Australia: gambling industry criticised for giving free tickets to politicians

Australian federal politicians are under scrutiny for accepting gifts from the gambling industry.
Australian federal politicians are under scrutiny for accepting gifts from the gambling industry.

A report has revealed that federal politicians received free event tickets from the gaming industry, which could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Australia.- An analysis of parliamentary interest registers by transparency organisation Open Politics has revealed that Australian federal politicians have received at least 151 free tickets to events and hospitality from the gambling industry since the 2019 election. Transparency advocates have raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest. 

According to the report, 47 sitting MPs – over 20 per cent of parliament – and 10 former MPs have declared gifts, hospitality and shareholdings related to the gambling industry since April 2019. The majority of gifts have been provided by Tabcorp, while Sportsbet, Star Entertainment, Australian Hotels Association, and ClubsNSW have also given gifts to politicians.

While there is no indication that the gifts have influenced decision-making in government or opposition, transparency advocates are concerned about the perception of conflicts of interest. The report found that communications minister, Michelle Rowland, has accepted 10 free tickets for herself and others since coming to office. She accepted two tickets from Star Entertainment to see the musical Hamilton.

Rowland has already been heavily criticised before for accepting donations from Sportsbet before the 2022 federal election. Last month she announced that she would no longer accept political donations from gambling companies.

See also: Australian PM backs communications minister over Sportsbet donations

Meanwhile, Paul Fletcher and Anne Ruston also accepted free tickets and hospitality from gambling companies. Fletcher attended the Melbourne Cup in 2019 with his spouse at the invitation of Tabcorp and Network Ten. 

Ruston attended the semi-final of the Australian Open as a guest of Sportsbet in January last year, while serving as social services minister. This year she attended the same fixture while serving as shadow minister for sport.

Centre for Public Integrity’s executive director, Han Aulby, said that if ministers do not want there to be any perceived conflict of interest, they should “avoid accepting gifts from companies operating within their portfolio.” 

Transparency International Australia’s chief executive, Clancy Moore, stated: “While accepting gifts is not technically illegal, it does raise serious questions. 

“It’s even more problematic when a minister ostensibly responsible for the regulation of gambling is accepting thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets, perks and alcohol from some of gambling’s biggest names.”

Open Politics founder Sean Johnson told The Guardian: “While there’s no hard evidence connecting gambling gifts and hospitality with favourable regulatory outcomes, we know the industry is not providing these benefits because they ‘support democracy’.”

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