Coalition, Labor lashed for opposing Crown inquiry

Generic Crown Casino Signage in Melbourne. 18th October 2017. Photo by Jason South
Generic Crown Casino Signage in Melbourne. 18th October 2017. Photo by Jason South
Generic Crown Casino Signage in Melbourne. 18th October 2017. Photo by Jason South

Generic Crown Casino Signage in Melbourne. 18th October 2017. Photo by Jason South

Crossbench MPs have lashed out at the government and opposition for rejecting a parliamentary probe into explosive allegations against Melbourne's Crown Casino, accusing Australia's major parties of being unduly influenced by the powerful gambling and poker machine industry.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and crossbench senator Nick Xenophon called for a federal inquiry after releasing the accusations that Crown illegally tampered with poker machines, undermined federal government efforts to track money laundering, and ignored domestic violence.

The move was backed by the Greens and fellow crossbencher Jacqui Lambie but the Coalition and Labor quickly joined forces to oppose it, arguing that state authorities were responsible for gambling and casino oversight.

In the 30-minute video interview presented to Parliament on Wednesday, three unidentified whistleblowers - said to be former Crown employees - also accused the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation of being "complicit" in covering up alleged misconduct, a claim the regulator promised to investigate.

Pushing for the Senate inquiry, crossbench MPs said the claims brought into question the conduct of the Victorian authorities and touch on Commonwealth law.

Mr Wilkie and Senator Xenophon argued both state and federal probes were needed and a Senate inquiry would allow whistleblower evidence to be submitted under parliamentary privilege, which grants strong legal protections.

But Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield, the manager of government business in the Senate, said the matters "fall squarely within the jurisdiction of the states" and should be dealt with by Victorian authorities.

"In relation to the allegations that Mr Wilkie has made, the Justice Minister Michael Keenan has already made clear that AUSTRAC, our financial intelligence agency, will, as it always does, investigate claims of wrongdoing," he told ABC radio.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also said Victorian authorities were best placed to investigate the "serious allegations".

"Gambling and casino legislation is regulated by the state. The Senate is not a police force and the Senate is not a state house of Parliament. We said straight away when we heard these allegations, very serious, deserve formal and unequivocal investigation," he said.

Mr Shorten rejected any suggestion Labor and the Coalition might go soft on Crown because of the company's power and political connections, labelling the claim "ridiculous".

But Mr Wilkie savaged Labor's position as "scandalous" and suggested Mr Shorten was compromised.

"Was it the casinos, was it the clubs, was it the factional warlords, or did no one ring him and he just turned into jelly on his own?" Mr Wilkie said in a press conference, flanked by Senator Xenophon.

"And the fact that the Labor Party and the Liberal Party are both sidestepping the issue shows that they continue to grovel to the poker machine industry."

Critics observe that gambling, casino and club interests wield significant power in Australian politics, donating large amounts to the major parties and maintaining close links to Canberra.

Crown Resorts' head of corporate affairs is Karl Bitar, former national secretary of the Labor Party. Mark Arbib, the former NSW Labor powerbroker and Gillard government minister, is an executive at James Packer's Consolidated Press Holdings, which owns just under half of Crown.

Former Howard government minister Helen Coonan is a non-executive director at Crown and, Peta Credlin, chief-of-staff to former prime minister Tony Abbott, sits on the board of directors of the Melbourne casino.

Over the past decade, the company has donated more than $1 million to Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals.

On Thursday, Senator Xenophon said the donations indicated Crown was "very powerful". He has long campaigned for tighter restrictions on the influence of money in politics.

Crown has rejected the claims made this week, submitted by Mr Wilkie under parliamentary privilege.

"Crown calls on Mr Wilkie to immediately provide to the relevant authorities all information relating to the matters alleged," the company said in a statement to the ASX.

This story Coalition, Labor lashed for opposing Crown inquiry first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.