ClubsNSW is a well-resourced lobby group with a reputation for fighting hard when its back is against the wall. For months now, it has been engaged in a campaign designed to undermine the push for cashless poker machines in NSW by focusing on the policy and its potential impacts on jobs and revenue.
That’s fair enough; the organisation is more than entitled to participate in the debate. But there must also be a level of basic civility – a notion the now former ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis violated this week when he told the that Premier Dominic Perrottet was only pursuing change because of his “Catholic gut”. Landis was fired on Tuesday afternoon for the remark and rightly so.
The has previously warned that ClubsNSW must refrain from perpetuating mistruths, such as its claim that a cashless card would allow government bureaucrats to monitor individual spending habits or that the technology would treat every punter like a “criminal”.
The organisation should also avoid personal attacks, although the is stunned that the ClubsNSW campaign has descended to a place where this point should even need to be made.
Invoking Perrottet’s religious beliefs was cheap and offensive but also a serious strategic miscalculation. Until this week, ClubsNSW has only criticised the cashless cards policy in general terms and held its fire on targeting the premier. A direct attack on Perrottet was probably inevitable but the method chosen by Landis guaranteed his sacking by the board of ClubsNSW on Tuesday afternoon.
Perrottet told 2GB’s Ben Fordham the comments were offensive to people of faith across the state and if they had been made about any other religion, Landis would have had to resign before he “got to work this morning”.
“Those comments aren’t an attack on me, they are an attack on every single person of our faith in our state,” Perrottet said. “We live in a tolerant state, a tolerant country and there is no place for comments like that in modern Australia.”
The agrees. So does NSW Labor leader Chris Minns, who rightly said Landis’ position was untenable. “I frankly haven’t heard anything like this for decades inside our political system,” Minns told reporters.
Perrottet says he’s a big boy and criticism is part of public life. That is true but dragging people’s faith into an unrelated policy matter is beyond the pale.
Under pressure on Tuesday, Landis told 2GB’s Fordham via text message that he “misspoke”. This stretches credulity. If Landis did misspeak when he uttered the words “Catholic gut” to reporter Lucy Cormack, what form of words was he actually trying to say?
He told 2GB the comment “wasn’t premeditated”, seemingly an attempt to tackle the theory circulating within the NSW government that Perrottet’s Catholicism was invoked to coincide with a episode examining several ultra-conservative Sydney schools, one of which Perrottet went to as a student.
Later, in a written statement, Landis “unreservedly apologised”. That still wasn’t enough to stave off his sacking.
Key independent MP Alex Greenwich had earlier called for Landis to resign and noted that, while he has had his own disagreements with Perrottet over social policy, the premier takes a measured and evidence-based approach to reform and encourages robust debate. Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello said the comments about the premier’s Catholic faith “smell of desperation”.
Dominello also encouraged the ClubsNSW chairman George Peponis and board members Sallianne Faulkner, Paul Barnett, Christina Curry, Ron Coskerie and Rob Smith to reflect on whether Landis’s intervention aligns with the values of ClubsNSW.
But given ClubsNSW is fighting efforts to tackle problem gambling and money laundering, exactly what the organisation’s values are remains unclear. They certainly don’t align with the majority of NSW residents who recognise poker machines and the lobbyists who support them have strangled this state for too long.
ClubsNSW is rapidly losing skin in this debate. It can be a helpful participant and good social citizen or it can continue its destructive and divisive tactics. The board must consider which path it chooses to travel.
It has made a good start by terminating Landis’ employment. The next step is to reconsider its pigheaded opposition to meaningful reform.
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