Electoral Funding Amendment (Registered Clubs) Bill 2023

Electoral Funding Amendment (Registered Clubs) Bill 2023

(Debate, 31 May 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

 I will continue from where I left off. We have given clubs extraordinary tax exemptions under which they pay no tax on gambling profits under $1 million and can forgo paying tax on profits above that amount when they use the money to fund community projects of their choice through the ClubGRANTS scheme. We have long known that the ClubGRANTS scheme lacks transparency, accountability and value for money, with numerous reviews, a performance audit by the Audit Office of New South Wales and a recent report by the NSW Council of Social Services [NCOSS] exposing it as a rort. NCOSS found clubs using grants to support their business aims and give themselves a financial or other advantage, at the expense of improving the living standards of low‑income and disadvantaged people, many of whom suffer at the hands of the industry.

What other industry would be able to continue to profit so massively and so obviously from the proceeds of crime and community misery, while escaping taxation obligations? Not only have both sides of politics let clubs continue this base business model, but they have bent over backwards to oblige clubs' demands. In the past decade both sides of politics have signed clubs' pre-election memoranda of understanding committed to maintaining the status quo. Clubs have held a tight grip on decision-making in this House, allowing the gravy train of profit from organised crime and community misery to continue unabated. And those profits are both huge and growing. Last year electronic gaming machines brought in record revenue, reaching $4.6 billion for clubs and $3.5 billion for pubs. A previous Parliament identified the potential for undue influence when donations are accepted from gambling industries, and it introduced a ban. Failure to include registered clubs in that ban when they essentially operate as casinos has enabled the gaming industry to retain a tight stranglehold on decision‑making in this House.

I welcome the Electoral Funding Amendment (Registered Clubs) Bill 2023, which will finally impose a ban on political donations from registered clubs and those on their governing bodies. This is a much-needed move, but I believe the provisions in the bill can be strengthened to break the influence clubs exert on decision-makers. The exemption to allow clubs to offer their space in kind to members and candidates is not appropriate. I understand that in some regions there is limited space to meet the community, but there is no need to continue the provision of such space free of charge, particularly for candidates during an election period. Members and candidates have access to sufficient public funding to cover those costs and there is no need to provide a club with the opportunity to have leverage over a candidate or MP in that situation.

The bill also fails to clarify that donation prohibitions cover all close associates from donating. As drafted, close associates would only be banned from the existing definition of a liquor or gaming industry business entity, not the new definition that extends to registered clubs. I foreshadow that I will move amendments to address these loopholes at a later stage. Unfortunately, donations are not the only way in which clubs exert influence and power over the political process. Cashed-up clubs have the resources to run a very targeted and damaging campaign against anyone seeking to challenge the basis of their cashflow through their industry representative, ClubsNSW.

The 13 March Four Corners exposé of ClubsNSW likened its political influence and lobbying techniques to those of the National Rifle Association in the United States. During the last election campaign, we saw concerted campaigns by ClubsNSW targeting the member for Murray, who is in the Chamber, and the former Premier because of their support for reform. Similarly, we saw unrelenting campaigns against former Prime Minister Gillard when she tried to cap poker machine losses over a decade ago. We also saw, last term, a very competent Minister lose the gaming portfolio following complaints from ClubsNSW.

The Electoral Funding Act 2018 allows ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association to run third‑party campaigns during elections. It is not appropriate for the representatives of high-risk industries that are associated with significant community harm from crime and problem gambling, and that stand to gain huge windfalls from government decisions and regulations, to be able to engage in election campaigns in this nature. Further work needs to be done in this field. Both Houses of Parliament have a responsibility to finally break the nexus between electronic gaming, and organised crime and problem gambling.

The community has voted for a majority of members who support reform, and I believe we have the capacity and the will to achieve what is needed. I welcome the Government's commitment to a trial of cashless gaming technology that includes harm minimisation and law enforcement representatives, with oversight by a task force. The aim must be to go cashless with built-in harm minimisation. There is a lot of work to do, and I look forward to working with all members, the Government and the Minister to finally progress real reform in the operation of electronic gaming machines in this State.

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