Sunday, 28 September 2008

Why do we need to know who's running the shop?

Last Monday, 22 September, in this blog, I posted the letter I received from the Minister for Gaming refusing my request to disclose information about who manages a number of pokie venues in Victoria. His reason? That these agreements were "commercial".

It is my intention to lodge a Freedom of Information action against the Minister. The only reason I have not done so yet, is that I am also asking the Gambling Commission for the same information. I'm hoping that the Commission acts sensibly.

As soon as the details are received, I will post the lot on this blog.

In the meantime, here's 6 reasons why its in the public interest to see who is actually managing Victoria's pokie venues;

1. Management agreements are now the subject of public inquiry pursuant to the Victorian Department of Justice’s Gambling Licenses Review. The issue is already of public concern.

2. The issue is the subject of public consideration. It was reported in 22 May issue of Melbourne's Herald Sun as follows:
"Gaming Minister Tony Robinson has revealed the government is investigating laws to prevent Mr. Mathieson from owning or managing more than 35% or 4813 of the state’s pub pokies beyond 2012.
The powerful hotel baron who now controls 6768 machines in partnership with supermarket giant Woolworths, will also be stopped from owning managing or associating himself with pokies in sporting and community clubs.
… [a spokeswoman for Mr. Robinson] said the Government was also exploring measures to prevent hoteliers from entering into management arrangements with club ventures."
The Minister’s spokeswoman has indicated that club venue entitlements for gaming machines will only be available to bona fide, not for profit clubs. An agreement whereby a 3rd party might directly or indirectly gain income from such an entitlement may be contrary to that intention.

3. The discussion paper for the Gambling Licenses Review stated that it adheres to the highest standards of probity. It also stated that the Government is “committed to further consultation with industry, community, and other stakeholders”. So that there can be effective consultation on this issue rather than speculative argument, the nature of all management relationships must be known.

4. Both the Footscray Football Club and the Hawthorn Football club have sought either the transfer or the grant of pokie venue licenses. In other pokie premises licensed to these clubs, they are both are associated with the Safeway/Woolworths group of associates. It is relevant for the Gambling Commission to consider the suitability of the applicant if that applicant intends to delegate its duty to implement and conduct responsible gambling practices to another company. This becomes crucial if that company seems unable to conduct responsible gambling practices at premises owned, managed or associated with it.

5. The goals of the Victorian Government as set out in the media release of the Premier Brumby. In that document, the Minister for Gaming stated that decisions had been made for a particular system
“to deliver a gaming industry which will:
  • Be more connected to local communities
  • Have more diversity of ownership; and
  • Deliver greater competition”
If the operations of clubs and hotels are being managed by one organization, this would have the effect of reducing competition. Woolies' associates, ALH, gave evidence on 26 July 2006:
  • Their view was “that the only restrictions on ownership should be those governed by the ability of the venue operator to meet compliance procedures” This view of effectively unrestricted ownership is contrary to Government policy.
  • ALH also stated that clubs would benefit “by having expert management and large group synergies”. “Large group synergies” erode rather than encourage competition.
6. On 7 September a young man tragicly died as a result of a bashing outside of a Woolworths associated pub. It was the second death in 15 months outside this pub:
  • The Assistant Commissioner of Police stated, “They (ALH) have got to look at this. It’s the second major offence that has occurred on their premises and they’ve got to clean up their act”
  • The boss of ALH, Bruce Mathieson's reaction? "We're not to blame".
If Woolworths is conducting business in Victoria in a manner that is contrary to the stated goals of the Government and therefore the public interest, it is in that interest to be aware of the particulars of that conduct.

A letters setting all of this out was sent to Michael Luscombe, CEO and Managing Director of Woolworths on 6 August and 10 September.

Reaction?

Silence.



2 comments:

Sue Pinkerton said...

I find it really interesting that people like Rupert Murdoch, Dick Smith, Harvey Norman and James Packer are only too happy for people to know which businesses they own (as are people who own many of the non-pokie pubs), yet when it comes to who owns pokie venues, ownership of a business suddenly becomes clouded in "commercial and in confidence" rhetoric.
If all is legal and as "rigourously" regulated as representatives of the industry keep telling us, one has to wonder, why are they hiding behind commercial and in confidence laws? Almost as improtantly, WHAT are they hiding?

Sue Pinkerton

Richard Wolff said...

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