Thursday, 29 November 2012
National Gambling Reform Bill 2012, National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 1) 2012, National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 2) 2012; Second Reading
As a former shadow minister for gaming in a state parliament, I am the first to recognise this area of policy as arguably the most difficult to achieve reform in. It is an area of policy which is shrouded in the influence and power of vested interests. So the very fact we have the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and related bills in this chamber, let alone that this legislation is likely to be passed, is an enormous credit to the ability of many people to negotiate and compromise in the public interest.
When I was in the state parliament of New South Wales, it was well known that the pubs and clubs ran the politics. That is not just true of recent years; that has been true throughout the long history of New South Wales. It is not just that they can tap into the mythology of the Australian character—everyone loves a punt—and play to the audience when reform is being attempted; there are some very real issues with state budgets. Roughly 10 per cent of the revenue base comes from poker machines. In that context, reform is incredibly difficult—you have to get government itself off the teat of these machines and you have to do so at a time when state governments are incredibly challenged with respect to their revenue base.
All this year—and I have somewhat failed in doing it—I have been trying to make this one of the issues in the conversation. The great failure of this moment in time is Commonwealth-state relations, in particular the area of negotiating a tax base which would enable both the states and the Commonwealth to deliver services to the standard that Australians expect. We cannot, in my view, blindly reform in this area without considering those issues of the revenue base at a state level. I hope that, at some point soon, the COAG process will recognise the need for sensible negotiation on taxation issues, including how we reduce the reliance of state governments on the revenue flows from poker machines. That, for me, is the issue at the heart of this topic.
Whilst we have ended up where we have ended up—arguably a long way from the recommendations of the two Productivity Commission reports and arguably a long way from the noble agreements reached, at the time of the formation of this government, between the government and the member for Denison on mandatory precommitment by 2014—we are still doing something pretty historic today. For the first time the Commonwealth is recognising the processes that were started by the Productivity Commission reports and is trying to start a process where this country recognises problem gambling is real and we do need to do more work in a public policy sense to help those in need and reduce the impact of gambling on the broader community.
Of all institutions, the Productivity Commission is probably the last one to recommend regulation, so this is hardly some socialist leftie agenda that we are going through in this parliament. It is the Productivity Commission that is saying from a productivity perspective that we need to undertake reform that is in the interests of the nation. Anyone, therefore, taking a position on the issue of productivity in this nation is hard pressed to vote against the legislation before the House today when these are basically pieces of legislation that will assist the productivity agenda of Australia.
I can only find one sound reason for voting against this legislation, and that is fear—fear of the power and influence of vested interests. Fear does not determine how I vote in this chamber; nor should it determine how any member of parliament should vote. This is exactly why over the weekend before this debate began I made a public call—not to be some smarty cross-bencher causing trouble but to make a very important point, before we even begin, about power and influence—that everyone in this room reveal their latest donation figures from the various vested interests involved in this debate. By all means participate in the debate, by all means vote, but, like anyone at any level, whether in a volunteer club or on the board of directors of the biggest company in the nation, declare your interests—put them on the table so we know exactly where you are coming from and why you are coming from that position.
The Electoral Commission funding returns for the two major parties are the best figures publicly available in 2011, and the Liberal-National Party got $110 million in that year and the Labor Party got $90 million—who knows how much of that was directly from the various interests associated with gambling. In my view, that is an important part of the story of how we have ended up such a long way from the recommendations of the Productivity Commission and the agreements reached at the formation of this government. I fully recognise how difficult this is, how power and influence has its place in all public policy-making, and this area more than most, but I urge this House to stay true to the safe port in all of this, and that safe port is evidence-based policy-making. The evidence trail is one that says that we have a problem and that it is having an impact on productivity. The states and the various industry bodies know there is an issue that needs to be resolved and they themselves have been doing their very best to resolve it, but there is still a failure and therefore the point of today ' s exercise is to lift the standard another notch and that is why I strongly endorsed the work being done particularly by colleagues from the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs through to my Independent colleagues sitting next to me who have stayed true to the cause of trying to lift the standard and reduce by another notch problem gambling in Australia that is having a productivity impact.
If we can get a majority on all the various amendments that are coming before the House, it will be a historic day—even though we are a long way from where arguably we should be and even though in my view the greatest failure of all is nothing to do with this legislation; it is all about that failure at a COAG process and a Commonwealth-state process where there has not been the work done to really address putting in place caps across the nation on the number of machines, doing a reduction strategy underneath, working with the states on the revenue base and the loss occurring through that, exploring and minimising any links to various money-laundering or criminal activities, not exploring the links to health prevention strategies and not being uniform and comprehensive in the approach so that it is not just about poker machines—we have issues with online gaming and sports betting; we have issues between states as their revenue bases are tapped by private betting agencies over the ownership of pictures of horseracing and greyhound racing. So a range of issues need to be addressed in a comprehensive approach, and I hope we are not forgetting that as we enjoy this historic moment and pass sensible, negotiated legislation that will make a lot of difference in the lives of many.