Sunday, 18 January 2009

What the Justice Department didn't want you to read

Please click here to read my uncensored submission to the first round of the Gaming License Review on PokieWatch.org.

What I said was neither all that compelling nor all that controversial. It was relevant. Please make up your own mind. What the Department of Justice did not want the public to read was the facts and opinions I put forward about the conduct of Woolworths at their associated Victorian venues.

Set out below is a summary of Justice's censorship.

What was Censored
I expressed the opinion that Woolworths actual practices did not accord with the statements made by their CEO, Michael Luscombe to the 2007 Annual General Meeting of Woolworths Limited.
The Context
This was the basis for my setting forward the conclusion (not censored) that self regulation of responsible gaming practices is not effective. The opinion followed mention of my inspection of pokie venues associated with Woolworths.

What was Censored
Under the heading "Minimal Community Regard" I described the facts of Woolworths application for additional pokies at the Matthew Flinders Tavern in Chadstone. I argued that this demonstrated that they will bid aggressively for pokie entitlements under the new scheme regardless of the impact of the local community. I mentioned the enormous fiscal resources available to Woolworths.
The Department of Justice censored this recitation of facts and a statement clearly expressed to be my opinion.
The Context
These facts and my opinions were set out to support my core submissions that there is a need for:
  1. Limits on ownership and control that applies to both pubs and clubs
  2. Local Impact Assessment similiar to the existing NSW system so that applicants and regulators can proceed with certainty
What was Censored
Under the heading, "Avoidance of entitlement limits reducing competition", I stated that Woolworths or its associates have arrangements which allow them to either influence or control the operation of pokies at venues where they are not the licensee. This is a fact that is disclosed on the web site of the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation. I concluded that these arrangements might lead to an avoidance of the government's limitation on entitlements.
I also mentioned that such arrangements would defeat the government's desire to promote competition. Nothing surprising about that. If one company is associated with more entitlements there is less competition. It is a fact that Woolworths have been prosecuted for anti-competitive behaviour. I felt that it is relevant for this fact to be known if one believes that past behaviour is indicative of future behaviour. Finally I drew attention to the evidence given by Woolworths' own associate in 2006 to the Gambling License Review that these arrangements were beneficial.
The Context
These facts and the opinions I draw from these facts were included in my submission to support the real concerns behind my two principle submissions to the Review (set out above).

What was Censored
I set out the number of venues Woolworths and its associates are associated with. It was a statement of fact which I continue to believe was an accurate calculation based upon information provided by the VCGR web site. I concluded that this number exceeded the 35% cap and that there should be a divestiture prior to it putting in any bid for pokie entitlements. Consistent with my submission, I expressed the view that "associations" (a legally defined term in the Gambling Regulation Act 2003) should be taken into account.
The Context
The review allowed for submitters to provide "any other comment on the transition process". Under any reasonable consideration, my comment was relevant to this issue.

Why was I Censored? Guesses Anyone?
I was asked by a reporter why I thought my submission was censored. Even after contemplating the Department of Justice's action for some time, I am unable to come up with a justification for their actions.

The only thing I can speculate upon is that there is a sensitivity to management agreements with pokie venues. In this regard it should be noted:
  1. Woolworths have now disclosed the club venues they are associated with on their own website. Click here to have a look. While I did not check daily, this disclosure probably did not exist when the inquiry was called. If Woolies have no problems disclosing their associations, why should the Victorian Department of Justice censor reference to these agreements?
  2. The State Government Review reserved the issue of "association" in the draft bill and propose to introduce a new concept to regulate this matter. It's called a "Prescribed Connection". The context is ownership restrictions (See Paragraph 2.2.5 of the Review's own document).
The problem seems to me that the Review has not figured out what to do about management agreements and how they offer an ability to avoid ownership limitations and reduce competition. The words of the Review are "the provisions in the Exposure Draft Bill relating to ownership restrictions will be supplemented by Regulations which will be released in 2009."

The result is this important matter has not been decided by Government and will be determined without consultation. It is possible that the legislation will allow ownership limits to be avoided and competition reduced. My efforts to bring these issues to public attention through this process have been intentionally censored.

2 comments:

Stuart said...

Perhaps you keep getting censored because you say one thing today and something completely the inverse tomorrow.

When I previously questioned your motives for eliminating gaming and drew attention to the negative impact of doing this, you stated that you were not trying to have gaming but merely trying to keep it away from children.

Everything I have seen since is based on the elimination of gaming.

Let me ask a simple question. What is your objective?

PokieWatch said...

Assuming you are right and what I say one day is inconsistent with what I say the next day; is this an excuse for government censorship? Are you saying that 'inconsistency' is a reason for government to restrict expression of facts and opinions based on those facts?

I do not think that inconsistency is a proper grounds for government censorship.

Secondly, at no point in either of my submissions to government do I call for the elimination of pokies. With due respect to your right to express your own opinion, you may have been reading some other submission rather than mine and attributed to me what might have been written elsewhere.

Finally, my objective remains to make pokies places kid free.