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Conroy draws fire for RWA role

Sat, Apr 22, 8:15am by Staff Writer

Only two days after giving his first in-depth interview as executive director of Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA), a lobby group representing corporate bookmakers, former Labor minister Stephen Conroy is under fire from fellow politicians.

On April 18, a lengthy interview of Conroy was published by The Austalian, in which the Australian Labor Party (ALP) power player detailed his new role as chief of the RWA, which represents corporate-owned online sportsbooks Crownbet, Betfair, Bet365, Sportsbet and Unibet.

On April 20, former Prime Minister and fellow ALP member Kevin Rudd gave Fairfax Media an exclusive interview, blasting Conroy for working as a lobbyist for the RWA while still serving on the ALP’s national executive:

Rudd criticised Conroy – who resigned a Senate seat held for 20 years last September, only months after winning another six-year term – for maintaining his presence on the politically powerful ALP national executive body:

“It would be unethical and unacceptable if Conroy was effectively working as a lobbyist for the gambling industry, while holding a position on the National Executive of the Labor party.”

“If this is the case, it would also be a conflict of interest.”

“This would also amount to the absolute abuse of the factional system of which Conroy is a major leader and its principal exponent.”

As noted by Victoria’s The Age, both Conroy and the RWA are registered as lobbyists with the state government, but are not listed on the federal lobbyist registry because the group is classified as an “industry body” rather than a third-party.

Federal law stipulates that any person sitting on the national executive of a political party is barred from engaging in lobbying work.

Victorian law, on the other hand, requires former ministers like Conroy to register their lobbying activities with the local government, a step the RWA head insists he followed:

“I fully comply with the Lobbying Code of Conduct, which was an initiative of Kevin Rudd’s government. I fully comply with the ALP national rules.”

Conroy previously served as Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy between 2007 and 2013 – the ministry tasked with overseeing online gambling initiatives.

Speaking to The Australian, Conroy mentioned that ministerial work while explaining the RWA’s proposal to introduce industry-mandated limitations on sports betting advertising across Australia:

“When I was the minister I was confronted by a massive community backlash against advertising, specifically live odds advertising in the middle of the commentary of the NRL.”

“I stepped in about five years ago and banned spruiking live odds during sporting contests.”

“Today, that same level of angst has been building about the level of advertising and that is why our RWA members are at the forefront of saying they want the government to step in and ensure there is less advertising.”

The RWA was founded late last year after the dissolution of the Australian Wagering Council (AWC), a similar lobby group which represented U.K.-based bookmakers Ladbrokes and William Hill, in addition to the current RWA roster.

The group has crossed paths with domestic gambling titan Tabcorp since entering the lobbying arena.

Conroy told The Australian that the RWA is focused on addressing sports betting industry needs – something he says Tabcorp should prioritise as well, given the company’s recent high-profile fine for anti-money laundering violations:

“It is extraordinary that a company with the stature and history of Tabcorp can receive a fine like that for serious breaches of Australian laws.”

“They should focus on complying with our anti-money laundering laws rather than throwing mud at RWA’s members.”

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