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.
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.
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.