Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:06): I am rising to speak to Mr O’Donohue’s motion on a range of things, but I think most importantly a select committee to review the casino regulators. Two years ago I sought a motion of urgent public importance in this chamber to launch a parliamentary inquiry. It was not successful then, but it was clear then that there was not sufficient oversight to ensure that our casinos were free from criminal influence, that the gaming was being conducted honestly and that problem gamblers were being protected as the act requires them to be. It seemed, as I said at the time, that the gambling regulator just was not up to the job. It was not up to the job to mount proper investigations. At that time we said that the public had a right to know what was happening at Crown and nothing short of a thorough investigation by the Victorian Parliament would satisfy that, and yes, we have been proven right.
Now, a lot has happened since then. We have had the Bergin inquiry in New South Wales. And it was interesting watching the 7.30 report on the ABC last night, where Crown’s lawyers said, ‘Yes, we’ve failed. Yes, we are wrong. Yes, we have done the wrong things. We’re terribly sorry’. And I kept thinking to myself, ‘Where was the regulator in all of this? What were they doing?’.
As I said, this is something that has been of great interest to me for a number of years. When we released video testimony with Andrew Wilkie in a quite unusual collaboration between state and federal Independents, again calling for action, that was a whistleblower who said he had witnessed the abuse of women. He had been forced to courier drugs and to break customs regulations. And at that stage we said that there needed to be an inquiry into the regulator. No-one was able to say that Crown was free of corruption, and now certainly we are seeing this with damning inquiries interstate and here in Victoria, where we have seen QC Ray Finkelstein run a very in-depth and a very detailed commission. I think we will all look forward to his report, but a lot of it will be stating what we already know: that Crown really thumbed their noses at their regulator.
Crown was reviewed every five years, and I remember seeing the recommendations from the regulator—you know, ‘This must be improved’, ‘This must be improved’. Five years on nothing had changed. Things like designing little sticks to put into poker machines so you did not have to press the button—I mean, absolutely illegal actions. When the regulator raised it with the casino, the casino basically failed. They have failed.
Now, certainly Mr O’Donohue spoke about the lack of staffing and the reduction in staffing, and when we spoke to whistleblowers from the regulator, they spoke to this and they spoke to the fact that they were stretched very thinly. So I commend the government in recognising this and in moving and certainly in Ms Cope’s review of this. But I do not think this select committee will interrupt that, and in fact I think this committee will actually assist in getting a better regulator for casinos and gambling in Victoria.
It may also show the failings, not just as the opposition would say, of the Labor government, but I think it will show the failings of Liberal governments in the past as well—that they have failed in their responsibilities. We talked about this being the biggest and the best casino in the world, and this goes back to former Premier Kennett and also former Premier Kirner. I think what we have now seen is, no, it is not. It may be the biggest, but it certainly is not the best. That casino should have been learning, but our regulators should have been fiercer, should have done their jobs, and I do not believe that they have done their jobs adequately.
As I say, I do commend the government for recognising this, for making changes, but more needs to be done, and I think that an inquiry like this that has been placed here will assist with that, because, as I mentioned, successive governments have failed to adequately regulate Crown. We have seen now the sort of frantic purging of their board, of all of their senior management, and share prices taking a dive. Crown is really facing an existential moment at the moment, but where was the regulator in all of this? How did it get to this? This should have been picked up. We know problem gambling is the cause of so much misery in our community, and Crown should have adequately protected those people, and, from everything that we have heard during the Finkelstein review and during the Bergin review, that was not happening. So why wasn’t the regulator making sure that was happening?
I think the public needs to have confidence going forward. We want to have confidence that the largest employer in our state is operating ethically, morally and legally. I think we can get there, but I certainly believe that this select committee will help us do that. This will certainly be about reviewing some of what has gone past, but it will also look at how we go forward, how we develop a regulator that can have the faith of the community but also have the teeth to ensure that we do not have the same problems that we have seen, the same corruption that we have seen, happen again in our gambling facilities in Victoria. So I am hoping that this will provide an opportunity to reduce the chances of repeating those mistakes, and I commend the motion.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Mr O’Donohue’s motion