Reports in today’s papers are saying that the Salvation Army has pulled its support for the Federal Government’s mandatory pre-commitment proposal, instead backing a voluntary pre-commitment scheme such as the one supported by the Clubs industry. Naturally enough, this has been hailed as a “victory” by Clubs Australia… but there’s much, much more to this story than meets the eye.
For starters, the Salvation Army in Australia is actually two organisations. There is the Salvation Army Eastern Territory, which covers NSW, Queensland and the ACT, and the Salvation Army Southern Territory, which covers the rest of the country. It is only the Salvos Eastern Territory that has reversed its position; remember that the Clubs industry is strongest in NSW, with Queensland and the ACT following close behind.
The Salvos Southern Territory, on the other hand, is part of the Interchurch Gambling Task Force, which remains committed to supporting the Federal Government’s reform proposals, including mandatory pre-commitment. The Southern Territory’s web site makes it perfectly clear that they have not changed their position on this.
Clubs Australia’s media release this morning, titled “Salvos Reject Mandatory Pre-Commitment”, states that this backflip is “yet another nail in the coffin” for the “experimental” reforms. It also contains a statement from Executive Director Anthony Ball that accuses Andrew Wilkie of “bullying” the Federal Government over the reforms.
Bullying, Anthony? Let’s see. When the Salvation Army (Eastern and Southern) threw their weight behind the proposed reforms, Clubs Australia let it be known that club donations for any groups that supported mandatory pre-commitment could potentially be cut. More recently, there have been strong suggestions that clubs would consider banning Salvation Army collectors from taking donations on their premises.
Now that’s bullying.
Anthony Ball also stated: “The Salvation Army’s rejection of mandatory pre-commitment is telling…” which is a rather misleading statement, given that Clubs Australia aren’t the only ones who issued a media release today. The Salvation Army issued one of their own, titled “Clarification and Correction – The Salvation Army’s Position on Mandatory Pre Commitment”. Interestingly, the second paragraph states: “At no time has The Salvation Army ”rejected” mandatory pre-commitment or criticised the motivations or positive intentions of those who support its introduction.”
Which is not what Anthony Ball is saying.
The Salvo’s media release goes on to highlight the differences between the Eastern and Southern Territories and their respective positions on the matter; something else Clubs Australia forgot to do.
But leaving the media releases aside for the moment; leaving aside also the allegations of funding cuts and restricted access to clubs; the strangest piece of this puzzle is the involvement of Louise Duff.
Remember Louise? She was the “charity worker” that Labor MP Craig Thomson allegedly yelled and spat at while attending an anti-reforms rally at the Mingara Recreation Club.
The Clubs industry, the media and even the Opposition were perfectly willing to paint a picture of Duff as a Salvation Army worker who was reduced to tears at the rally; the reality is that Louise Duff is no simple charity worker. She owns and runs her own PR firm, and sits on the Salvation Army’s Media Advisory board. The Salvos are clients of hers.
So are Clubs NSW, who are the driving force behind Clubs Australia. She was attending the rally in her professional capacity, not for the Salvos, but for the Clubs industry. This does not excuse any intimidating behaviour that may have occurred, but it does cast her involvement in the rally in a very different light.
So when it was reported this morning that Duff, who seemingly has a foot in both camps, was the one who pressed the Salvation Army (Eastern Territory) to clarify their position on mandatory pre-commitment, it immediately begs the question: which client’s needs was she looking after?
This situation is getting messier by the moment. The Salvation Army have denied that “any threat to (their) access” to clubs and hotels was a factor in the clarification of their position on mandatory pre-commitment, but they have not denied that any such threats were made. Clubs Australia have also been oddly silent on this matter, yet they have been perfectly willing to issue media releases that are clearly misleading at best.
One thing is clear. The strongarm tactics and media spin employed by Clubs Australia have gone too far, especially when it is the reputation and integrity of one of our country’s most respected charitable institutions that is at stake.