tim costello is NOT a hypocrite: the full story

Well, that didn’t take long. Just two days after Father Chris Riley came under intense criticism nationally for becoming the latest face of the campaign against poker machine reforms, Clubs Australia have hit back. In a breathtaking exercise of extraordinary spin and selective perception, they have labelled Reverend Tim Costello a hypocrite and more.

The attack was launched this morning in the usual fashion: an “exclusive” in a News Ltd newspaper (this time it was Joe Hildebrand in the Daily Telegraph) partnered with a Clubs Australia media release. The gist of their attack is that Costello is a hypocrite for claiming moral superiority over Riley for accepting gambling donations, as he has previously also accepted thousands from the industry for his own charities.

The centrepiece of their position is this photo of Costello accepting a cheque for $537,000 from the AHA (NSW) on behalf of World Vision in response to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami tragedy.

In the media release, Clubs Australia Executive Director Anthony Ball goes to town on Costello and Senator Nick Xenophon:

Clubs Australia Executive Director Anthony Ball said the hypocrisy of Tim Costello’s repeated attacks on Father Chris Riley were extraordinary and revealed his complete inability to explain to the media how mandatory pre-commitment could assist problem gamblers.

“Instead of debating the issue, the anti-gambling lobby resorted to discrediting Father Chris.

“No doubt the attacks will impact on his charity and their donations going forward. Tim Costello and Nick Xenophon have thrown Father Chris’ reputation to the gutter when they are the ones who deserve to be there.”

And later, on the matter of club donations to Riley’s Youth Off The Streets charity:

“As we now know from the emergence of this secret photograph, Tim Costello is no better; despite his recent claims to moral superiority.”

Hildebrand’s article broke down the donations to Costello’s charities: the aforementioned tsunami relief donation, and $4,444 that he billed Clubs NSW for a speaking engagement which he then donated to Urban Mission Unit. Ball was again quoted in the article:

“Tim has been caught red handed accepting donations from the gambling industry,” CEO Anthony Ball said.

On the surface, this seems as though Costello has indeed been caught out… but the reality is very, very different. This incredible personal attack on Costello is (in my opinion) the grubbiest, lowest act yet by the Clubs industry in their campaign to shut down poker machine reforms and discredit those who champion it.

What Costello said.

According to Clubs Australia, Costello criticised Riley for accepting money from the gambling industry. This is a lie. What Costelllo said this week was this:

“I think when you are taking the dollars from the pokies lobby and then being their face, you have to explain that conflict.”

“That conflict runs through every vested interest in this debate.”

Costello did NOT criticise Riley for accepting money from clubs; he pointed out that doing so and then actively supporting their campaign was a conflict of interest.

The little donation.

Let’s look at the small one first. Costello received $4000 (plus $444 in travel costs) from Clubs NSW as a fee for a speaking engagement.

A fee. Not a donation. Yes, he then donated it to one of his charities… but it was NOT a donation from Clubs NSW. Had he not charged them, I’m sure Clubs Australia would now be saying that he supports the clubs by providing them his services for free.

The big donation.

Then there’s the $537,000 donation from AHA (NSW). This is where it gets really nasty. Clubs Australia say that this donation is proof that Costello is a hypocrite… but there’s a lot of background here.

Costello and World Vision have a strong policy of not accepting gambling-funded donations. In the days immediately following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, Costello rejected a donation from Clubs NSW of $500,000 for that reason (much of which then went to Riley’s charity). According to the Clubs Australia media release, Costello then “backflipped” and stated publicly that World Vision would accept donations from gambling outlets. They quote him as follows:

“If there are any gambling outlets that want to give to World Vision, we will accept the money now. Even though the policy in a moral sense stands, this crisis is a humanitarian crisis beyond any differences, and even my well known public stance on gambling.”

This is supposed to be further proof of Costello’s hypocrisy… but they’ve only told part of the story.

Shortly after rejecting the Clubs NSW donation, Costello travelled to Sri Lanka to witness firsthand the devastation caused by the tsunami. He spent four days there. And upon his return, on the same day that Clubs NSW issued this media release criticising Costello’s decision to turn down their money, Costello made this statement (reported in the Herald Sun on Jan 4, 2005):

“Having just come back and given what I have seen of this humanitarian crisis, I have reversed that decision.

“If there are any gambling outlets that want to give to World Vision, we will accept the money now.

“Even though the policy still in a moral sense stands, this crisis is a humanitarian crisis beyond any differences, and even my well-known public stance on gambling.

“It’s that important.”

This is not a backflip. This is a statement from someone who has seen stared into the face of one of the biggest natural disasters this world has ever seen, and knows that everything possible must be done to help… even if it goes against his personally held beliefs.

Of course, by this time Clubs NSW had already donated their money elsewhere, and continued to express their disappointment in Costello’s actions. They’re still criticising him for it today. Clubs Australia President Peter Newell wrote in The Punch last month:

We get it Tim. You hate pokies. So much so that you rejected the $500,000 donation club members tried to give World Vision after the Boxing Day Tsunami. Fortunately CARE Australia and Father Chris Riley’s Youth off the Streets had no issue accepting the eventual $3 million.

Clubs Australia makes no mention of Costello’s reason for changing his position. They don’t acknowledge the horror he experienced during his four days in Sri Lanka. And rather than giving him credit for relaxing his position as a direct response to this tragedy, they attack him for it.

I don’t believe there is any other organisation is this country that would use one man’s response to an indescribable human tragedy as the basis for allegations of hypocrisy and moral superiority. In this, Clubs Australia stands alone.

And so. Four months later, Costello received the cheque from the AHA (NSW). It is worth noting that the hotels of NSW ran a number of fund-raising events that contributed the bulk of this donation; little if any of the overall sum came from gaming revenue.

The rest.

There are a few other points that must be made. Ball talks about the emergence of the above “secret photograph”… as if it was all hush hush. But this “secret photograph” is the front cover of the Hotel News magazine!

Ball states in his media release that Costello launched “personal attacks” on Riley. This is manifestly not true. Every statement Costello has made about Riley is focused on the conflict between taking gambling donations and supporting the gambling industry. There has not been a single personal attack on Riley from Costello. And by making this statement, attributing claims of “moral superiority” to Costello and labelling him a hypocrite, Ball is launching a personal attack of his own.

World Vision’s decision to relax their non-gambling-donations policy for the Boxing Day tsunami tragedy was a one-off. The reasons for it were clearly explained at the time, even if they have since been ignored by Clubs Australia.

In summary.

I call upon Anthony Ball and Clubs Australia to apologise to Tim Costello immediately and unreservedly.

In launching this extraordinary and inexcusable attack on Reverend Tim Costello, they are hoping to deflect attention from Father Chris Riley’s involvement in their campaign. Yet by using a humanitarian response to an unprecedented disaster as the basis of their attack, they have proven beyond a doubt that there is nothing they will not do to get what they want.

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11 Responses

  1. Dramfire says:

    Clubs Australia aka ClubsNSW had sunk to all time lows. Father Riley clearly doesn’t understand see his conflict of interest, and the Rev. Costello has no conflict of interest. The truth is out there and thank god we have a Tom who can quickly and accurately deliver that truth.

  2. Good luck trying to get that apology you want out of Anthony Ball and Clubs Australia. That would involve them doing something moral. Which will happen when hell freezes over.
    I’m just hoping they have bitten off more than they can chew by going after Tim Costello.

  3. Danny Lewis says:

    “Clubs Australia President Peter Newell wrote in The Punch last month:

    We get it Tim. You hate pokies. So much so that you rejected the $500,000 donation club members tried to give World Vision after the Boxing Day Tsunami. Fortunately CARE Australia and Father Chris Riley’s Youth off the Streets had no issue accepting the eventual $3 million.”

    Yeah? Well I have a question …

    If this money had been earmarked to help the victims of the Boxing Day Tsunami, why are CA giving a share of the “eventual $3 million” to an Australian-based charity like YOTS?

    CARE Australia, I can understand, because they do overseas aid work, but YOTS?

    I am happy to be corrected on this, but it stood out as a rather strange admission, especially given there are plenty of other overseas aid organisations, working at the time in the tsunami-ravaged areas, that CA could have donated to; organisations that would have been much better placed to put the money to immediate use.

  4. Danny Lewis says:

    PS I wonder how YOTS spent that money?

    Might be interesting to delve into that …

  5. Scott Ford says:

    Saying that Tim Costello supports pokies because he accepted from Clubs Australia a donation to help out with aid for the victims of a natural disaster which had killed around a quarter of a million people & left millions more homeless is like saying that Tony Abbott supports Julia Gillard’s government because he sits next to her at military funerals. Occasions of great importance or great calamity often require co-operation between those who are normally sworn enemies. I think this smear campaign by Clubs Australia might come back to bite them on their behinds. Most people – even those who disagree with Tim Costello on social issues – would consider him to be a man of high personal integrity. He has never changed his opinion on gambling, and he let CA know at the time that the donation would not change his position on the issue.

  6. Scott Neylon says:

    you idiots. YOTS established an orphanage in Banda Ache. It was all over the media at the time. It was particularly noteworthy because of the partnership between a Catholic Priest (Riley) and the local welfare organisation which was Muslim.

    YOTS continue to fund the orphanage to this day. I know this because my club donates to it. You guys are amazing. Always assume the worst in people.

    PS I quite like playing the pokies.

  7. Cathy says:

    From Clubs med rel 3.1.2005 – “This $500,000 clubs had wanted to give to World Vision was to make a difference in saving lives. World Vision has said this is the biggest disaster ever to hit human kind. Given this, it is surprising that they would need to consider and ultimately choose not to accept such a large donation.”

    It would seem perhaps the last sentence of this statement could negate the argument made by Clubs Australia/NSW etc that Tim Costello is a hypocrite. CA for all intents and purposes is acknowledging that this was an exceptional circumstance. That Tim Costello would make an exception to his usual stance of rejecting such funds seems to be implied in this very statement and therefore such an action would be deemed beyond reproach. Of course, this goes beyond ‘donations’ where it is really about someone of calibre who is now supporting a dishonest campaign of an industry that harms many people. Perhaps this dishing out of the money should be put in more neutral hands.

    I was listening to a sky news interview of Father Riley and regrettably a fair bit of what he said reflected the Clubs position. Though, one thing Riley said makes me wonder what his explanation would be. Apparently, 2 million flyers has Father Riley making a definitive statement of “Neither mandatory pre commitment or lowering maximum bets will help problem gamblers”. However, in the interview amongst his ravings about the unfairness of focusing on one product etc he said of these particular measures “it ‘could’ be part of the solution” – so how really accurate is that ‘definitive’ statement.

  8. marcus says:

    To expect Clubs Australia to have a moral position is to mistake them for something other than an amoral corporation based on exploiting those who already have a poor deal in life and passing the costs of this to the rest of us. Moreover, they are prepared to pay a lot more than 30 pieces of silver to hold onto their position, something that Fr Riley would appear to have evidence of.

    CA can, and do say, whatever they think will advance their cause, without any regard to rational argument, evidence or good faith. Where these might supply tools to support their position they will use them but not because they have any commitment to them.

    How do they get away with it? Lots of money plus the audience they are aiming at (more or less the same as the News tabloid one) has little capacity to critically appraise their statements and will be susceptible to emotion and prejudice. Just drown them in information that inflames those emotions and prejudices and that also drowns out the facts and you can swing seats. That is the strategy.

    It may backfire if their arrogance and shameless self-interest so much annoys the rest of the population, the great majority, that they decide to seriously vote to knock these hypocrites and their business model on the head. In that case the CA campaign may not work for the Coalition but actually against it.

  9. Owen says:

    I have encountered both Tim and Fr Riley as I work in the relevant sectors. Tim Costello I admire greatly and it’s clear that his case is not marred. Fr Riley, despite all the hype about his “wonderful work” is not someone I admire and now even less so for this decision.
    Clubs Australia have not doen themselves proud by this attack on Tim Costello- but they are welcome to Fr Riley. This has shown his true colours- I am not in the least bit surprised.

  10. Familyman says:

    When you sqeeze a pigs ear listen to it sqeel. This debate has shown the poker machine industry for what they are. Abunch of lying, self interested only parasites incapable of getting a real job and just sponging off the misery of innocent and gullible citizens.

  11. Braveheart says:

    The question whether it is ethically acceptable to accept gambling money from organisations like Clubs Australia or gambling venues is vexed.

    On the one hand we accept the fact that gambling taxes collected by the Victorian and Federal Governments go to a whole lot of mainstream projects including health, community services and infrastructure.

    On the other hand we find it difficult to accept money directly from other parts of the gambling industry, possibly because these are vested interests who give a minuscule of their profits back to the community. They seem to think that if you give a little the community might overlook the amount you are removing.

    I don’t think that either position is theoretically tenable actually. The reality is, however, that gambling is part of the economic and community infrastructure now and who is going to agree to cut it away altogether? We are in a very difficult ethical position and it is just not that simple.

    I can see why World Vision accepted the $500,000 donation but wonder why Clubs Australia could not have given the money to another overseas aid organisation at the time, knowing Tim Costello’s moral position. Did they want to embarrass and discredit him?

    I’ve read some of Father Chris Riley’s comments about the donation to his organisation and feel that he is ill informed. But then, the Catholic Church as the organisation for which he works, is itself riddled with conflicts of interest and dubious practices making the moral high ground a rather hard to place to find.

    I have n overall gloomy and sometimes cynical perspective ……We live in a society with an economic system which is increasingly based on unethical and unhealthy practices. Look at the food industry, the way we treat animals and the way we corrupt food. Look at the devastation of the the natural habitat in the interests of various industries. Look at the taxation system itself and see how the burden is borne basically by the little people, not the wealthy. We have developed into a consumerist society when people at all levels just want as much as they can get and a sense of entitlement has developed. Not everyone but many.

    I know many people who see gambling as just another form of taxation and one that people don’t have to pay if they don’t want to. They don’t understand the lack of choice that comes with real problem gambling. Incidentally they see alcohol and nicotine use in the same way. I think they are different, however.

    And people keep on firing words and insults at each other which seems to be the way our so-called democracy works. No wonder people have such little hope.

    Hopelessness and negativity is the tenor of our political system but every so often something of sparkling hope appears. This is how I see Andrew Wilkie’s stand (based on the Productivity Commission Report). I think that lessening the amount that people can bet and lose offers the most practical form of harm reduction.

    So I will keep writing my letters in support of it.

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