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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8885

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (19:00): In speaking to the third report of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, on the prevention and treatment of problem gambling, I would like to traverse some events that occurred today—in particular, the totally inadequate response given to me by Minister Evans about the advice that this government sought from Oakton Consulting in relation to the precommitment trial.

I remind the Senate that on 22 January this year Minister Macklin publicly released to Clubs ACT her offer for a trial of mandatory precommitment in the ACT. She outlined the parameters of the offer and the conditions attached to it. The reason I am aware of this is that I sought documents under freedom of information from both Minister Macklin and FaHCSIA. Those documents disclose that on 23 January and 24 January media inquiries about conflict of interest were directed to the minister's office. I do not understand how this government could not have thought about the potential of a conflict of interest when they were giving money to Labor entities such as the Canberra Labor Club. I might add, to quote from the Canberra Labor Club Ltd annual report 2009, that their 'simple philosophy' is that any profits that are not required to further the club itself be paid to the ACT branch of the Labor Party.

I remind the Senate and those opposite that since 2006-07 the Canberra Labor Club has donated $2.5 million to the ALP. So, naturally, Australian taxpayers are entitled to be sure that no money from this trial will go to the ALP coffers and that everything is above board. Obviously the journalists in January worked this out, saw the offer, saw no reference to potential conflicts of interest and made inquiries of the minister's office. All of a sudden, on the Friday afternoon, 27 January, we start seeing urgent advice being sought by the department from Oakton Consulting.

When I asked questions about this at the last estimates, I was told by the department that there had been communications between Minister Macklin's office and the department. But, interestingly enough, there was nothing in the documents that were disclosed to me from Minister Macklin that made reference to these communications. Obviously somebody is not being truthful about what transpired between the minister's office and the department. I wait with anticipation for the response from the department in relation to these communications. I suspect that following these media inquiries somebody suddenly thought, 'Goodness me, we had better get this advice because of course there must be a conflict of interest—or at least the potential for a conflict of interest. I am amazed that nobody in the minister's office and in the department thought that, hello, they should get some advice beforehand. Of the $2.9 million in monthly incentive payments that are going to be made as part of this trial, $724,000—about a quarter—is going to the Canberra Labor Club Group and the Canberra Tradesmen's Union.

As part of the FOI process I was told that, no, I could not get this advice because it was part of a deliberative process. I followed that up at estimates. I was told that they were still considering it. Whether it is deliberative or still being considered, now that the legislation is before the parliament I would have thought that the public interest would be prevailing and that that public interest would require disclosure of this advice, and any other advice, that has been given in relation to this very important matter—considering the amount of money that is going to the Canberra Labor Club Group and the Canberra Tradesmen's Union. You would think that any modicum of transparency would require that.

So much for Operation Sunlight—there is nothing Operation Sunlight about this transaction. The public interest requires that this advice now be disclosed, otherwise what are those opposite hiding? What is in this advice that the government does not want the Australian taxpayers, who are funding this operation, to know? I would have thought that Mr Wilkie and the government's Greens alliance partners would want to assure themselves that there is no conflict of interest. Maybe not. This issue goes to integrity and transparency in the process that is providing taxpayers' money to clubs that are participating in the trial. Integrity, or lack of integrity, is something that goes to the very heart of this government and this Prime Minister. But then what can you expect from a Prime Minister who is resorting to sexism? Sexism is the last refuge of the incompetent woman, the last refuge of the quota girls. Yes, I have been out in public talking about the quota girls, but it is despicable what this Prime Minister is doing.

Senator Feeney: Keep going, because our numbers are rising!

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Quite frankly, Senator Feeney, I would not feel particularly comfortable sitting in a place when I was only here to make up the numbers.

This Prime Minister is taking and using sexism in a most despicable way, to hide her incompetence. As a woman in this parliament, I am ashamed of her conduct. I am ashamed of the way that she is carrying on. I am ashamed of the way Minister Roxon and Minister Plibersek go out there with their handbags, as part of the 'handbag hit squad' going on about Tony Abbott. It is absolutely despicable.

It is a question of integrity. It is a question of lack of transparency. The government should be disclosing that advice. What is it that they have got to hide? I think what is happening here is that this money is going to organisations like the Canberra Labor Club Group and the Canberra Tradesmen's Union Club, and how are we to know that it is not going to be used for donation and campaign purposes? Just because the minister tells us? I do not believe a word that Minister Macklin says on this issue. She is another one of them. I would not believe a word she says. I would like to see this advice and I would like to be assured about this, as a taxpayer. I would like to speak on behalf of the many taxpayers around Australia who are not happy to see their hard-earned tax money being squandered, potentially, by going to organisations such as the Canberra Labor Club Group and the Canberra Tradesmen's Union Club. So I call on Minister Evans, I call on Minister Macklin and I call on this government to release that advice, to make that advice public. If you have got nothing to hide then you should be releasing that advice. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.