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.

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 (, click on the Woolworths banner, download and complete the 249P form, and mail it to Nick's office as soon as you can

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