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Hotels group spends big in last Victorian election

Wed, Mar 27, 12:36pm by Staff Writer

Victoria’s pokies-owning pubs poured their biggest ever political donation into the Daniel Andrews-led ALP as part of a $1 million campaign to deny the Greens the balance of power at the state election last November.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the Australian Hotels Association imposed a special one-off levy on pub poker machines to help bankroll donations of at least $500,000 to Labor and about $300,000 to the Coalition parties.

It also funded independent who preferenced with major parties.

The gaming industry feared the Greens winning the balance of power in Victoria due to their strong anti-pokies policies, including the phasing out of poker machines from pubs and clubs and introducing $1 maximum bets.

The community clubs sector also contributed to Labor’s dominant election victory and the routing of the Greens with its first ever state election campaign aimed at ‘mobilising’ the 600,000 members of its gaming clubs and encouraging them to vote for the major parties.

Pubs and clubs were alarmed when opinion polls last year pointed to a close election result, with one pub industry insider describing it a hung parliament as a ‘crisis’.

“Our clubs were under threat,” Community Clubs Victoria president Leon Wiegard told The Age.

“We didn’t want the Greens to have the balance of power with their draconian ideology.”

The Australian Hotels Association is the major lobby for pubs, hospitality and gaming, with members including Woolworths’ majority-owned ALH group and Australia’s biggest poker machine venue operator Crown Resorts.

The association has spent millions of dollars across Australia in the past two decades, but appears to have made its biggest ever political donations in Victoria last year.

The ALP, the Coalition parties and the AHA all refused to detail their election year donations.

Industry and party sources say the AHA contributed at least $500,000 and possibly much more to Labor.

That would be one of the largest corporate donations ever received by the Victorian ALP and a three-fold increase on the $171,000 the AHA gave Labor ahead of the 2014 election.

Independent candidates preferencing the major parties ahead of the Greens also won AHA backing including in Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s marginal seat of Richmond.

Liberal party member Kevin Quoc Tran ran in the election as a Liberal-aligned independent after his own party decided against running a candidate. He preferenced Mr Wynne ahead of the Greens.

Mr Tran said the AHA helped bankroll his campaign, funding some of his printing and a mailout to voter, but he would not disclose the amount.

The Age can confirm the AHA contributed at least $10,000 to the Tran campaign to boost preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens.

Greens unperturbed by donations

Greens lead Samantha Ratnam said the anti-Greens campaign showed the industry was panicking about the growing community opposition to pokies.

She said the Greens would not modify their policy despite the gaming industry’s money being directed against it.

“We’ll continue to pursue what is best for the community and not be influenced by big corporations that try to throw their weight around and influence election outcomes,” she said.

AHA Victoria’s chief executive Paddy O’Sullivan said the AHA worked closely with “both sides of the political divide” and with those who showed a “willingness to consult.”

“We are enjoying a relatively smooth period at the moment,” he said of the Andrews government.

“We are looking forward to enjoying a bit of stability and added certainty,” he said.

Anti-gambling campaigner Reverend Tim Costello of the Alliance for Gambling Reform said inaction on problem gambling was “the major missing piece” in the government’s “proudly progressive” policy record.

“it certainly looks like generous industry donations to Labor have been a factor in the Premier’s curiously hands-off approach to tackling this vital social issue,” he said.

In the 2018 financial year, Victorian pokies losses reached $2.7 billion, the highest in nearly a decade.

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