the punch and judy show, clubsnsw-style

Remember Punch and Judy? Those wacky, zany puppets who smack each other (and anyone else who comes near) around with big sticks? Well there’s a new puppet show in town, with a host of little Punches and Judys lining up to take a whack. The target of their attention? Poker machine reform… and the puppeteer is ClubsNSW.

Let’s be very clear about this. The single biggest, loudest and most aggressive opponent to poker machine reform in this country is ClubsNSW. Every other dissenting voice is simply doing their bidding as they pull the strings and direct the play.

So who are the puppets in this ensemble? Who does ClubsNSW have lined up to fight their fight for them?

The first puppet on the stage is, of course, ClubsAustralia. I’ll come back to this a little later on but for now, let me just say that ClubsAustralia are nothing more than a front for ClubsNSW. They are an umbrella organisation that ties together all the Clubs associations around the country (and in New Zealand too, for that matter) and drives matters of national interest… and ClubsNSW is pulling all the strings.

Following on from ClubsAustralia are, of course, the Clubs associations from around Australia. ClubsVIC, ClubsACT, ClubsNT, ClubsQLD, ClubsSA, ClubsTasmania and yes, even ClubsWA (where they have no pokies) and ClubsNZ, are all represented by ClubsAustralia… meaning that ClubsNSW has them all in its pocket. Never mind that different states have very different demographics, rules and positions when it comes to poker machines; they’re all toeing the ClubsNSW line.

The next puppet is the Australian Hotels Association (AHA). Long-time rivals of ClubsNSW, who vehemently resisted the introduction of poker machines into pubs in NSW, the AHA have joined forces with ClubsAustralia in opposing the current proposed poker machine reforms. A deal with the devil, you might say, but not surprising given that ClubsNSW, as the puppet-master, wields an obscenely large amount of power behind the scenes. The AHA are doing what they’re told, providing a unified front while actually contributing little but their name.

And of course, this puppet show wouldn’t be the same without the Sydney shock jocks, led by the quintessential modern-day Punch, Alan Jones. It’s almost amusing to see Jones, who loves pulling the strings himself, having his opinions fed to him by the Clubs association he holds in such high regard. “This fool in Tasmania Andrew Wilkie!” (whack!) “These ridiculous poker machine laws!” (whack!) “This dope Wilkie!” (whack!) And, as ever, he has an entranced audience eager to yell “Behind you!” every time someone dares support the reforms, so he can spin around and whack them with his big stick. Slapstick comedy indeed.

Who else? Ah, now we come to the big guns. The NSW Coalition have thrown their support behind the ClubsAustralia “It’s Un-Australian” campaign, opposing the reforms and rejecting everything they contain. This is no surprise, as the Coalition were in ClubsNSW’s pocket long before the election that swept them into power. As I’ve written about before, in October 2010 the NSW Coalition signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ClubsNSW. Barry O’Farrell, Andrew Stoner and George Souris all signed off on a list of demands from ClubsNSW that included: no additional casinos; no change to existing conditions such as maximum bets, reel spin speeds, ATMs in venues and feeding cash into machines; and fewer limitations on clubs with regard to new games and new technology. In other words, the NSW Coalition agreed to do what ClubsNSW said. Careful guys, your strings are showing.

While we’re speaking of the Coalition, there’s an even bigger puppet just around the corner. The Federal Opposition have also pledged to support the “It’s Un-Australian” campaign, with Federal Puppet for Reform Rejection Steve Ciobo whacking anything remotely resembling a gambling reform with his stick. Punch would be proud.

But it doesn’t stop there. The most recent puppet to hit the stage is the NRL, who have publicly declared their support and have taken to the stage to join in the whack-fest. David Gallop, Steve Mortimer, Phil Gould… they’ve all put on their jester outfits and wildly decried the reforms. They’ll kill our clubs! they cry. They’ll kill our game! Personally, I find it extremely revealing that Gould’s recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald was originally titled “Why Our Game Needs Pokies Cash”, but was changed several hours later to “Why Gallop Is Right On This One.” You can’t have it both ways Phil. Either the NRL needs poker machine revenue to survive, in which case the game should have died years ago; or it doesn’t, in which case you have no reason to oppose the reforms.

That’s a long, long line of puppets landing a lot of blows and making a lot of noise… and almost all of it is coming from NSW. Which brings me back to my original point about ClubsAustralia, and how ClubsNSW are pulling their strings.

Consider this.

Peter Newell, the Chairman of ClubsAustralia, is also Chairman of ClubsNSW.

Anthony Ball, CEO of ClubsAustralia, is also CEO of ClubsNSW.

Josh Landis, Executive Manager (Policy & Government) of ClubsAustralia, holds the same position with ClubsNSW. He is actually in charge of the day to day operations of ClubsAustralia.

Jeremy Bath, Media Relations Manager of ClubsAustralia, is also the Media Relations Manager with ClubsNSW.

Carissa Simons, Senior Media Officer with ClubsAustralia, is also the Senior Media Officer with ClubsNSW.

Anita Balalovski, Media Officer with ClubsAustralia, is also a Media Officer with ClubsNSW.

That’s a whole lot of people holding down two jobs.

Then there’s the website. Until recently, ClubsAustralia didn’t have a website. If you googled “ClubsAustralia” the first match was the ClubsNSW website. I’ve been talking about this for months, and it seems that the good folk at ClubsNSW have finally paid attention. ClubsAustralia have their own website now, it’s been online for a couple of months. Guess who registered the domain name?

ClubsNSW.

What’s more, the official contact email address for the domain is the ClubsNSW email address of Greg O’Brien, who just happens to be the ClubsNSW Privacy Officer.

It’s a sad indictment on the industry that a single organisation, supposedly created with altruistic intent and operating behind the veneer of respectability that not-for-profit status implies, can pull so many strings, seemingly at will, to get what it wants. This is not about helping problem gamblers; it’s not even about protecting the rights of members. It’s about power, and lots of it.

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