Packer’s patsy sells his soul, and our intellectual property
James Packer had better watch his back. He’s just hired the guy who helped knock off former NSW Premier Morris Iemma for Nathan Rees, then rolled Rees for Kristina Keneally, and played a key role in last year’s putsch which replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.
On the basis of recent performance, the appointment of former national ALP secretary Karl Bitar as Crown Casino government relations lobbyist could mean that the gambling empire will soon be run by Kerry Stokes from the Seven Network.
If there is such a thing as purgatory it may well be Melbourne’s Crown Casino. There is a story that at the Casino’s gala opening in 1997, dozens of white doves were released into the night sky, and were promptly incinerated in the balls of flame that blast from the braziers on the Yarra’s banks. It might be an apocryphal tale but it’s a nice bit of imagery for a place which wrongly presents gambling as nothing other than innocent fun.
For many Australian families gambling is of course no such thing. In the current debate about new measures to tackle problem gambling, the government and the community are trying to strike a balance between the basic freedom of consenting adults to spend their money as they wish, versus the sad reality that many of these people are so desperately addicted that they can’t stop spending it once they sit down at a poker machine.
If there was one word which could describe the campaign being waged by the multi-billion dollar wagering industry, I’d stump for “moronic”. Ad man John Singleton has had an absolute shocker with his advertisements arguing that it’s somehow “un-Australian” to make people think about how much and how often they bet on poker machines. The campaign has at its centre a total fabrication – that the Government will be introducing so-called gambling licences. The Government is not doing that at all. It is considering proposals to make gamblers state in advance how much they are prepared to bet in a single session on a poker machine, and to preclude themselves from going above that set amount.
The gambling industry has misread the public mood on this issue. So too have some in the sporting community, whose tactics are framed around whining about how reliant they have become on gaming revenue, personally abusing the politicians who are (rightly) listening and acting on community concern, and predicting that organised sport as we know it will dry up if sporting clubs make patrons think before they punt.
While the odds might be against the gambling industry in this debate, it has scored something of a coup by securing the services of Karl Bitar to lobby the government and opposition on behalf of Crown. It’s a tactical masterstroke by Crown. It should also be illegal, as it is in the United States, where politicians are prevented from lobbying until they have been out of politics for two years.
God only knows what Bitar is being paid to schlep around the corridors of power on Packer’s behalf. We will probably never find out as such things are deemed commercial in confidence. Whatever the price, from Crown’s perspective it is money well spent. As anti-gaming Senator Nick Xenophon stated this week, what Crown has done is to buy some very precious intellectual property – the inside running on the national government’s thinking on a hugely important public policy issue.
“This guy has inside information about the government that Crown Casino effectively just bought,” Xenophon said. “He’s gone from running the party to lobbying the party. Labor politicians and government staffers needs to be completely transparent in their dealings with Mr Bitar and that means full disclosure of every meeting, every lunch, every dinner, every phone call, every letter, every email, every gift.”
Karl Bitar did not sit at the Cabinet table but he met regularly and spoke regularly with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and other senior ministers on the big issues challenging the government. Given the magnitude of the gaming reforms, it’s more than likely Bitar discussed this issue with his colleagues in the Government. And even if he didn’t, he knows enough about the tactics, values and tendencies of the PM to give Packer and his pals some handy inside info as to how she is likely to respond.
Beyond that, Bitar he also arrives with a comprehensive little black book of phone numbers for every politician in Canberra. As a former mate of many in the ALP he can try to call in favours, to have telephone calls and emails returned, to get his bosses at Crown some valuable face time with the people who run the country.
It’s potentially sinister. It’s the kind of thing voters despise, as it undermines the supposedly transparent character of democracy. The US model should be picked up and introduced here. Perversely, it exists in some form in private business – executives often have “no compete” clauses written into their contracts which prevent them from working for competitors when they leave a firm. Yet when it comes to public policy it is still open slather. You can’t help but speculate that this might be because pollies have a vested interest in keeping their employment options open. That should not be the case when it involves something as serious as inside information about the government’s thinking on how to protect addicts from an industry that is indifferent to their misery.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…