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Choosing the Wrong Flag to Fight Under

December 14, 2011

I was appalled when I first saw the founder of Youth Off The Streets Father Chris Riley as the face of Clubs Australia advertising campaign against gambling reform.

It wasn’t that I was appalled from a political perspective (I’m not going to reveal my position on pokies reform) – I was appalled by Father Chris Riley’s strategy to connect his charitable organisation in such a public way with a lobby group on what is a highly-divisive issue.

Of course, Father Riley has every right to express his opinion:

“I think the most important thing for me is the randomness of policies which frustrates me, that one man gets in and a minority government has the incredible power to make such a big decision against pubs and clubs and I just don’t think that’s fair.

I also believe that legislation never deals with human problems. We need certainly education, we need counselling, we need programs out there in the field so that people can access them and at the moment there’s not enough of those.”

(Taken from an interview with ABC Radio’s The World Today: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3385372.htm).

However, if I was advising him, I would have urged Father Riley to express this opinion under the Youth Off The Streets banner, not under Clubs Australia’s brand. The temptation must have been enormous. According to the SMH, “2.1 million brochures … flooded into the mailboxes of voters in 46 electorates”. That sort of opportunity to get his opinion out there, and promote Youth Off The Streets at the same time, must have been very hard to resist.

It’s not even the issue of the links between Youth Off The Streets, Clubs Australia and poker machine manufacturer Aristocrat Leisure that would have concerned me. At a fundamental level, the problem is that the two organisations – Clubs Australia and Youth Off The Streets – have completely different agendas, and I believe the end result has been damaging to the reputation and public image of both organisations.

In its opposition to proposed poker machine reforms, Clubs Australia has joined with the Australian Hotels Association, the Australasian Casino Association and the Gaming Technologies Association, as part of the Won’t Work Will Hurt campaign which is primarily motivated to protect the significant revenue streams that members of each of these industry bodies currently enjoy from poker machines.

On the other hand, Youth Off The Streets is a non-denominational community organisation working for young people who are disadvantaged, homeless, drug dependent and or recovering from abuse.

It made no sense at all for Father Riley to join the poker machine gambling debate as part of the Clubs Australia and the broader Won’t Work Will Hurt campaign. The main perception people will have is that he is motivated by the same reasons as the Won’t Work Will Hurt members – to protect his charity’s revenues, with reports that Youth Off The Streets “received $3.5 million in funding over a decade up to 2009 from hundreds of clubs in NSW and $850,000 alone from ClubsNSW“.

Instead, if he had expressed his opinion purely as a representative of Youth Off The Streets, while there may have still been questions about the charity’s connections with the gambling industry, it would have given him far greater opportunity to shape the debate towards his organisation’s primary mission and goal to support young people in difficulty.

(Pictured: “Pokies”, Denni Schnapp, available under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence.)

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