Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Supported!

Nick Xenophon's office was successful in gathering 100 signed 249P statements. In fact, with more than a week to go, over 230 statements have been received.

Section 249P will oblige Woolworths to distribute the statement to all of its 393,000 plus shareholders. The goal is that Woolworths respond positively to the suggestions made in the statement, take responsibility, take action and improve their pokie gambling practices.

This effort in getting 100 signatures may be without precedent. In the past, there has been a political party, union or the Australian Shareholders Association in the background. In this instance, the Australian Shareholders Association did not return phone calls or emails. Stephen Mayne has compiled a list of past 249P efforts on his Mayne Report web site. Click here to have a look.

The time for filing statements has not closed. If you are a Woolworths shareholder you can still help just by signing and mailing a simple form. To do this, go to www.NickXenophon.com.au and follow the instructions. If you know anyone with Woolworths shares, please ask them to log on to www.NickXenophon.com.au

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Rejected!

How hard is it to run a campaign to get 100 signatures? It's very hard.

While no stranger to rejection, no one wanted to take the money to run the same ad that had such a positive effect in Perth. Remember, the ad went through the Post Newspaper's legal advice and was modified.

For Sydney, I submitted it to two mobile billboard companies. One rejected it out of hand. The other took a few days. I even asked for them to tell me what words they would accept and we could work on the rest. Their response was that I needed to obtain Woolworths' approval for the ad before they would publish it. Hardly likely.

Even an old mate called me to tell me that I was not to use his firm's name in trying to establish my bona fides in running this campaign.

A Sydney based newspaper (Manly Daily) did agree to run a straightforward ad reproducing the 249P notice. They sought some modifications, all of which were acceptable.

Another thought I had was to hire a choir to sing the Whitlam's song Blow Up The Pokies at a prominent Woolworths related location. I called up 5 different potential sources of a choir.

The first suggested the Sydney Harmony. Seemed a good idea until I checked out their web site and found they were supported by North Sydney Leagues Club. Even though I could find no mention of the Sydney Harmony on the Norths' own web site, this was probably a lost cause.

Two other contacts simply failed to return calls or emails.

I approached the Sydney Welsh Men's Choir. Imagine the impact of those wonderful voices. Here's their response:
"Dear Paul,

The committee discussed your proposal at tonight's meeting. We are all impressed with the aims of your group, and with the Rev Tim Costello's words, but we have misgivings about the song. Our Music Director likes the song as sung by the Whitlams but does not think it would suit our choir, while the committee as a whole are worried about any song with such a title. As a result, we feel we cannot proceed with the recording.

I am sorry we could not be of greater assistance.

Kind regards,

Clive Woosnam"
I did point out to Clive that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was backing the Whitlams at their concert at the Sydney Opera House. This had no effect.

A great choice would have been the Honeybees, a non-profit community choir that encourages a cappella singing. Their own web site promoted "We choose to perform - either paid or unpaid - at gigs which have meaning to us and which can signal support for an issue, a cause, or a service." Here's their response;
"Hi Paul

Unfortunately we will need to decline the proposed performance as the choir as a whole are unwilling to commit to it, despite most members supporting the anti-pokie message.

Thanks and best wishes with you endeavours

Jenny

Honeybees Choir"
Pokie gambling is the cause of harm, in the words of the Productivity Commission, to "hundreds of thousands of Australians, with many more who are directly affected by their problems or are at risk". It is disappointing that so many people are unwilling to get involved in helping their fellow Australians.

If you are a Woolworths shareholder you can help just by signing and mailing a simple form. To do this, go to www.NickXenophon.com.au and follow the instructions. If you know anyone with Woolworths shares, please ask them to log on to www.NickXenophon.com.au

If you can help, this small action will have a huge effect in drawing the line on harm caused by pokie gambling. Even if you don't have Woolworths shares, it will help by just talking to friends about how pokie venues need to do much so much more to reduce the harm of pokie gambling.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The "Over-The-Top Do-Gooders" Accusation

The PokieAct.org endeavour has been accused before. Coles' spokesperson indicated that there had been "a lack of good faith". Dr Zirsak stated that I am "not a person it is possible to work with". Now there is the accusation of being an "Over-The-Top Do-Gooder" by Peter Newell OAM, Chairman of Clubs NSW.

I have reproduced his August 2009 editorial below. Click on the image to expand and have a read.As a mate who I sent this to asked "if Over-The-Top Do-Gooders are no good, what do we want? Under-Achieving Do-Badders?"

It should also be noted that the ad right next to the editorial is for the IGT bluechip NEO spruicking its "ergonomic player-friendly design". "Not just a good looker, it's a brilliant all-round performer!"

The ad is for an IGT pokie machine.

One wonders whether this pokie has been designed to allow for pre-commitment as indicated in the federal and all state minister's statement of 10 July 2009. The same statement that contains the National Principles but these guidelines are right at the beginning. Perhaps Mr Newell will find these guidelines easier to accept.

More about Mr Newell's lack of understanding of what 'exposure' means in a later blog. Also the double standards about exposure of pokie gambling between pubs and clubs in NSW.

Mr Newell's is always welcome to comment on the PokieAct.org blog and make any accusations he likes. Anything he says will be published. I will email his magazine and see if he will do likewise.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Which Way Woolworths?

Way back in 2007, Michael Luscombe proudly proclaimed to shareholders that "we want to take a leadership position on this in our industry. In fact, our internal covenant for that is, in fact, to take a leadership position in the area of problem gaming". A statement published in today's Australian newspaper contradicts Mr Luscombe's proud proclamation.
Here it is:
"Xenophon is calling on the Woolies board, chaired by James Strong, to introduce a pokies plan that includes implementing the national principles for responsible gaming and, ultimately, disposal of all its poker machine assets. He needs 100 shareholders to sign his petition, which requests the company provide his statement to all investors and consider his proposal at the upcoming meeting.

Woolworths argues that it already complies with all applicable responsible gambling requirements. "These legislative requirements vary from state to state, but cover various areas including minors barred from entry to gambling areas," said a spokeswoman."
There's a big difference between Woolworths' refusal to commit to the National Principles already agreed to by all state ministers and the federal ministers until they become a legislative requirement and Mr Luscombe's proclamation of leadership.

Listen again to the words of Michael Luscombe by clicking on his picture below.

Listen to how he states without qualification that Woolworths treat their pokie gambling practices "very very very seriously". Listen again to how he spruicks that "our internal covenant for that is, in fact, to take a leadership position in the area of problem gaming".
video

Either Mr Luscombe was misleading shareholders, Woolworths 'internal covenant' has changed so that Woolworths will do nothing unless legislated or their spokesperson was speaking falsely. I base this on their present refusal to commit to the National Principles let alone match Coles undertakings. All this Woolies' double-speak underlines the need for Woolworths pokie conduct to be formally raised before all of their shareholders.

It's simple to do.

If you have any Woolworths shares or know anyone who does, please log on to www.NickXenophon.com.au, click on the Woolworths Pokie People banner and follow the directions.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Woolworths Do It Right at The New Brighton

A significant part of my two discussions with Woolworths executives concerned the practical aspects of removing children from the sights and sounds of pokie gambling. Woolworths do it right at a few of their venues.
On Tuesday, I taped a segment which might be telecast as a part of Stateline in Adelaide. One never knows how much of what you say ends up on the cutting room floor and is never telecast. I did record that Woolworths do it right at the Royal Oak and Norwood hotels.
They also do it right at their New Brighton Hotel in Manly. Like many of their other hotels, this venue is orientated towards adult entertainment. Accordingly, children are excluded. Children are not even allowed when accompanied by an adultThere are many Woolworths' pokie pubs where this is the solution. The Nu Hotel in Dandenong, the Courthouse in Footscray, the Royal Exchange in Toowong, the Prince of Wales in Nundah (across the street from Wayne Swan's office), the Stockade in Salisbury and the Finsbury in Woodville North.
This solution is easy and inexpensive to implement and will work to satisfy Principle 1 of the National Principles.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Discourse at Woolworths' Head Office

I did front up at the Woolworths Head Office on Monday morning and asked for an appointment to see Mr Luscombe. To my very pleasant surprise, Peter Horton (Company Secretary and Chief Counsel) and Andrew Hall (Director of Corporate and Public Affairs) came down to the foyer and had a chat with me.
It was a honest and lengthy exchange of views. At the end, I am optimistic that, of their own volition, Woolworths have moved closer to not only adopting the National Principles, matching Coles' undertakings but also taking their own innovative steps to raise their level of responsibility to gamblers and their families with respect to their pokie gambling business.
Here's the text of my follow-up email.
Peter,

Sincere thanks for your time yesterday. While 'constructive dialogue' are words often used, it rarely occurs with respect to pokie gambling. Ross Blair-Holt will recall me standing up at the Moreland City Council, opposing their move to raise rates on pokie venues and urging dialogue between local government and the pokie operators.

I note that Woolworths feels comfortable with all of the matters set out in the Coles email except for the matter I am most concerned about; children in pokie pubs.

My suggested solution is that Woolworths acknowledge that gambling and, in particular, pokie gambling, is not a suitable form of family entertainment. Consistent with this acknowledgement Woolworths commits to removing children from exposure to pokie sounds, lights and promotion within all of its associated pub and club venues.

Of course, the devil is in the details of how this is implemented. However, as we discussed, if Woolworths were to make such a commitment, there is absolutely no reason to doubt that your
commitment would be honoured. My family's business experience with Woolworths stretches back to the 1960's and that has always been the case. Please note that I did follow up Coles' email to me with a set of suggested and specific guidelines that I posted on my blog and, similarly, I have no doubt that the substance will be complied with.

We discussed what might be the standard. The Woolworths' pokie pub nearest your head offices provides this standard. The Castle Hill Tavern is less than 4 kms from your office and I suggest that you might want to have a look. While I do not propose to set out an exhaustive list of standards, the pokie area at the Castle Hill Tavern is well separated from the eating area and
the child's play area. There are separate entrances and the pokie area is only subtly promoted on the exterior of the venue. Children are prohibited from entering the adjacent public bar even if accompanied by an adult. I noted that a similar prohibition is in place at your New Brighton Hotel in Manly.

On the other hand, the practices at your Castle Hill Tavern underline Woolworths lack of
responsibility in preventing the harm from pokie gambling. You may recall my concerns (the subject of the audit) about placement of signs in Victoria on the Top Box of the pokie so as to comply with the legislation while frustrating the objective of having these gambling control messages visible to the gambler while gambling. My last visit to one of your Victorian venues (Sandbelt Hotel in Moorabbin) indicates that this remains Woolworths practice. The contrast at the Castle Hill Tavern is significant. The same sized 'talkers' promoting either smoking areas, a contest where entry is based upon pokie gambling or free food in the gaming room are placed opposite the animated reels, the obvious ideal position for visibility. If Woolworths were acting responsibly in Victoria, the signs urging control and other matters would be optimally placed as they are at the Castle Hill Tavern where behaviour is being promoted that will encourage gamblers to stay longer or come back to the Castle Hill's pokie room.

Finally, there seems to an impression that I have undertaken the goal of removing children from pokie gambling as a means of self-promotion. Statements were made to the effect that if advertisements were lodged that aggressively sought to engage Mr Luscombe, that Woolworths would take a less sympathetic view of the issues I raise. It is important that I record that I have never sought a political career nor even a career in public advocacy. The sole motivation is to do the right thing. To this end, I am financially supporting formal research into the child exposure
to all types of gambling and have devoted myself to assisting a gambling rehabilitation program. Both commitments were quietly in place prior to our discussion. Despite your criticism, following our meeting, I spoke to ABC Adelaide about your positive commitment to live entertainment at the Royal Oak and Norwood hotels because its the right thing to do. In all respects, Woolworths should be likewise internally self-motivated to do the right thing with regard to children in their pokie pubs.

I look forward to a positive response to my suggested solution above.
"
Below is a picture of the Castle Hill Tavern. Click on it to enlarge.The pokies room is the open door near the ute. It's well away from the child's play area that fronts the street. There is no street advertising for their pokies nor invitations about Free Kids Meals, child orientated entertainment or Free Playgrounds.

Woolworths are totally capable of achieving the right balance.

If you are a Woolworths' shareholder you can encourage them to implement that balance by going to Nick Xenophon's web site (www.nickxenophon.com.au), click on the Woolworths banner, download and complete the 249P form, and mail it to Nick's office as soon as you can

Monday, 7 September 2009

Trying To Talk With Michael Luscombe

The best way to encourage positive action is to do it face to face. To this end, I have written to Michael Luscombe, the boss of Woolworths and fly up to Sydney and personally deliver the letter to his offices in Bella Vista.
I'm not sure that I will get to speak with his personal assistant but its worth giving it a go.
Here's the text of the letter I intend to deliver:
"Dear Mr. Luscombe,

The purpose of this letter is to seek an appointment to meet with you.

The objective of meeting is to urge your company to commit to and then implement the National Principles for the conduct of responsible gaming machine activity in clubs and hotels as jointly communicated by the Hon Jenny Macklin and the Ministerial Council on Gambling, a joint effort of all Commonwealth, State and Territory officials. Such implementation should cover all pokie pubs and clubs where our company has an associated interest and include all venues mentioned on the ALH web site.

Such action is not only in the interests of shareholders, but also in the interests of the Australian public our company serves.

Please note that Principle 1 requires that “Minors should not be allowed to gamble or be exposed to gambling areas within venues.” (my underlining) Interpretation of these words means that children are to be excluded from pokie sights and sounds.

This is, in essence, the same action sought by virtue of the Section 249P notice that I have proposed for our next AGM.

As before, it is important to me that you are aware of my intended actions. Please find enclosed the following documents:
1. Email from Coles Limited committing to implementing not only the National Principles, but also, other positive steps to minimise the harm of pokie gambling.
2. Proposed newspaper advertisement requesting that people ask why you and Woolworths have not adopted more responsible pokie gambling practices
3. Proposed newspaper advertisement requesting shareholders sign the 249P statement

This letter will be personally delivered to your offices in Bella Vista."
The email from Coles has already been published on this blog. Click here to read the Coles' email.

Click on the images below to read the two proposed advertisements
My sincere hope is that Mr Luscombe will have a look at the National Principles and agree to implement them without my having to utilise his time.