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Sportsbet donation scandal sparks ‘please explain’

Michelle Rowland made "all the appropriate declarations", the deputy prime minister said.

Michelle Rowland made "all the appropriate declarations", the deputy prime minister said. Photo: AAP

Albanese government minister Michelle Rowland has been issued a “please explain” and challenged to take a leadership role on donation reforms after accepting money from an online gambling company.

Sportsbet paid almost $9000 for a place at dinner held to support Ms Rowland’s election campaign.

The bookmaker chipped in another $10,000 days out from the 2022 federal election.

Ms Rowland holds a key role in gambling policy as the minister who oversees the Interactive Gambling Act and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Her office is also in talks with the industry about a national self-exclusion register, which would allow problem gamblers to block themselves from betting sites.

On Friday, Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham called on Ms Rowland to explain the donations.

“Following the rules is first and foremost what matters. But obviously, questions have been asked and she should be open and up front in terms of addressing those questions,” he said.

“I’m not seeking to prejudge anything but nor should she avoid scrutiny or avoid questions up front … if everything’s been done by the book, then all well and good.”

While the betting giant disclosed the $10,000 donation to the Australian Electoral Commission, Labor’s NSW branch was not required to declare the payments because they were under the $14,500 mandatory disclosure threshold.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said Ms Rowland had complied with the rules.

“She has made all the appropriate declarations in accordance with her obligations,” he said in Canberra on Friday.

“We are very focused on the issue of problem gambling and the minister is leading the government’s efforts in respect of that in relation to online gambling.”

In Parliament on Thursday, independent MP Andrew Wilkie – with the support of others on the cross bench – attempted to move a motion that would require the minister to explain herself, saying she was “completely and utterly conflicted”.

“She has poor judgment, has conflicts of interest and should not spend a moment longer as the minister,” he said.

“The Prime Minister should act to dismiss the Minister from her portfolio if she doesn’t have the good sense, and quite frankly the honour, to come in here and resign herself.”

The government rejected the motion and Leader of the House Burke defended Ms Rowland as being of “extraordinary ability and impeccable integrity”.

“There is no argument that … the Minister for Communications has made life easier for gambling companies,” he said.

“The only actions the Minister has taken are the opposite to what those donors would have wanted.”

Earlier in Question Time, independent MP Zoe Daniel asked Ms Rowland to confirm the reports and explain how they were not a conflict of interest.

“An inquiry is underway into online gambling. Do these donations pass the pub test?” she later tweeted.

Zoe Daniel in Parliament on Thursday

Source: Twitter/Zoe Daniel

Ms Rowland, who did not directly address the claims, said every member of parliament had to comply with the rules of disclosure.

“I have and will continue to comply with the disclosure requirements of the AEC, the register of members’ interests and the ministerial code of conduct,” she said.

Greens senator Larissa Waters said Ms Rowland had broken now rules – but that showed up the weaknesses in Australia’s donation rules.

“It is clearly untenable for the Minister to remain as gambling regulator when she has such a cosy relationship with betting agencies,” she said.

“These donations are an insult to voters and gambling reform advocates across Australia.”

On Friday, Anthony Whealy from the Centre for Public Integrity agreed the revelations showed the need for changes to donation laws.

“She was not a minister at the time these donations were made, so I find it difficult to see that she has been in breach of ministerial code of conduct,” he said.

“What has to happen is that we have to reform the donation system, and I would like to see her become an advocate for that reform.”

-with AAP

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