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ClubsNSW boss sacked after ‘offensive’ religious comments

Premier Dominic Perrottet says allegations made in the upper house inquiry are being investigated.

Premier Dominic Perrottet says allegations made in the upper house inquiry are being investigated. Photo: AAP

The boss of the powerful NSW clubs industry body has been sacked despite apologising for bringing religion into an escalating debate over cashless pokies.

As the NSW government and the state’s club industry face off over a mandatory cashless gaming card ahead of the March election, ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis said on Tuesday that Premier Dominic Perrottet had “acted from his conservative Catholic gut” on the issue.

The remark drew a visceral response from Mr Perrottet, a call from Opposition Leader Chris Minns to resign and an emergency meeting of the ClubsNSW board.

“After careful consideration, the Board has made the decision to end Mr Landis’ employment with ClubsNSW with immediate effect,” the board said on Tuesday.

“The board acknowledges Josh Landis’ exemplary service to the industry over more than 15 years through some very difficult times. We genuinely wish him all the best on his future endeavours.”

Mr Landis had commented on Mr Perrottet’s commitment to mandate cashless gaming for poker machines, saying it was causing “hyper-anxiety” across the industry.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Premier has very little understanding of this issue and has acted from his conservative Catholic gut, rather than based on evidence,” Mr Landis said in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.

Mr Perrottet said the remark was “incredibly inappropriate and offensive to people of faith” across the state.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with my faith and the CEO of ClubsNSW should reflect on that and realise that it’s not about faith and when he makes comments like that… it’s an attack on every single person’s faith in this country,” he said.

“We live in a tolerant state, a tolerant country, and there is no place for comments like that in a modern Australia.”

Making the same comment about Islamic, Jewish or Hindu faiths would result in a resignation, Mr Perrottet said earlier on Sydney radio 2GB.

By lunchtime, Mr Landis had withdrawn the comments and privately apologised to Mr Perrottet.

“I would like to take this opportunity to unreservedly apologise publicly for any offence caused,” he said in a public statement.

He said he was responding to a question about Mr Perrottet being “so insistent” on introducing a mandatory cashless system and other gaming reforms.

The comment wasn’t premeditated or an intentional personal attack, he said.

“Rather it was a poor attempt to explain that there is a lack of evidence for the policy and the premier is a moral person who intrinsically wants to help those who are causing themselves harm.”

Before the apology, kingmaker independent MP Alex Greenwich, who has been critical of ClubsNSW, said Mr Landis’s position as chief executive was “beyond untenable and it was time for him to go”.

“I’ve had my policy disputes with the Premier on social reforms, but I would never attack him because of his faith. He takes a measured and evidence-based approach to reform and encourages robust debate,” he said.

Multicultural Minister Mark Coure dubbed the comment “a childish attempt to direct attention away from a major social issue in NSW”.

Later, Mr Minns called for Mr Landis to resign.

“We just can’t have a situation in NSW politics where … people’s ultimate motives are questioned on the basis of their religion when there is absolutely no evidence of it,” he told 2GB.

Problem gambling has become a hot-button issue ahead of the March 25 state election. Political parties are under pressure to introduce cashless gaming after a NSW Crime Commission report found billions of dollars in dirty money was being laundered through machines every year.

ClubsNSW released a code of conduct on Monday offering a swathe of reforms to the industry, including a ban on suspected criminals, in a bid to avert the introduction of mandatory cashless gaming cards.

But Mr Perrottet remains committed to introducing the cards, saying details of the government’s proposal will be released “soon”.

Labor says it will cut the number of poker machines and introduce a cashless gaming trial on 500 of the state’s 90,000 machines.

-with AAP

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