Casinos against depression: Jeff’s hot new business idea
It is a good thing Jeff Kennett hasn’t decided to help stamp out smoking.
If so he could have sought a board position with a major tobacco company so he could change the business from within. Alternatively the former Victorian premier could have been working towards world peace by sitting on the board of British Aerospace or Lockheed Martin, helping to sell intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Instead, Jeff Kennett has decided to do his bit to end the nexus between mental illness and gambling by running a casino.
It’s a bit like the corporate version of what actors call the Stanislavski method, where they prepare for certain roles by performing them in real life, like Robert de Niro driving a cab before appearing in Taxi Driver. Actually, it’s less like the Stanislavski method and more like a lame excuse. It is a sign that Kennett is clutching at the world’s tiniest straw in trying to defend his indefensible conflict of interest between being chairman of the beyondblue depression institute, and helping his mate James Packer run his casino empire.
Kennett can see no reason why he cannot continue as chairman of beyondblue while also seeking the chairmanship of Echo Entertainment, the owner of Sydney’s Star Casino. James Packer’s Crown group is one of the biggest shareholders in Echo. The Crown Group owns casinos in Perth, Macau, London, the USA, and obviously also in Melbourne, where it began with the opening of the Crown Casino when Kennett himself was premier. Packer has masterminded Kennett’s push for the Echo board because it will give him more influence over Sydney’s Star, and could eventually secure him ownership of the biggest gambling den in the Harbour City. That’s the business of it in a nutshell, but it has no bearing on the other business, which is Kennett’s work at beyondblue.
In case you missed it, this was his absurd rationalisation this week for being able to serve both roles.
“I don’t find this a conflict, in fact it might work the other way,” Mr Kennett told 3AW. “It might actually give me - if we are successful - an insight and an influence in terms of the way in which a business like this deals with people who do have a gambling habit or a gambling problem. It might be that this is one of those occasions when being inside the tent, you might be able to have more impact on the policy of a business that is involved in gaming than you can on the outside.”
Kennett has had a real moral and intellectual problem on this gambling and depression issue for almost a year now. Sometimes it seems as if there isn’t a conflict of interests which the bloke won’t embrace with both hands. Such as his absurd comments in his capacity as the president of the AFL football club Hawthon last year, when he said that mandatory pre-commitment on poker machines would destroy the AFL forever more. As if, Jeff. Indeed, his comments about the impending collapse of this multi-billion dollar sports franchise came in the same week the AFL found $1.5 billion in the top drawer to keep all 18 AFL clubs solvent until 2016.
Kennett’s comments had no basis in fact or common sense. AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou was much more measured and thoughtful in his language about the reforms. Not so Kennett. It was all about whipping up voter anger towards the now-extinct pokie reforms being considered by the Gillard Government last year at the behest of independent MP Andrew Wilkie.
If Kennett wants to do that, that’s his right. But it doesn’t just jar with his once-excellent work at beyondblue. It trashes it, utterly and irreversibly. It’s one of the chief reasons why the organisation lost its excellent former CEO Dawn O’Neill last year. O’Neill left in the wake of Kennett’s pro-pokie comments as Hawthorn president. And she did so because she, like any mental health professional, has an acute understanding of how gambling is not just a case of mental illness, but a symptom of it. It’s a perfect circle and a vicious one, in that being addicted to the pokies will make you depressed, and people who are depressed are more likely to get addicted to pokies, in the same way that self-medicating with alcohol or cannabis is used to dull the pain of existence.
Between reading his Echo prospectus or thumbing through the Footy Record ahead of the Hawks’ next match, Kennett should have a quick read of something his former CEO wrote in April last year:
“Gambling is common in Australian society – nearly 75 per cent of Australian adults gamble in any year. However, about 300,000 Australians have a gambling problem that may affect many parts of their lives, including physical and emotional health, relationships, study, finances and work.”
“For every person with a gambling problem, between five and 10 others (e.g. partners and children) also experience serious consequences including emotional distress, the breakdown of family relationships, financial difficulties. This means that more than two million Australians are affected by problem gambling.
“There is a strong link between problem gambling and mental health problems. We know that nearly three out of four people with a gambling problem are at risk of developing depression. Conversely, those experiencing mental or physical health problems, stress, loneliness and isolation, or loss and grief, are at greater risk of developing a gambling problem.”
For Kennett to suggest that his leadership of a casino empire could help combat the scourge of depression or promote the work of groups such as beyondblue is beyond laughable. It is a farce, and it’s the kind of farce which ensured that a woman such as Dawn O’Neill doesn’t work for beyondblue any more, and has others are now asking why Kennett still is.
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