CANBERRA -- Pressure is mounting for a federal parliamentary inquiry into pokie tampering and money laundering allegations levelled at Crown Casino in Melbourne -- claims which have been roundly rejected by Crown management.
But it is likely to fail to get up as the Turnbull Government and Labor have indicated casinos and venue-based poker machines are purely a state matter, with Labor leader Bill Shorten telling reporters on Thursday, "the Senate is not a police force" not a "state house of parliament".
A vote on a possible senate inquiry was due to be taken on Thursday, but facing defeat, it has been postponed until the next parliamentary sitting day.
Crossbench senators Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie, along with Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, have joined Independent MP Andrew Wilkie in calling for an inquiry after the lower house MP tabled explosive video evidence in parliament on Wednesday showing anonymous whistleblowers accusing Crown of tampering with poker machines to increase gambling losses.
Other claims, which are untested and were made using parliamentary privilege, relate to money laundering, ignoring drug use and covering up domestic violence.
In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange late on Wednesday, Crown strongly denied the allegations and called on Wilkie to produce evidence.
The Victorian gambling regulator, the Victorian for Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, which was also accused of being complicit in Crown's alleged behaviour, is now embarking on a "thorough investigation" at the state level, but Xenophon, a long time anti-gambling campaigner, wants more, particularly a Senate inquiry.
He has described the allegations as "extraordinary" and said it must have taken a "lot of guts" for the whistleblowers to come forward.
"It is not a matter of trust, it is a matter of proper process," he told the ABC. "When the whistleblowers did raise it with the regulator, it has been put to me, and they didn't adequately investigate the allegations then there ought to be someone else investigating the whole circumstances of these very serious allegations."
But the Communications Minister said the right forum for any investigation into pokie practices is at the state level.
"These are matters that fall squarely within jurisdiction of the states," Mitch Fifield told RN Breakfast.
The federal financial intelligence agency Austrac has also begun investigating the money laundering allegations, but Fifield said that should be enough.
"The federal parliament can't assume responsibilities that is does not possess," he said. "If there are matters beyond the responsibilities of the regulators in Victoria that need to be examined then they are matter for the Victorian government."
Crown Resorts fires back at Andrew Wilkie and whistleblower claims of pokie tampering and corruption https://t.co/BMF4xo2vcq— HuffPost Australia (@HuffPostAU) October 18, 2017
It is not looking good for an inquiry as the opposition leader agrees.
"Gambling casino legislation is regulated by the state," Shorten told reporters in Canberra. "The Senate is not a police force. The Senate is not a state house of parliament."
"We said straightaway when we heard these allegations, very serious, deserve full and unequivocal investigation, but you don't send the Senate to do a job that the police have got to do or that the state regulator's got to do."
While the Australian parliament has held inquiries on gambling in the past, the minister said now is not one of those times.
"Really you want to make sure that the focus is through the avenues that can be most fruitful and the avenues that can be most fruitful are within the jurisdiction that actually has direct responsibility," he said.
The whistleblowers claim the highest level of Crown management was aware of the alleged practices at the James Packer part-owned facility and also accused the regulator of turning a blind eye to what was going on.