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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Crown ‘not suitable’ for Melbourne licence

Crown is not suitable to hold a licence for its Melbourne casino, a royal commission has been told. 

Counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio SC on Tuesday said the inquiry into whether Crown can retain a licence for its Melbourne operations had revealed illegal conduct motivated by a culture that placed profit above all else. 

“After all of the evidence presented in these hearings, it remains clear that Crown Melbourne is not presently suitable to hold the casino licence,” Mr Finanzio told the inquiry in his closing submissions. 

“This is not a case of isolated or trifling indiscretions or breaches, capable of easy and quick rectification … no amount of restructuring can restore confidence in it as a proper person to hold a licence.

“The evidence reveals serious misconduct, illegal conduct and highly inappropriate conduct which has been encouraged or facilitated by a culture which has consistently put profit ahead before all other considerations.”

Mr Finanzio also called for the heads of Crown chair Helen Coonan and Crown Melbourne chief Xavier Walsh. 

He said while Ms Coonan, a former Howard government minister, should be commended for her “willingness to stay the course”, she was tied up in the “past failings” of Crown. 

Ms Coonan, who became Crown boss in February 2020 after joining as a director in 2011, wrote a letter with her lawyers at Arnold Bloch Leibler on July 2 requesting an “urgent meeting” with gaming minister Melissa Horne while also stating it is “not in the public interest for Crown to fail”. 

“She is not suitable to be leading the cultural reform that Crown needs at this time,” Mr Finanzio said. 

Mr Walsh, the inquiry heard previously, knew Crown Melbourne underpaid millions in gaming taxes to the Victorian government for three years but did nothing about it until the day after the royal commission was announced. 

“The evidence in these hearings has brought into serious question the judgement and integrity of Mr Walsh,” Mr Finanzio said. 

“He, along with Ms Coonan, cannot be the credible face of the change required at Crown. Their mutual failings underscore the culture still at play at Crown.”

The inquiry, overseen by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein QC, continues with closing submissions from Crown on August 3. 

Crown, Mr Finanzio said, has agreed to pay back $50 million in gaming taxes. The royal commission was earlier told the total sum of unpaid taxes could be as high as $272 million. 

Commissioner Finkelstein will make his recommendation on Crown’s Melbourne licence by October 15. 

“Wherever I look I see not just bad conduct but illegal conduct, improper conduct, unacceptable conduct, and it permeates the whole organisation,” he said previously. 

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday said he was “very confident” Commissioner Finkelstein would “do the job well” in his final report. 

“We’ll make findings and we’ll not hesitate to act on that,” Mr Andrews told reporters.  

“It is clear what has gone on there shouldn’t have gone on – otherwise I wouldn’t have called the royal commission.”

The Victorian premier has stated his willingness to rip up Crown’s Melbourne casino licence if recommended to do so. 


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