There’s a number of stories in the press today relating to Jeff Kennett’s role as chairman of beyondblue, a foundation he helped establish to combat depression, and his “other” role as a director of Amtek. In case you don’t know, Amtek is “a company that services poker machines.” Senator Nick Xenophon has called on Kennett to walk away from Amtek, citing the proven links between depression and poker machines.
Naturally enough, Kennett has rejected the idea that there is a conflict of interest between his two roles. He said, “…I wear as a badge of honour my insistence on the highest levels of corporate governance,” regardless of the role he is performing at any given point in time.
Now, I have no doubt that what Kennett says is true. But does that mean there is actually no conflict of interest?
Sorry Jeff, but I’m going to have to side with the Senator on this one.
Depression and problem gambling, especially on poker machines, go hand in hand. The fact that problem gamblers are more than twice as likely to become depressed as non-problem gamblers is well known; gambling can cause depression. But it’s also true that depression can bring about problem gambling behaviours. Many, many problem gamblers fall under the spell of poker machines because they are depressed and looking for an escape from their reality. I know this, as I was once one of them.
So not only can gambling problems cause depression, but depression can cause gambling problems. The links are there.
Let’s take a look at Amtek. If Amtek’s involvement in the poker machine industry was just a part of their overall business activities, then I’d be inclined to take Kennett’s side in this argument. Every now and then, poker machines will break down, and love them or hate them (and believe me, I despise them), someone is going to fix them. I have no problem with that.
But the crux of the matter is that poker machines aren’t simply a part of Amtek’s business… they are their entire business. Take a look at Amtek’s website; this company exists solely to service, maintain and support the poker machine industry. If there were no pokies, then Amtek wouldn’t, and couldn’t, exist.
Kennett is also president of the Hawthorn AFL football club, and like all clubs, the Hawks run gaming venues. I do not see Kennett’s presidency as a conflict of interest, as these venues are not Hawthorn’s main business purpose. But his involvement with Amtek is another story. Amtek exists solely to service the poker machine industry, and has a vested interest in maintaining a strong and flourishing gambling culture to ensure their ongoing success. For Kennett to be involved with Amtek, while at the same time holding a position with beyondblue, is a clear and obvious conflict of interest.