Monday, 10 January 2011

Responding to ClubsNSW's threatening letter

Below is my response to an email received on Friday, 7 January around 4:30 in the afternoon. As a matter of professional courtesy, I responded to ClubsNSW's solicitors in the following terms on Sunday morning.

"I refer to your email below. I have not received either your letter nor notification of your letter from Australia Post. My email address is available on the PokieAct.org web site and has been used by the public to contact me.

Please note that because you have stated that your threatening letter is not for publication does not bind me in any way.

The advertisement you attached and commented upon has been revised in accordance with the requirements of Fairfax Media after some debate. To assist you, I have attached the revised advertisement. The revisions may eliminate your concerns.

I reject your suggestion that the advertisement makes any defamatory imputations about ClubsNSW or Mr Newell. There is no allegation that either have concealed anything nor mislead anyone. It is the normal business of ClubsNSW to advocate positions they believe to be in their member's interests and put forward those facts that support that position. In the advertisement, Mr Newell is clearly addressed as chairman of ClubsNSW and in no other capacity. ClubsNSW and Mr Newell as chairman and chief advocate for ClubsNSW are being urged to tell a number of facts that, in my opinion, I consider truths about the pokie gambling pre-commitment reform now being debated.

In substance, you raise four matters of concern to your client. These matters are considered below:

1.
The words you cite ("Casual gamblers won't be inconvenienced. They'll be able to bet safe amounts without a pre-commitment card") as not being presently established are, in fact, an accurate reflection of both the findings of the Productivity Commission and current government policy. Here's the relevant passage from the federal minister Jenny Macklin's speech at Jupiter Casino on 1 December 2010 where she states:

"We also want to minimise the impact on occasional players and overseas visitors. The Productivity Commission’s model would allow occasional gamblers to play outside the pre-commitment system, by purchasing a pre-paid card for example."

This statement was made at the 20th Annual Conference of the National Association for Gambling Studies and was widely reported in the media.

2.
The information about the cost of implementation was obtained as a result of visiting two clubs in Queensland in the company of Rohan Wenn, Senior Adviser to Sen Nick Xenophon. We were both informed by a club manager that the cost of the system in use was $1.50 per day per machine. This system presently provides nearly all of the features of partial pre-commitment as set out by the Productivity Commission. We were informed that alteration to full pre-commitment could be made within the existing pre-commitment system. The present cost of these systems does not take into account the likely economies of widespread adoption or competitive pricing between system suppliers when full pre-committment will be mandated. Those factors are likely to further reduce the cost.

3.
It is open for your client to advocate that the key recommendation and findings of the Productivity Commission about pokie gambling pre-committment are only "conjecture". I do not. I have a high regard for the Commission's research and conclusions. Reports have been published on pre-commitment trials indicating effectiveness that was significant. A report found that for those participating in the system, there was minimal reduction in the pokie gambling spend for recreational and low risk gamblers whereas moderate risk or problem gamblers expenditure was reduced by about 50%. I regard that as significant. In any event, the advertisement prominently indicates that it expresses my opinions. My opinion is reasonably based upon available information.

4.
With regard to the issue of privacy, I again refer to the Minister's speech where Ms Macklin states:

"We will also ensure that the pre-commitment system has very strong privacy arrangements for the data that is collected. The Australian Government has strict privacy legislation to protect people. These are issues that have been successfully resolved in a wide range of areas and we will be applying the highest standards to our gambling reforms."

To speculate that the government will do the complete opposite of what they state is disingenuous. My view is that the Minister is telling the truth.

To indicate that I have any malice whatsoever towards Mr Newell is mistaken. The advertisement addresses Mr Newell strictly with respect to his office as chairman of ClubsNSW. In fact, on the issue of malice, the opposite seems to be the case. Mr Newell declined to attend a meeting with Sen Xenophon if I were to be present. I flew to Canberra and did meet with Mr Ball of ClubsNSW. While there was certainly a conflict of views between myself and Mr Ball, the meeting was cordial and I felt there was mutual respect.

Mr Newell has written an article denigrating my concerns in a ClubsNSW publication. He is recently reported as using the words "panic politics" to describe my endeavours. He is also reported as stating that I have made attacks on his family. This is untrue. As a former editor of the Illawarra Mercury with a high public profile career, I am surprised that, by your letter, Mr Newell seeks to suppress the publication of facts that, in my opinion, are truths of the coming pokie gambling pre-commitment reform even though they run counter to ClubsNSW position. Notwithstanding, I would be happy to meet with Mr Newell at a time and place of mutual convenience. I would welcome a constructive dialogue same as that which has lead to reforms in Woolworths Limited's own pokie policy. Woolworths is Australia's largest pokie operator. My constructive consultation on their gambling policy was publicly acknowledged at Woolworths' recent annual general meeting. My constructive work with Wesfarmers has also been acknowledged.

It is relevant to note the promotional document produced by ClubsNSW that featured former Treasurer Egan was produced while Mr Newell held office at ClubsNSW. That promotion addressed the person ultimately responsible for policy in a similiar manner as my advertisement.

Regarding publication, I am informed that it was ClubsNSW itself that provided and therefor published the advertisement to The Australian. I am not responsible for the consequences of that publication let alone Mr Salusinszky's report. In fact, when asked by Mr Salusinszky whether I believed that Mr Newell had mislead ClubsNSW members I stated that he had not. As mentioned above, it is the normal business of ClubsNSW to advocate positions they believe to be in their member's interests and put forward those facts that support that position. In any event, Mr Salusinsky's report is a matter that you should properly take up with the publishers of The Australian based upon my information that it was your client that provided The Australian with a copy of my proposed advertisement.

It is significant that the editorial column of The Australian noted that a mature community debate was under way of pokie gambling pre-committment reform. This characterisation of the advertisement is correct.

Rather than litigation, I respectfully suggest that the better course of action for your client would be to arrange for a public discussion of the issue of pre-commitment reform. Sen Xenophon's staff have informed me that he would be prepared to participate in such an open forum."

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