Michelle Rowland faces calls to resign for accepting gaming company donations before election

<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Crossbenchers have called on the communications minister, Michelle Rowland, to resign or be sacked following revelations she accepted donations from a gaming company before the May election.

The Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie declared in federal parliament on Thursday that Rowland – who has policy responsibility for interactive gaming – was “completely and utterly conflicted” as a consequence of the donations and had made “a grievous error of judgment” that disqualified her from sitting on the front bench.

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Wilkie’s motion followed a report in Nine newspapers that Sportsbet paid for a campaign dinner and made a second donation to Rowland’s campaign in the lead-up to the federal election. Labor did not disclose the donations because they were below the reporting threshold.

Rowland told parliament all donations were “compliant with the disclosure requirements of the Australian Electoral Commission, the register of members’ interests and the ministerial code of conduct”.

The communications minister said the government’s record on harm minimisation was “strong” and she was committed to reducing harms from online gambling.

“We’re committed to reducing harms from online gambling and we’re implementing a national self-exclusion register,” Rowland said.

Wilkie, a long-time campaigner for gambling reform, noted Rowland had received gifts and donations from the online gambling industry “while minister and previously when Labor spokesperson on online gambling”.

He declared Rowland needed to explain “why she thinks her behaviour is acceptable” and why she shouldn’t resign as minister.

But Rowland’s colleagues swung in behind the minister. The manager of government business, Tony Burke, said the disclosure requirements had been met.

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“We have no argument from anyone that a syllable of the code has been breached, and we have no argument from anyone that there has been a moment in time when the minister for communications has made life easier for the gaming companies,” Burke said.

“How on earth do we get to the point where we’ve got a resolution like this before the parliament?”

But the independent member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, said the problem was conflict of interest, “whether it’s perceived or whether it’s real”.

“How can it be acceptable for the minister who is responsible for online gambling to be responsible on one hand – and yes, I’m sure the minister has, in her plans, duties to strengthen anti-gambling measures – and then, on the other hand, accept tickets and hospitality on multiple occasions, including twice during this already short term of parliament?”