Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he is prepared to rip up Crown Resorts’ licence to run its Melbourne casino if a newly announced royal commission recommends it.
The state government announced the inquiry into the gaming giant’s suitability to operate its Southbank casino in the wake of a scathing New South Wales report handed down earlier this month.
The Bergin inquiry found Crown Resorts was not suitable to hold a licence for its Barangaroo casino in Sydney, after hearing months of damning evidence about its operations in Melbourne and Perth.
Former federal court judge and senior barrister Raymond Finkelstein QC has been appointed commissioner to lead the Victorian inquiry, and must report back by August 1 this year.
When asked if he was prepared to end the licence, Mr Andrews said: “Yes.”
“This is a royal commission to determine whether they’re fit to hold that licence. So if you’re having that process, you have to be clear that you’ll implement the findings,” he said.
In making the announcement on Monday, Gaming Minister Melissa Horne would not be drawn on whether the government would implement all of the recommendations from the royal commission.
But Mr Andrews today said “that would certainly be my aim, and that is our form”.
The NSW report followed allegations of criminal activity within Crown’s Melbourne casino which were reported by the ABC’s Four Corners as early as 2014, and by Nine investigations five years later.
During the hearings, the company admitted money laundering had likely occurred through some of its VIP accounts.
Crown is Victoria’s largest single-site private sector employer, with more than 15,000 people working at the casino.
The state government has faced criticism over its regulation of the casino, with increased scrutiny on the role of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR).
But the head of the Victorian Department of Justice has defended the state’s gambling commission, saying “VCGLR are doing their best in very difficult circumstances”.
Secretary Rebecca Falkingham today told the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee the issues at Crown were not raised with her.
She also said the government had ordered a performance review of the gambling watchdog.
“We are keen to make sure we understand the issues within the VCGLR and make sure it’s the most modern regulatory agency for the future, in regards to what further can be done,” she said.
Shadow Gaming Minister Steph Ryan said she believed the “government’s hand has been forced” to announce the royal commission.
“I think Daniel Andrews did not want this inquiry,” Ms Ryan said.
“I think the Victorian government did everything it could to sweep these findings under the rug. But ultimately they’ve had a realisation that this is not going away and the findings cannot be ignored.”
Mr Andrews defended the time it took for his government to act, pointing to a December announcement that a special commissioner would be appointed as a five-year review of the licence was brought forward to 2021.
When the former Napthine government extended Crown’s licence, it included a clause that required the state to pay more than $200 million if there were alterations to the licence by a future government.
Mr Andrews said the royal commission was announced after “extensive legal advice” about the compensation clause, and would “protect the taxpayer”.
“You’re not going to get me standing here and apologising for having put the highest and most formal legal process in place to determine whether that business should have that licence,” he said.
The Victorian Greens have called for the state to suspend Crown’s licence immediately, for at least the duration of the royal commission.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said he was concerned the “very, very brief” period of time for the royal commission to work was not enough time to get to the bottom of the issues at the casino.
“It shouldn’t be constrained by time, it should be constrained by whatever it takes to get to the truth,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
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