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THE Tasmanian election has highlighted some of the worst aspects of Australian politics. The financing of election campaigns, the relationship between political parties and industry, and the totally disproportionate influence of the gambling lobby have been laid bare.
There are clear lessons for the ACT.
Canberrans and Tasmanians can be proud of their shared electoral systems. The Hare-Clark system is a single, transferable vote, preferential electoral system of proportional representation that is amongst the fairest – if not the fairest – in the world.
It delivers votes proportionally to how people think. If only that were the whole story!
However, when a campaign is overwhelmingly dominated by one view – it is challenging for voters to distinguish between community interest and personal greed.
The Tasmanian election has been dominated by the issue of gambling. Every one of Tasmania’s poker machine licences is currently owned by a single Sydney-based company owned by the Farrell family. The licences are up for renewal this year. Labor Leader Rebecca White and the Tasmanian Labor Party courageously put forward the policy that the licences not be renewed. If successful this would remove them from Tasmania (except for in the state’s two casinos). Can anyone imagine ACT Labor following suit while it’s so heavily dependent on revenue from poker machines?
In response the “industry” – that is, the one licence-holding company – suddenly dumped an alleged $5 million into electoral advertising urging that the Liberal government be re-elected.
They are not so blatant to urge support of pokies. They just urge people to vote Liberal. The reason this industry wants the government re-elected is because it knows the Liberals will renew licences that have allowed them to accumulate nearly $50 million in profit.
A $5 million investment makes good business sense in this context. Unfortunately, good business sense and good democratic process are not necessarily aligned.
We can’t even be sure exactly how much has been spent, because Tasmania has seriously weak political donation and expenditure laws. Ironically, if this Sydney-based company was defending similar interests in Sydney, the donations to the Liberal Party and the secrecy surrounding them would be illegal.
NSW has laws that identify the extent of political expenditure, put caps on campaign spending and force full disclosure of political donations and electoral spending.
Gambling is one of a small number of business categories, along with property developers, that are not allowed to donate to political parties in NSW. There are good reasons. NSW recognises the conflict of interest for a government granting such lucrative licences involves too great a potential for corruption.
The NSW parliament has taken action on passing effective laws. However, the ACT has once again shown why we urgently need the Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission to commence as soon as possible. In marked contrast to Tasmania, the ACT has similar laws to NSW with effective legislation on spending and disclosure. However, there is no exclusion category for gambling in the ACT.
How could this omission happen? The ACT Labor Party is basically a gambling business. Through associated companies, the Labor Party in effect has the licences to a large proportion of Canberra’s poker machines.
Despite this obvious conflict – there has not been a single Labor Party MLA, since the start of self-government in 1989, who has had the spine to stand up in the Legislative Assembly and decline to vote on the matter of poker machines.
While Tasmania came under such a deluge of campaign material originating from the gambling industry – it should not be surprising that this is unlikely to happen in the ACT simply because of this appalling conflict of interest.
Last week I wrote on the need for proper investigation into the relationship between the Tradies Club, the CFMEU and the ACT government. Undue influence overrides the ideal of one vote one value. Dodgy relationships between gambling interests, developers in government and in election campaigns provide cause for real concerns to anyone who values democracy.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.