Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Failure of the ALP

Regardless of Andrew Wilkie's analysis of the wording designed to save the Government's useless legislation what resounds from the events of Friday, 20 April 2012 is the failure by the ALP of simple management.

Poker machine reform is supported by the electorate. Andrew Wilkie was willing to support the Prime Minister's choice to take her government down the path of mandatory pre-commitment. Mandatory Pre-Commitment was the Gillard Deal.


Mr Wilkie's support was given to the Gillard Deal despite Mr Wilkie's preferred evidence-based option of the $1 bet coupled with a ceiling on losses of no more than $120 per hour. This was the Productivity Commission's recommendation that could be implemented without a trial.

What happened was that the hard work of poker machine reform was assumed to be done by someone else. Mr Wilkie assumed the Prime Minister would do this within caucus and with the independents. Maybe Ms Gillard thought Mr Wilkie was going to do the hard yards with other independents. Neither did either. For whatever reason.

But Andrew Wilkie is not the government. The ALP are and the ALP demonstrate garbage government and garbage management. The Gillard government has failed to discharge its responsibility to those damaged by these dangerous machines.
Our Prime Minister seems more obsessed with the retention of her own position within her party.


 

The result of Mr Wilkie's consideration of new wording to the proposed legislation will either nothing or a shit bill that accomplishes nothing and likely to be thrown out in the Senate anyway.

The harm of poker machines continues.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Reducing Gambling Harm Through Education

By watching this classic Warner Bros cartoon, Early To Bet, the answer to how to reduce the harm of gambling through education is revealed.


I found out about this cartoon from Rev Tim Costello who referred me to an excellent article by Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre. Click on this link to read Dr Longstaff's article.

Due to a report in The Age by Richard Willingham with the title "School gambling education call" (Click here to read the report)  and the story of the Geelong youth forum on responsible gambling being conducted inside a pokie club, the issue of gambling education has gotten some recent attention. Click on the image below to read the report and editorial in the Geelong Advertiser.

So, how is the question answered by this cartoon?

As usual, one must look to the Productivity Commission's report on gambling; in particular Chapter 9 - titled "School-based gambling education." The critical statement that guides any information or "education" directed to children is found on page 9.9;
"... the key evaluation issue is whether educational programs reduce current and future gambling related harm, not whether they merely inform."
Programs that reduce current and future gambling related harm are the goal. While making clear how sparse the research is, the Commission noted a key finding of the existing studies:
"The factor that most strongly predicts decreased gambling behaviour is when students develop a negative attitude towards gambling after attending the program."
The meaning of this key finding is clear. "Education strategies focused on young people and responsible gambling messages" is absolute shite. There is a vast difference between "responsible" messages and "negative" messages. While research is limited they find;
"improved understanding of gambling but little evidence of positive behavioural change"
It is negative messages that are needed..... just like the Early To Bet cartoon.

There is a 1988 finding cited by the Commission (Page 9.14) reinforces the need for negative messages:
"... partly attributed the relatively greater success of school-based tobacco programs (compared with alcohol) to the fact that these were accompanied by ‘consistent anti–smoking messages in the general media and to the emergence of a strong anti–smoking social movement’"
It is negative messages that are needed..... just like the Early To Bet cartoon.

The sense I took from the Commission report was that caution is essential because of findings that increased knowledge might result in increased harmful behaviour;
"... findings suggest that increased knowledge of gambling in children and adolescents may have the unintended consequence of intensifying harmful behaviour, a risk that should be considered in the design (or even in considering the introduction) of school-based programs." (@9.14)
The Commission went further at 9.17
"... the Commission considers that there is scope for adverse outcomes to occur from school-based life skills programs including gambling."
Finally, consider the Commission's finding and recommendation:
"Little evidence has been collected about the effects of school-based gambling education programs on students’ gambling behaviour. However, evaluations of similar programs in alcohol and vehicle safety have found that, while they can raise awareness, they tend to have no, or even adverse, behavioural impacts."

"Given the risk of adverse outcomes, governments should not extend or renew school-based gambling education programs without first assessing the impacts of existing programs."
The point is that not only are the suggestions of Clubs Australia wrong but so is the substance of the Geelong program of the Victorian government being held under the banner of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week. It is called "A Safer Bet? - Look after your mates" rather than "Don't Bet". It appears to be an option whether an accompanying teacher is even required. The Geelong youth forum is doubly wrong by being held at a poker machine club. Both the message and the environment in which the message is being delivered are flawed.


Governments should follow the studies cited by the Productivity Commission. No one campaigns to "Smoke Responsibly". Equally no one should campaign to "Gamble Responsibly". The proper course is to implement campaigns for people to quit gambling emotionally pointing out the harm caused by these dangerous machines.

It is negative messages that are needed..... just like the Early To Bet cartoon.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Did Woolworths Chairman Mislead Shareholders?

On Saturday, 7 April 2012, Richard Willingham wrote in both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age about complaints laid against James Strong, Woolworths Limited Chairman of Directors that he mislead shareholders at the 2011 Annual General Meeting. Click here to read the Sydney Morning Herald report.

This is a serious allegation.

The same story lead the AM program on ABC radio on Saturday's morning nation wide broadcast. Click here to read a transcript of the ABC Radio report. You can also listen to the Samantha Hawley's interviews with Simon Sheik of GetUp.org and Tim Costello on the same web page.

The essence of the story is that GetUp.org have lodged a complaint with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission asking them to investigate Woolworths Chairman James Strong about statements that he made.

Apart from being Woolworths' Chairman of Directors, some background about Mr Strong may be helpful. He is unquestionably a man whose statements demand respect and serious consideration.

James Alexander Strong has been admitted as a barrister and/or solicitor in various Australian state jurisdictions. He was CEO of Qantas from 1993 to 2001. He was National Managing Partner and later Chairman of law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, one of Australia's largest. In 2006, Mr Strong was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. Click here to read more about Mr Strong from the Woolworths Limited web site and the Kathmandu web site. Mr Strong is the Chairman of Directors of both companies.

On 19 March 2012, I wrote to the Company Secretary of Woolworths Limited on two matters. One of those matters related to Mr Strong's statements to shareholders. On that matter, here's what I wrote:

"I found statements of your Chairman, James Strong AO, at the last Woolworths AGM about Woolworths' pokie and liquor enterprise were not only false but mislead shareholders. I have attached MP3 files of what he said. You would be aware that the only restriction on liquor sales relating to hotel ownership (not pokie ownership) is in Queensland. Even that Queensland restriction is limited. There is no such restriction in other states where, as you would be aware, Woolworths conducts liquor sales operations independent of hotels.

As a consequence, I urge that the best course is that Mr Strong tender his resignation as a director of Woolworths Limited.

Mr Strong's conduct indicates a substantial misdirection in Woolworths actions regarding minimising the harm suffered by the public as a result of your poker machines. It casts doubt on the sincerity of Woolworths present course of action based upon voluntary pre-commitment; a measure that has already been trialled and deemed failed. The best course for Woolworths is to adopt the staged implementation of the $1 bet coupled with maximum losses of $120 per hour. This course is based upon effectiveness, evidence based, and the least costly."
The Company Secretary did not respond on this matter.

I based my finding on three statements made by Mr Strong. So that readers can make up their own minds as to whether Mr Strong mislead shareholders or not, I have attached videos of each statement. These statements are presented in chronological order. In order to consider the context of these statements, readers are urged to watch all three. They were not made next to each but separated by a period of time.

The first statement was part of Mr Strong's formal response to issues raised by shareholders. There are other matters dealt with before he turns to the topic of pokies.


The second James Strong response was made in reply to a shareholder who made the following statement:
"I personally would like to see Woolworths extract themselves from gaming machines".

The third Strong statement on the matter was the statement broadcast on ABC Radio. In my view, Mr Strong makes his views clear by as to what he meant by his prior two statements. This is not a casual or flippant observation. It seems intended to be serious guidance to shareholders. If anything Mr Strong seems to be annoyed by having to repeatedly give the same advice on behalf of the Woolworths' board of directors


As Mr Strong is making statements about Australian law, if the statements about the laws are incorrect, the matter is made worse in the light of Mr Strong's considerable legal background.

While shareholders at the 2011 Annual General Meeting were not referred to prior events, Mr Strong's written response to the 249P statement that accompanied the 2009 Notice of Meeting is relevant to consider his views about all Australian liquor laws. In that statement, signed by Mr Strong, he refers to all liquor licensing laws. The highlighting is mine. Click on the image to enlarge.
It is reasonable to assume that as Woolworths Chairman, by this statement, Mr Strong has at least some knowledge of those laws and the legal circumstance of all Woolworths liquor sales outlets in all Australian states. Yet he tells shareholders that ownership of hotels, being a requisite of enormous revenue for Woolworths Limited, mandates the company's continuation in the poker machine gambling business.

The truth is that only Queensland laws mandate connection between hotel ownership and off location sale of liquor. And, as visibly evidenced in my previous blog (click on the blog called "Queensland, Pokies and Alcohol") it is possible to "open" an on-premise and an off-premises liquor outlet even in Queensland. Put most simplistically, the Queensland restriction is that one can not be the licensee of the bottle shop or liquor barn without owning an associated hotel.

But the Queensland situation is a red herring. It is his mis-statements about the laws in all other states that are significant. Shareholders are asking simple questions about the harmful Woolworths poker machine business and the Woolworths Chairman is responding with answers that, in my opinion, misrepresent the facts. Mr Strong puts it to shareholders that the undertaking of their company in every state will be severely diminished if they do not follow the law and own hotels.

Furthermore, there is nothing in any Australian law that mandates that in order to operate a hotel license, one must operate poker machines. There are Queensland hotels without poker machines. It is open for Woolworths to surrender its gambling licences or cease to operate poker machine club licenses on behalf of others.

Readers can make up their own mind whether Mr Strong might be guilty of an offence against Section 1309 of the Corporations Act. Here it is:

False information etc.

              (1)  An officer or employee of a corporation who makes available or gives information, or authorises or permits the making available or giving of information, to:
             (a)  a director, auditor, member, debenture holder or trustee for debenture holders of the corporation; or
             (b)  if the corporation is taken for the purposes of Chapter 2M to be controlled by another corporation--an auditor of the other corporation; or
             (c)  an operator of a financial market (whether the market is operated in Australia or elsewhere) or an officer of such a market;

being information, whether in documentary or any other form, that relates to the affairs of the corporation and that, to the knowledge of the officer or employee:

             (d)  is false or misleading in a material particular; or
             (e)  has omitted from it a matter or thing the omission of which renders the information misleading in a material respect;

is guilty of an offence.

             (2)  An officer or employee of a corporation who makes available or gives information, or authorises or permits the making available or giving of information, to:
              (a)  a director, auditor, member, debenture holder or trustee for debenture holders of the corporation; or
              (b)  if the corporation is taken for the purposes of Chapter 2M to be controlled by another corporation--an auditor of the other corporation; or
              (c)  an operator of a financial market (whether the market is operated in Australia or elsewhere) or an officer of such a market;

being information, whether in documentary or any other form, relating to the affairs of the corporation that:

              (d)  is false or misleading in a material particular; or
              (e)  has omitted from it a matter or thing the omission of which renders the information misleading in a material respect;

without having taken reasonable steps to ensure that the information:

              (f)  was not false or misleading in a material particular; and
              (g)  did not have omitted from it a matter or thing the omission of which rendered the information misleading in a material respect;

is guilty of an offence.

             (3)  The references in subsections (1) and (2) to a person making available or giving, or authorising or permitting the making available or giving of, information relating to the affairs of a corporation include references to a person making available or giving, or authorising or permitting the making available or giving of, information as to the state of knowledge of that person with respect to the affairs of the corporation.

             (4)  Where information is made available or given to a person referred to in paragraph (1)(a), (b) or (c) or (2)(a), (b) or (c) in response to a question asked by that person, the question and the information are to be considered together in determining whether the information was false or misleading.



So what is the point of all this? What should Woolworths do?

Without hesitation, urgently correct the record.

But the real point is that if Woolworths Chairman cannot be relied upon to correctly answer simple question about pokies, can Woolworths be relied upon to responsibly operate their pokie business? It adds weight to the call for all pokies to be limited to a maximum $1 bet / $120 per hour maximum bet solution. This was the evidenced based measure of the Productivity Commission that they recommended be implemented without a trial.

Woolworths should announce their adoption of the Productivity Commission's recommendation of  1-120. At a lesser level, it would show true leadership.

At the most important level it would reduce the harm of poker machine gambling that is inflicted upon too many Australians.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Victoria Jump Starts Pokie Advertising

Victoria's Michael O'Brien proves again that he is one of Australia's leading supporters of poker machine gambling. By amending Victoria's signage regulations, Mr O'Brien accepted that it would be appropriate to more than double the advertising presence of Victoria's non-casino poker machines. This dramatically increased visibility will particularly affect the presence of poker machine gambling in Victoria's less affluent communities where gambling losses cause the greatest damage.

The purpose of any sign is to advertise goods or services. The intention is to draw people to sample the product. The purpose of a sign advertising pokies is to draw people to gamble on these dangerous machines. Victoria will now have double the poker machine advertising in a state that already has the worst prevalence of problem gambling of any Australian state.

Mr O'Brien's endorsement of increased poker machine advertising truly disgusts and demonstrates his contempt of the harm suffered by Victorians affected by problem gambling.

Here's how O'Brien did it. First, have a look at his media release from 8 March. Enlarge the image by clicking on it.

The key words are:
“The Council recommended that a generic term, such as ‘pokies’, would be most appropriate, and I have accepted the Council’s recommendation.”
The result is that signs will now be permitted on poker machine pubs and clubs that draw attention to the availability of poker machines inside. This step puts Victoria well in front of even New South Wales in agressively promoting poker machine gambling.

Now, secondly, Mr O'Brien could have used this opportunity to adopt the NSW position where gaming machine advertising is prohibited. The relevant NSW section is 43(1).
43 Prohibition on publishing gaming machine advertising
(1) A person (whether or not a hotelier or registered club) must not publish or cause to be published any gaming machine advertising.
Consistent with his support of the poker machine industry, Mr O'Brien chose to enhance the presence of poker machine gambling instead.

But even this was not enough for the Victorian Minister for Pokies. He repealed regulation 6(e) of the Gambling Regulation (Signage) Regulations 2005 that prescribing that signs other than those prescribed as acceptable for pokie pubs and clubs
  1. ... contains no other words, numbers, symbols or pictures that draw attention to the availability of gaming machines for gaming or that are frequently associated with gaming machines,
You find the "prescribed" signs in the two schedules to these Regulations. Here they are:


 In the Tatts prescribed sign, the word "pokies" is a secondary image.

In the Tabaret prescribed sign there is no mention of the pokies whatsoever. These signs will now be replaced by signs that prominently draw attention to the availability of poker machine gambling. The replacement are 2 square metres signs containing the word "Pokies" in white text on a single colour background.

The Tabaret venues (where no pokies had been allowed to be advertised) comprise 50% of all Victorian non-casino poker machine pubs and clubs.

 The result is a massive increase in the physical presence of poker machine gambling. It is an expansion of the marketing poker machine gambling in Victoria's suburbs and towns that is likely to have an effect far greater than the addition of a few machines to a given pub or club.

The objects of the Gambling Regulation laws requires the Victorian government to foster responsible gambling. This latest move by Mr O'Brien does the reverse.