The drinking and dining habits of politicians have always been under scrutiny. When politicians meet with donors and lobbyists in expensive restaurants, it often raises eyebrows.
That’s precisely what happened when the Australian Financial Review reported that Communications Minister Michelle Rowland attended a lunch at Society, an exclusive Melbourne eatery known for its high-end menu and 10,000-bottle wine cellar. The event was unrecorded in Ms. Rowland’s parliamentary register of interests, a clear violation of the official parliamentary website’s guidelines.
During the lunch, Ms. Rowland discussed measures taken to reduce problem gambling in Australia, including a self-exclusion register and legislation to ban credit cards for online gambling. However, the lunch raised serious concerns among critics about whether political parties were using access to powerful individuals to raise money for elections and whether these activities were being disclosed adequately.
According to Geoffrey Watson, SC, who led prosecutions for NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, the government of the day has been able to fundraise off the back of controlling power for far too long, and it is sickening. Meanwhile, a source who attended the lunch stated that gambling industry executives were disappointed by what Ms. Rowland said.
Adding to the controversy were Ms. Rowland’s past engagements with gambling companies, including gifts of race tickets from Tabcorp and dinners from Star Casino. Australians lose an estimated $25 billion a year on legal gambling, which has prompted a parliamentary inquiry to recommend banning online gambling ads across all media within three years.
Both Sportsbet and Tabcorp made substantial political contributions ahead of last year’s federal election, further fueling concerns about the influence of the gambling industry on politicians.
The controversy surrounding Ms. Rowland’s undisclosed lunch at Society and other interactions with gambling companies underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the political sphere. As government officials continue to engage with powerful industries, there is a growing demand for greater oversight and disclosure to ensure public trust in the political process. The minister may assert that she did not break any rules, but it is clear that the Australian public has higher expectations of their elected officials.