Senate debates

Monday, 15 February 2021


Crown Resorts: Donations to Political Parties

12:40 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion relating to political donations received from Crown, as circulated in the chamber.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Waters from moving the following motion:

That the Senate:

(1) notes the Bergin report concerning Crown's gaming operations and its findings of money laundering and criminal activity;

(2) calls on all political parties and candidates to join the Greens in refusing to accept donations from Crown; and

(3) calls on the Liberal, National and Labor parties to return the almost $2 million in political donations received from Crown since 2000 or to transfer an equivalent amount to a charity or support service that deals with problem gambling.

As people will see from the motion circulated in the chamber, the report handed down last Friday, the Bergin report, contained extremely disturbing inferences about Crown, pertaining to criminal conduct and money-laundering. It has escaped nobody's notice that Crown has donated almost $2 million to both sides of politics in the last 20 years and, indeed, in recent years amounts received by both sides of politics have been in quite large form. I understand that, as a result of that, the federal Labor Party are considering not accepting donations from Crown in the future.

We today are moving a motion, and our counterpart in the House will be moving a similar motion, asking both of the big parties to give that money back. Rather than giving it to Crown, why don't you give it to some gambling support services to help people who are addicted? This is a very clear call, hence the suspension of standing orders. This is an urgent matter. Our democracy has been for sale for a very long time, and this is just the latest example—and it is a most egregious example, because criminal conduct is being alleged, money-laundering is being alleged, and yet both the big parties are still happy to take money from Crown.

I welcome the fact that that decision's under review by the opposition, but it's not good enough to just say, 'We won't take any more.' We would like both of the big parties to reflect on the money that they have received in the last 20 years and to give that money back. Better to give it to support services for people who are addicted to gambling.

I want to take the opportunity to share the views of Geoffrey Watson SC, who is a director of the Centre for Public Integrity. He makes a very salient point:

The fact they are donating most heavily in jurisdictions where they have casinos tells you it is related to some sort of benefit the company receives in respect to its operations …

He goes on to say:

Crown has been a donor in massive sums for years. It obviously opens doors and gets you access which you otherwise would not get.

Now, that's the point here. Crown are not donating out of the goodness of their heart. None of the big donors are donating out of the goodness of their heart. These big corporates, these big vested interests, these big industries are seeking policy advantage. And, when it comes to the gambling industry, they have received it, because we still don't have decent regulation of gambling or policies at the federal as well as the state levels. I know my colleague from Western Australia is very interested to see how the procedures failed in Western Australia, given that it too was implicated in the Bergin report.

This is a desperate plea for us to clean up democracy. Return that money that you have received from Crown. We think that donations, no matter where they're coming from, should be capped, but this example is even more egregious than your standard pay for access, pay for policy outcomes; it's now been elevated to the level of criminality, to the level of money-laundering, and it is just untenable for big political parties to continue to receive donations from a company that is now so mired in controversy that it can no longer be a political donor. Give back the money or, better, give it to support services for people who need help with an addiction to gambling. Unfortunately, we know that that scourge grips so many Australians. In fact, in many ways it's caused by the very practices of those industries, particularly, algorithm designs—designs to encourage and deepen that addiction. We'd love to see action on that, and it's no wonder that we haven't. It's no wonder that we don't have a limit on pokies. It's no wonder that the dollar limits on pokies went absolutely nowhere, because the Hotels Association and Crown, in particular, have been paying for a very long time, and they have happily received the benefit of an absence of policy to regulate their activities.

The big parties have got a chance here to start to restore some confidence in democracy. Earlier today, we had a discussion about lowering the disclosure threshold. It's not good enough; we need more. We desperately need to cap donations. We need you to return that money from Crown and give it to support services for people with a gambling addiction. The Australian population deserve to have confidence that their democracy works for them. They are sick to death of democracy being for sale. It's not just the gambling industry, sadly. The list of people who buy influence is very, very long. We only get those statistics once a year. Well, we have the statistics now—$2 million. Give it to gambling support services to help people who are struggling with gambling addiction. Do the right thing. That is exactly why we are moving this motion today. My colleague Adam Bandt will be moving it the House as well.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I go to you, Minister, I remind Senator Waters and, perhaps in advance, other speakers that the question being debated is the question to suspend standing orders, and that is what your contributions should be around. I did give you leeway, but I'm reminding people that is the question before the Senate.

12:46 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by the minister be agreed to.

12:54 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the motion moved by Senator Waters to suspend the standing orders be agreed to.