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No Confidence in Premier Hodgman over Pokies Corruption

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Tags: Pokies, Corruption, No Confidence Motion, Federal Group, ASIO

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, it gives me no pleasure as the Greens Leader to stand here and bring on a motion of no confidence in the Premier of Tasmania. We made this commitment to the people of Tasmania in the days before the election. The reason that we did that after long and careful consideration, talking to Greens supporters and members and elders and people in the community is that we knew if the people of Tasmania did not give any party a majority we could not in all conscience provide confidence and supply to a Liberal Party in government which allowed itself to be so comprehensively bought and sold by vested interests. We made this commitment to the people of Tasmania because we felt very strongly that we owed it to the people of Tasmania to be honest with them before election day what our intentions were. We could not have given confidence and supply to a party which had been corrupted by so much dark money and we made that very clear to the people of Tasmania.

We said on that day we would move no confidence on the first day at the first opportunity and that was because the stench, the smell of corruption, about the Liberal campaign was overpowering. Everywhere you went in this state the sea of blue, of Liberal faces above gambling venues was indeed a nauseating sight to behold. Driving up Davey Street, for example, seeing two Liberal candidates, including the Premier, with their faces adorning the Welcome Stranger, a poker machine venue. We have never seen anything like it, Mr Deputy Speaker.

By the way, Mr Deputy Speaker, congratulations on your appointment to Chair of Committees.

We have never seen anything like this last election campaign. I am 51 years old, been around a very long time, worked on numerous election campaigns both as an adviser and as an MP, on federal campaigns and state campaigns. I have never, ever seen such a corrupted campaign. It was not just the Greens who saw this and felt this. You talk to people in the streets and there was this growing sense of unease about what this meant. This overpowering rule of millions of dollars in undisclosed money. People got a sense that the Liberals had been bought and sold by the gambling industry. Tasmanians in significant proportion understood that the Liberal Party's policy changed. It changed from prior to the establishment of the Joint Select Committee into the Future Gaming Markets. It changed after.

The Federal Group and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association presented to the select committee inquiry and put to the inquiry that the direct licensing model was their third way, their solution, to the expiry of the Federal monopoly deed. It was their way of making sure that poker machines remained in pubs and clubs until the year 2043 and that is what we are looking at here. That is why this is such an important issue. The consequences of allowing yourselves to be bought and sold for the future social and economic wellbeing of Tasmania are profound. The consequence of the Liberals allowing Federal Group, THA, the money that come in from interstate, the millions will be lives lost because gambling addiction is a suicide risk. It will be livelihoods lost because gambling addiction leads to a loss of jobs, the loss of housing, the breakdown of relationships, the neglect of children. We know that from the evidence of the Government's own reports. The Social and Economic Impact Study is very clear about the social costs of the proliferation of more than 3500 poker machines in some of our poorest communities in Tasmania.

I am absolutely sure that Liberal members have spoken to people who have been hurt by gambling addiction because there are so many people whose lives have been maimed by this addiction. There are children who have missed out as a result of the addiction of their parents. We have talked in this place before about the Kids Come First dataset. That is no longer anywhere I can find, but it was a magnificent dataset. It told us something very important about socio-economic distress. It told us that where there are poker machines located deliberately in areas of socio-economic disadvantage there is an increased rate of notifications of child abuse and neglect. There is a direct relationship between the location of these machines, the socio-economic circumstances of the communities they are located in and the wellbeing of children living in those communities. Every Liberal member who allowed themselves to be bankrolled by the gambling industry might want to have a think about that. Ultimately in these circumstances it is children who suffer most. No question whatsoever. They are the most innocent victims of gambling addiction.

Is there a reason that you are laughing, Dr Broad, or is something funny happening over there?

Dr Broad - No, keep going.

Mr Brooks - Go on support your deputy leader, seriously.

Ms O'Byrne - Settle down, Brooksy, you will get over it eventually.

Ms O'CONNOR - Someone in this place has to remind the Liberals about the social harm of the policy that they basically sold to the gambling industry. They sold themselves to the gambling industry. The victims of that will be desperate people, families on low incomes and children who have no control over the addictions of their parents. We have heard time and again from the Premier and the Treasurer, and his other ministers, that gambling is a matter of personal choice. For people who do not get out enough and talk to other people who are doing it really hard, for people who have never lived with the pain of addiction that is easy to say. It is easy to say it is a matter of personal choice when you do not understand addiction. It is easy to say that when you have never read too deeply about mental distress, alcohol addiction, drug and substance abuse and gambling addiction. It is easy to disassociate yourself from the human cost of your policies if you do not get out into the real world and talk to people who have been hurt by the decisions you make. That is what has happened here.

I have said it on election night and it is true. The stain of being bought by the gambling industry will live with this Government and this Liberal Party, and every member of it, for the rest of their days. It will. They were bought. They were bought with millions of dollars. They were bought with in-kind donations. They were bought by the gambling industry. The reason they were bought is because the Federal Group, Steve Old and the THA and gambling interests interstate knew that if the industry suffered a blow here the domino effect around the country would be unstoppable. Tasmania was a litmus test for the industry, which knows its product is toxic and on the nose.

Of course the amount of money that was spent buying government and the Liberals was supported by interstate gambling interests. They had to bulwark Tasmania against this momentum to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs. That is why so much money went into the Liberal campaign. We do not know how much. There has been estimates of $5 million, $10 million. Tasmanians went to the polls not knowing how much. The Premier, when he was asked this question during the campaign, with almost a straight-face, said it was all above board, lawful and that the donations would be revealed through the Australian Electoral Commission process. In fact, the vast majority of that money will not be obvious in October when the Australian Electoral Commission releases its electoral disclosures.

We know that because the vast majority of that money did not go into the Liberal party coffers because it did not need to. It went into funding the Love your Local campaign. It went into all the signage around the state supporting a Liberal government. They did not need to put the money into Sam McQuestin's Liberal Party bank account because it was an in-kind contribution to buying government for the Liberals. That is the money we will not get to the bottom of without an Integrity Commission inquiry or a royal commission of inquiry.

Cue awkward laughter from our temporary Premier.

Mr Hodgman - Ha! Four years, two days.

Ms O'CONNOR - You reckon you will be here for four years? I have heard you are off to the consulate in the UK and that the Treasurer is getting his office ready for about two years from now when you will be heading off to the northern hemisphere because you do not have the ticker to stick out another four years in a tricky parliament. That is what I have heard.

Mr Hodgman - You've been predicting my demise for years.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, not your demise; I think you would be a lot happier in the UK. You certainly went through the election campaign not looking like you were particularly enjoying it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, through the Chair, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Speaker, the point I was making before was about the fact that most of this money will not come to light. The only way you would flush it out is if the Integrity Commission fully flexed its muscles, as it has the power to do. It could have a public and open hearing. It could have an inquiry into the corruption of democracy and an election. It could have an inquiry into the grotesque sale of public policy to an industry at the expense of the people of Tasmania. A commission of inquiry or royal commission would have coercive powers to make sure that the people of Tasmania understood the extent of the in-kind donations that were made to the Liberal Party and to make sure that the people of Tasmania know how much the Liberal Party itself raised from various different vested interest sources.

We also do not know whether there has been any more money flowing into Liberal Party coffers from foreign donors. We asked that question during the campaign and there was no answer. We may or may not find out when the AEC returns come out in October. We may or may not find out whether the Liberals have pocketed another $30 000 from the Yuhu group and Mr Fan Xiangmo, a close personal friend of people in the Chinese Communist Party, the same character ASIO warned your federal colleagues about and who you took money from.

The issue here is that the Liberals apparently have no scruples about where the money comes from. It was not that long ago that they used to take tobacco donations, gambling industry donations, donations connected to an oppressive government in China.

Mr Gutwein - How much did the Greens take from gamblers?

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Duncan Turpie, who is an individual gambler, made personal donations to us.

Mr Gutwein - So you have taken donations from gamblers? You are a hypocrite.


Ms O'CONNOR - Talk about desperate! I am going to lay this out on the table because we have nothing to hide here. Unlike you people who will not tell the people of Tasmania what you accepted, we have nothing to hide. We have real-time donations disclosure.

There is a marvellous organic farmer in Queensland called Mr Duncan Turpie. He loves Tasmania's forests, he loves this island so much it gets him right in the heart. That is why he donated to the Tasmanian Greens at this last state election. I think he gave us $50 000. Thank you, Duncan Turpie. He also happens to be a savant who is a really good individual gambler. He does not own a gambling company. He does not destroy peoples' lives through the proliferation of poker machines. He knew giving us money was not going to buy him anything, but that is the deflection we are getting here from the next premier of Tasmania, and it is absolutely irrelevant because it pales into insignificance against the millions that came into the Liberal Party from vested interests.

We still have not had an explanation from the next premier of Tasmania about this change of policy. How could it be that before the gambling inquiry we were going to have a price-based market mechanism and then after Greg Farrell and Steve Old appeared before the inquiry and said 'Hey, have we got a deal for you and us', the policy changed to a direct licensing model which at a conservative estimate, even according to Greg Farrell's own testimony, would deliver a $250 million windfall to the industry in Tasmania and lock in the misery of poker machines to the year 2043?

Perhaps the next premier of Tasmania could get to his feet and explain why there was such a dramatic policy shift. At what point did the next premier of Tasmania say to Cabinet that they were going to go with the industry's direct licensing model? When did that happen? Suddenly, without any public fanfare, that was the Liberals' position not long after the inquiry brought down its findings, most of the recommendations of which have been completely ignored.

Perhaps Mr Gutwein could explain why a policy that would lock in harm until the year 2043 and that directly licenses individual venues became the Liberal Party's policy after the industry put it forward. You cannot argue that on public interest grounds. You cannot argue that you are putting people first with that policy. The issue here is that there is a smell of illegitimacy about this Government because of the amount of money it took for them to just scrape into government with quite a precarious one-seat majority. All that money and they still lost two seats.

I know the industry must feel it is going to get a return on its investment and they already have, with the $6.8 million that was awarded to the Tasmanian Hospitality Association not long after the election was over. Again we have no explanation from the next premier of Tasmania about that $6.8 million. What is the justification for giving that much money to an industry body when there are so many other pressing social, economic and environmental priorities in Tasmania? Imagine if you put $

6.8 million into building affordable housing. You could actually put roofs over people's heads instead of lining the pockets of vested interests, which is what this money does.

I would not be surprised if $6.8 million is actually what the industry spent on the campaign. It is somewhere between $5 million and $10 million. We know that is how much came in, so $6.8 million sounds about right. It sounds like the THA said, 'This is what we put in', and the next premier of Tasmania said, 'No worries, this is what we'll put out to you at the end of it'. Quid pro quo. There is a smell of corruption, and a strong one at that.

There has been totally inadequate explanation of the shift of policy and the wilful ignoring of the advice of the former Gaming Commissioner Peter Hoult on the direct licensing model and the harm that would cause. They have been wilfully deaf to the community sector. Remember, the strength of opposition to the Liberals' policy and the strong will to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs was represented by such respected bodies as the Tasmanian Council of Social Services, Anglicare, Hobart City Mission. These are the organisations that pick up the human pieces of the nasty and destructive policies of the Liberals and in fact, to be fair, until not that long ago the Labor Party. The Labor Party and the Liberals are responsible for the Federal monopoly deed and the extension of poker machines into pubs and clubs. Well done to the Labor Party for coming around to the position that the Greens have held for a very long time.

I want to pass on a little anecdote from an old friend of mine who is a former very senior Labor Party MP - and it is not Duncan Kerr in case any one thinks it is Duncan - who said not long after the election on the issue of poker machines, 'You can be sure Labor will always do the right thing, once all the other options have been considered'. I thought this what quite an astute observation on the way the Labor Party develops its policy. Harsh, but he had been a part of the Labor Party for a very long time, an elected representative and a minister.

Mr Deputy Speaker, that is a diversion. The fact of the matter is that if you look at the votes, very close to half of Tasmanians voted to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs to some extent. There are plenty of people who voted Liberal at the last election because it is in their family, it is in their culture, it is what they have always done. But they did so with a sick feeling in their guts about the amount of money that was coming in from vested interests. They knew there was something wrong with this campaign. They could smell it, feel it - it was everywhere you looked. That sea of blue. Those Liberal faces bought and sold by the industry. We can never let this happen again.

The parliament now has a very important task to do and that is to make sure that we have some donations disclosure laws in Tasmania that at least bring us up to the level of other jurisdictions, but would it not be better if we had nation's best practice donations disclosure laws? We need real time disclosure of donations. We need absolute transparency about where the money is coming from. There should be a ban on corporate donations and most certainly a ban on foreign donations. We heard some noises from the Premier during the campaign - once the heat became pretty hot - about improving donations disclosure laws in Tasmania. We have not heard anything since.

If you come into this job with your conscience intact and you recognise that we are elected to serve the people of Tasmania, this beautiful island and its people, if you come in here because we are the beneficiaries of democracy, then you want to make sure you have the best democratic processes in place. That means never again allowing one industry to buy a government. That is what happened.

We have the weakest donations disclosure laws in the country. In fact, we have none. Our donations disclosure laws are the Commonwealth's laws which are weak. People went to the election on 3 March and they had no idea who was bankrolling his campaign. They could not see the rivers of dark money but they could see the evidence of it. They could see the evidence of it everywhere they looked every time they turned the television on. We could not afford television ads in this election campaign. I stand here and confess that the Greens are not a wealthy party. That is because television ads are really expensive, but these ads started on Boxing Day and they were just wall-to-wall, on the hour. A relentless scare campaign. Minority government. We have something pretty close to that right now of course and the sky has not fallen in, but that was an incredibly expensive campaign.

If you have that much money to put into television advertising as well as advertising in print, online, as well as every day full page and half page ads either Liberal MPs or Love Your Local or the Federal Group. Every day in newspapers, like the Mercury newspaper, we had tens of thousands of dollars of pro-Liberal, pro-pokies advertising. Every day tens of thousands of dollars. So tens of thousands of dollars daily in print, then there is the online advertising and then there was this television advertising, the scale of which we have never on this island before because it was not just coming from the Liberals. This is inkind stuff we are talking about. It was coming from the industry, it was coming from the Federal Group, the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, the Love Your Local campaign.

If you really love your local, if you really love your people, you do not stick poker machines on every corner, in every poor suburb of Tasmania. If you come in here, as we commit to doing each day, to work in the best interests of the people of Tasmania, if you want this island to prosper and if you want everyone to reach their full potential - including the children who are now the children of gambling addicts - you do not have this policy which puts industry first and puts children and marginalised people last. That is what happened.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I just note for the purposes of Hansard that with the exception of the Deputy Premier all Liberal members' heads were hanging and so they should be. Hanging in shame. So they should be hanging in shame.

Mr Ferguson - The quality of debates is amazing.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Ferguson. Mr Ferguson actually thinks I care what he thinks about me.

We know how this no confidence will roll because Labor has said they will not support it so Labor has confidence in a government that was bought by the gambling industry. The record will show that but we had to bring it on because this needs to be on the public record. This debate needs to be on the public record as an historical record that lays on the table some of the facts about a party in government that allowed itself to be bought by an industry which has no other priority than the making of money.

You cannot argue that the gambling industry is about social good. You cannot even argue they are about economic good because it is about lining their own pockets and you let yourselves be bought. I believe every Liberal member knows that. They know there is an air of illegitimacy hanging over their government. They know that almost half the population did not like what they stood for. They know that when their faces were above those venues that that was almost their final sell out as elected representatives. They should be ashamed. They should be deeply, deeply, ashamed because this was not a free and fair election. It was not an election that was a contest of ideas and vision. It was an election that was utterly corrupted by dark money, undisclosed money, money that in all likelihood, unless there is a full Integrity Commission hearing, or a royal commission, the people of Tasmania will still be in the dark about in years to come.

We have no confidence in Premier Hodgman or in his Government.