Australian communications minister urged to quit over Sportsbet donations

Sportsbet allegedly paid AU$8,960 for a dinner to support Rowland
Sportsbet allegedly paid AU$8,960 for a dinner to support Rowland

Crossbenches have demanded Michelle Rowland’s removal for “shocking errors of judgment.”

Australia.- There have been calls for communications minister Michelle Rowland to resign or be fired following allegations that she accepted donations from a gambling firm before the federal election. According to Nine Newspapers, Sportsbet paid AU$8,960 for a dinner in support of Rowland’s election campaign last March and made another contribution of AU$10,000 just before the May poll. 

The donations, which took place while Rowland was shadow communications minister, did not have to be disclosed to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) since they were below AU$14,500. However, the allegations have intensified calls for real-time political donation disclosures and a lower mandatory disclosure threshold.

A spokesperson for Rowland said all donations received were in compliance with AEC disclosure requirements and that the government is dedicated to reducing harm from online gambling. In her current role as communications minister, Rowland holds responsibility for the Interactive Gambling Act and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who has been advocating for stringent gambling reforms, demanded Rowland’s removal for her “shocking errors of judgment.” He said it was incomprehensible that Rowland accepted donations from an online gambling company while seeking to become communications minister. He called on the Prime Minister to immediately dismiss Rowland to show he was genuine about restoring integrity in politics. 

See also: Australian PM rejects a nationwide gambling reform

Wilkie also called on Parliament to back amendments to political donation laws that he will introduce next week, including real-time disclosures, a lower donation threshold of AU$1,000 and a ban on political donations from industries such as gambling, fossil fuels, liquor, and tobacco.

The AEC’s Transparency Register reveals that Sportsbet made donations to the Liberal Party, National Party and Australian Labor Party amounting to over AU$278,000 in 2021-2022. The Coalition received AU$143,000 while Labor received AU$135,000.

Greens spokesperson on democracy Larissa Waters told The Guardian the donations to Rowland were an “insult to voters and gambling reform advocates” and accused Sportsbet of making the contributions to gain access and influence policy. 

She said Rowland’s role as a gambling regulator was untenable given her “close ties to betting agencies, despite the weakness of the nation’s donation laws”. 

Waters also called on Labor to ban donations from industries like gambling and tighten disclosure laws.

A parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of online gambling on problem gamblers was launched late last year to assess the sufficiency of current laws, regulations, and consumer protections. The Labor party announced that gambling companies would be required to include warnings in their advertisements about the risks of online wagering, applying to Ladbrokes, Sportsbet, bet365, and Neds. 

The government is also working to establish a national self-exclusion register, BetStop, to allow consumers to exclude themselves from all interactive gambling services and marketing through one step.

A spokesperson for Rowland said the government strongly supports the implementation of the national self-exclusion register, BetStop, and that Rowland is committed to its implementation.

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