they brought with them but credibility and seriousness, designed to improve the image of Crown. Instead, the opposite happened. The sleaze and scandal of Crown engulfed them and dragged them down, leaving many of their reputations in tatters along with Bergin’s instruction that they leave as quickly as possible.
Not quite the wealth and ascension into the senior echelons of Australian business and the global gaming industry that they had in mind.
There are other Crowns littering Australian business — corporations that exploit the systems of political power to advance their interests at the expense of the public interest. Some we know about. Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank were pinged for massive money laundering violations and the banking royal commission exposed their ruthless greed. Fossil fuel companies dictate the federal government’s climate policies via donations and the revolving door between their executive ranks and government.
But many others remain unrevealed. Perhaps not as egregious as Crown or Westpac, but nonetheless exploiting how power works in Australia to get their way, with nothing to fear but media coverage and — if one exists — an independent regulator minded to do its job properly.