Key Tasmanian MP silent on Federal Group election campaign support

Madeleine Ogilvie declined to comment on the company hosting a poster during her 2019 bid for a Legislative Council seat
 March 22, 2020
Published:  March 22, 2020
Madeleine Ogilvie at a candidates forum in the campaign for the Legislative Council seat of Nelson, May 2019. Image: Bob Burton

Madeleine Ogilvie, a former Labor MP turned independent, is facing calls to explain whether she has changed her position on poker machines after Federal Group displayed her campaign poster on its property in her most recent election campaign.

Roland Browne, a director of Tasmanian Election Inquiry, a group pushing for greater political donations transparency, said all parties and members of parliament should  disclose all sources of funds received from or associated with the gaming and hospitality industry since 1 July 2017 before parliament deals with poker machine legislation.

“If Ms Ogilvie, or any Tasmanian politician, has received financial or other help from Federal Hotels, they need to tell us before they vote. It’s no use telling us after the vote,” Browne said.

Ogilvie was a strong supporter of removing poker machines from pubs and clubs well before it became official Labor Party policy. In response to a survey ahead of the March 2014 election by a Christian lobby group, Family Voice Australia, Ogilvie stated “yes, definitely” in response to a question on whether she would support a bill to phase out poker machines from hotels and clubs over the following decade.

Ahead of the 2018 state election, Ogilvie broke ranks with the Labor Party, telling the annual conference of the Local Government Association of Tasmania that she “would personally prefer it if they [poker machines] weren't in the suburbs”.

However, Ogilvie lost her seat in the House of Assembly at the March 2018 state election, subsequently resigned from the Labor Party and ran as an independent for the May 2019 election for the Legislative Council seat of Nelson.

During her Nelson campaign, Pat Caplice, the spokesperson for Rein in the Pokies, was surprised to see an Ogilvie campaign poster displayed on Federal Group property on Sandy Bay Road.

Caplice, who credits Ogilvie with being an early mover on poker machines policy within the Labor party, said he asked her about the poster at a public meeting organised by the Hobart City Council in April 2019. “She told me she had been offered the site by a member of the Farrell family, a friend of hers, and that it in no way altered her view on pokies,” he said. “She agreed to remove the signs after our conversation and did later that night.”

Federal Group, a private company owned by the Farrell family, has a monopoly on poker machine licences in Tasmania and owns two casinos, tourism accommodation and a statewide chain of hotels and bottleshops.

“They weren’t going to put [my campaign poster] up if I didn’t support pokies.” – Blair Brownless

Ogilvie ran fourth in her bid for the seat of Nelson, but re-entered parliament in August 2019 on a countback for the House of Assembly seat vacated by Scott Bacon.

The numbers in the House of Assembly are now delicately balanced, with Speaker Sue Hickey occasionally voting against bills supported by the Liberal Government. It means  Ogilvie may have a decisive vote on legislation affecting the Federal Group’s poker machine empire.

Ogilvie has yet to state her position on the planned pokies legislation, which the Gutwein Government has indicated is likely to be introduced to parliament by May. She declined to be interviewed.

However, in an opinion column published in The Mercury in mid-December 2019, Ogilvie claimed Labor’s 2018 platform on restricting poker machines to the casinos was “overly ambitious” and argued “it is clearly time for a rethink”.

Federal Group sought assurances before offering Brownless a poster site

Blair Brownless poster on Federal Hotels property May 2019. Photo: Bob Burton

Ogilvie was not the only political aspirant in Nelson who had a campaign sign gracing Federal Group property.

Blair Brownless, an independent candidate who ultimately ran sixth, asked if he could erect a poster on a Federal Hotels’ property for the duration of the campaign. “I asked them as it is a high-profile site and I was looking for good sites,” Brownless told Tasmanian Inquirer in 2019.

However, the Federal Group representative wanted assurances. “They weren’t going to put it up if I didn’t support pokies,” Brownless said.

“I was supporting a balanced position on pokies in the casino and there was only one other location in the electorate which has pokies and that is a club in Kingston,” he said.

Under the Tasmanian Electoral Act there is no requirement for candidates to disclose any donations or in-kind support. But the legislation requires all candidates to file a detailed breakdown of campaign expenditure.

While Brownless was not required to disclose donors, he said “there was no pokies money in my campaign” only the “in-kind poster site.”

However, it remains unclear whether the Federal Group sought or obtained any assurances from Ogilvie before hosting one of her campaign posters.

A Federal Group spokesperson, Hannah Martin, said “at this stage, Federal Group will not be providing comment” to a request for clarification on the Ogilvie and Brownless campaign posters.

Ogilvie, who states on her website that one of the “issues for all of us” is “open government”, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Ogilvie spent $16,743 on her unsuccessful campaign for Nelson but no details of the origin of the funds have been disclosed.

At a March 2019 candidates forum for Nelson, Caplice asked, as one part of a two-part question, whether they had accepted funding or in-kind support from Federal Hotels, the Tasmanian Hotels Association or other poker machine operators or their associates.

Ogilvie did not respond to the first part of the question and focussed solely on her approach to poker machine regulation. Tasmanian Inquirer also sought clarification from Ogilvie on whether Federal Group or any other group with poker machine interests provided financial or in-kind support to her campaign. She did not answer.

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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