28 December 2023

Report on gambling sector political lobbying reveals it spends more than double any other 'harmful' industry

| James Day
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Australian Parliament House

According to a research report, at least seven federal ministers, senior advisers and one premier work in lobbying roles for the gambling sector. Photo: File.

A recently published analysis of the gambling industry’s ”revolving door” into Parliament estimates that up to 280 of its lobbyists are within the range of political influence on Australia’s federal leaders. The research, led by Melbourne University’s Dr Jenn Lacy-Nichols, comes out as the Senate tasks the Finance and Public Administration References Committee to hold an inquiry into lobbying.

Commissioned by the Alliance for Gambling Reform (AGR) and Transparency International Australia (TIA), the report was highly critical of the lack of information in the Lobbyist Register that is administered by the Federal Attorney-General.

Although many lobbyists are not required to be registered, those who are will only be subject to a voluntary code of conduct and there is often no penalty for breaches.

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AGR’s CEO Carol Bennett said the opaqueness of the current system meant the public could have no confidence in Australia’s political leaders not being subject to undue influence from a “ruthless and exploitative gambling industry that rips out $25 billion from Australian communities each year”.

“The revelations that gambling interests are spending big on lobbyists, together with the enormous growth in political donations by ‘big gambling’, is alarming given that the Federal Government is currently considering a parliamentary committee recommendation to phase out all gambling advertising over the next three years,” she said.

Federally, the report found 13 lobbying firms across all states and the ACT had been hired by the gambling industry, beating out the alcohol, food and drink industry’s hiring of six firms and the tobacco industry’s four.

A graph about industries that lobby governments

Dr Jenn Lacy-Nichols, who facilitated the research, is a commercial determinants of health research fellow at the Centre for Health Policy,
Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne. Photo: TIA.

On Parliament’s ”revolving door” issue, CEO of TIA Clancy Moore said the fact that many former ministers and advisers went straight into jobs for the gambling lobby had a corrosive impact on our democracy.

“Every day, harmful industries like gambling employ thousands of lobbyists to walk the halls of parliament meeting with ministers and public servants under the cover of darkness to influence policy-making, often against the public interest,” he said.

The report made seven recommendations for the government to implement in amending the issue.

Both TIA and AGR voiced their support for the bill of independent MP Dr Monique Ryan, requiring all lobbyists to be registered, in compliance with higher standards of conduct, and reveal their engagement with government through mechanisms like the publication of ministerial diaries.

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Dr Ryan introduced her #CleanUpPoliticsAct to the lower house a month ago and was pleased to hear about the Senate inquiry into lobbying, which was announced a day after the report came out on 7 December.

“I thank Senator David Pocock for his motion and his commitment to cleaning up politics,” she said.

“It’s very telling, though, that the Federal Government amended Senator Pocock’s motion to stop the inquiry from examining whether ministerial diaries should be made public – despite supporting that idea when it was in Opposition.

“You can’t advocate for transparency from Opposition, only to block it when in government.”

At the beginning of the month, Victoria told reporters the government would join NSW, the ACT and Queensland by publishing their ministerial diaries.

A meme involving Drake, Labor and the Coalition in regard to gambling and tobacco donations

Senator David Pocock announced the government’s support for his motion calling on parties to cancel their donations from Big Tobacco with this meme. But the post said it was a “different story” when he replaced ‘tobacco’ with ‘gambling’ in another motion. Photo: X/@DavidPocock.

Senator Pocock said more than 2000 people had “unfettered, all-hours access” to Parliament House’s private areas. And he was shocked by the lack of transparency and resistance to establishing a more open and accountable federal system.

“Currently there is no publicly available list about who has this level of access or who gave it to them,” he said.

“We’ve also seen a real failure in the effective implementation of the lobbying code of conduct, with few investigations, even fewer established breaches and pretty paltry penalties.

“While I fully support people having access to politicians, we need to make sure that access is democratic, open and transparent.”

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