20 March 2024

Gambling reform group calls government's lobbyist controls 'toothless' and 'opaque'

| James Day
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In its 2024-25 pre-budget submission, the Alliance for Gambling Reform is calling for the Commonwealth to fund a national peak body dedicated to reducing gambling harm from a lived experience and public health perspective. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

In its pre-budget submission, the Alliance for Gambling Reform says the Federal Government is captured by the power of its industry and won’t reveal how much it’s spending on the major public health issue.

According to the government, this is due to ”commercial sensitivities”, but alliance CEO Carol Bennett believes the lack of transparency is “both disturbing and farcical”.

“The Federal Government is investing $737 million to fund various measures to protect Australians against the harm caused by tobacco and vaping products,” Ms Bennett said.

”There is an extremely strong argument that the same level of expenditure should be urgently devoted to reducing gambling harm.”

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More than $25 billion was lost to gambling in 2018-19 (the only recent financial year not impacted by the pandemic), which is more per capita than any other country, according to the submission. It urges the government to also launch a public health information campaign about gambling and its related harms.

The submission suggests an investment of about $63 million, the same amount spent on an upcoming vaping and smoking campaign. On top of this, the alliance believes another $30m should go to support programs and training for health practitioners to reduce gambling’s community impact.

Before this submission, the alliance provided a report for the inquiry into access to Parliament House by lobbyists.

The submission showed that an estimated 80 per cent of in-house lobbyists employed by interest groups or advocacy organisations are excluded from the system administered by the Attorney-General’s Department.

It said the Register of Lobbyists was toothless because it was voluntary, and the sole penalty for breaching its Code of Conduct (such as engaging in corrupt or illegal behaviour) was being potentially removed from it. It was also ”opaque” for including little to no information on the lobbyist or who they meet with.

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Ms Bennett said she was concerned about the evidence of the serious and unique risk posed by disproportionate lobbying activity from the gambling industry.

“Documents obtained through FOI have shown the gambling industry has unleashed a closed-door blitz of high-pressured lobbying to debunk the reasonable and impactful reforms proposed by the federal parliamentary committee into the harm of online gambling currently being considered by the federal government,” she said.

An analysis led by Dr Jenn Lacy-Nichols of Melbourne University shows the gambling industry hires the most lobbying firms nationally of any other harmful product industry.

Jointly released by the Alliance and Transparency International Australia late last year, it revealed that up to 280 lobbyists sought to influence politicians for the industry. And at least seven federal ministers, senior advisers and one premier benefitted from the ”revolving door” into lobbying roles for the sector.

The alliance told the inquiry in its submission that the Code of Conduct should be enshrined in legislation and include all forms of lobbying. It went further, to recommend all transparency should be promoted through publication of ministerial diaries and other relevant information.

The alliance believes sanctions should be expanded along with the post-employment separation between politicians and lobbyists, stating they should extend to five years and be for all members of parliament.

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