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
( I want to begin by placing on the record that I find the remarks of the member for Lyne highly offensive. He was attempting to take some moral high ground, and was insulting members of this House who stand very strongly on moral issues and refute what he says about vested interests trying to influence people's decision-making when they are speaking against this national gambling reform legislation. I find that sort of indulgence, and people trying to say, 'I'm superior to everybody else, so everybody listen to me', highly offensive, as I said.
I will also put on the record that our position on this side of the parliament is that we acknowledge that gambling is a problem for some Australians and we support measures that will tackle the problem effectively and help prevent gambling addiction. Most Australians who enjoy gambling do so responsibly; but for those who do not, and cannot, we of course have an obligation to find ways to assist them and their families. You can say that the same applies to drugs, about which this government are silent. In fact, I remember that, when they first won office, a series of advertisements which had been made and were to go to air about not just the danger but the poisonousness of illicit drugs was cancelled by this government because, for some reason, they did not want to take on the issue, which affects so many people and families.
Going back to the question of where we stand on this: we support voluntary precommitment programs but we do not support mandatory programs. This bill is taking us back the original debate that we had when it was about mandatory precommitment and the inefficient, unproven nature of this requirement. All sorts of studies have been undertaken that bear this out.
If we are going to look at the moral issue, which is what Mr Oakeshott and the government would like us to do, we are being asked to make a judgement that somehow the moral position of somebody who works in the club industry and whose job depends on gambling being a part of the club industry—perhaps a single mother with small children, as it very often is—and who loses that job because of cutbacks, is improved because somebody who is a gambler and cannot control their gambling instincts is to be so-called protected by an unproven mechanism. If we are looking at moral issues, the moral position of those who would otherwise be unemployed is one that needs to be addressed.
If we go back to the original work that was done by KPMG, we see that as a result of mandatory precommitment in New South Wales alone we would lose 11,500 jobs, $820 million from the broader New South Wales economy, and force the closure of clubs.
Mr Bradbury interjecting—
I heard an interjection from the member for Lindsay, an electorate which has a very strong club industry and where many people's jobs depend on that club industry, that this bill does not mandate precommitment. Well, technically you may say that but, by requiring this all to be put in place, it is one step away from being mandatory—and, as I am saying, we are opposed to a mandatory scheme but not to a voluntary one.
I noticed when we had this debate previously that the Minister for Defence Materiel, Mr Jason Clare, put out a press release where he said that from 8 to 17 April 2011 he, the member for Cook, the member for Lyne, and a group of students and community leaders went on the Sandakan Mateship Trek, which honoured those who died on the Sandakan death march in Borneo. The trek was sponsored by business, local clubs and individuals, with no cost burden to the Commonwealth—and the major sponsors were Clubs Australia, Bankstown RSL, Bankstown Sports Club, Master Builders Association and so on. In other words, the club industry has a very strong and powerful record, particularly in New South Wales, of supporting activities right across the spectrum of sporting clubs and of young people. And of course there is the example of this trek that took place in 2011.
So, as we listen to people like the member for Lyne and others, we hear rhetoric that says they have a higher moral purpose, when in reality they do not. And they do not take into consideration all the benefits that flow to the community from a club industry which is highly valued—particularly in rural and regional areas, where it is the centre of much social interaction for those communities.
But the really interesting point about morality in this debate is this: the passage of this bill, or its failure to pass, will depend on one vote—and that is the vote of the member for Banks, because the member for Banks is the Chairman of the Revesby Workers Club. As such, the member for Banks, who shows this in his pecuniary interest statement, could have a conflict of interest. He shows that he is now President of Revesby Workers Club Pty Ltd and a director of Revesby Workers' Retail Investments Pty Ltd. He also shows the nature of his positions there, under section 13: 'Membership of any organisation where a conflict of interest with a member's public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise.' And he lists 'Revesby Workers Club Pty Ltd: President' with a number of others. And he shows, indeed, if you read the report of the Revesby Workers Club, that directors do receive pecuniary benefits from that club. And, if you look at the standing orders, you are precluded from voting in the event that you have a pecuniary interest that is affected. Let us go to what his obligations are under the Corporations Act. One is 'Good faith—civil obligations'. Section 181 states in part:
(b) for a proper purpose.
By voting in favour of this legislation he is voting against the interests of the corporation of which he is the President and which he has obligations under the Corporations Act to exercise. So the member for Banks, Mr Melham, is in fact faced with a judgement that he has to make: to either resign his position as the President of the Revesby Workers Club, a position he has long sought and only recently gained, although he has been on the board for many, many years; or to abstain from the vote.
The member for Banks did say on this issue previously that he could not lobby for his club because of his conflict of interest and would also abstain from voting on the matter in caucus, stepping down from his position as caucus chair during the debate. But he said he would support the bill in parliament, where the minority ALP government needs his vote. But, as I said, under parliamentary rules his vote could be challenged and declared void. Standing orders say:
A Member may not vote in a division on a question about a matter, other than public policy, in which he or she has a particular direct pecuniary interest.
So you ask yourself: is there a direct pecuniary interest? The answer is yes. If you go to the report of the Revesby Workers Club, you see that directors' remuneration is capped at the amounts approved each year by the members of the annual general meeting, in 2010 to $37,000 and in 2009 to $37,000. During 2010 the club paid a total of $26,000, and in 2009 $27,000, to directors for their role as directors of the club. It also says that, in the course of attending the club or representing the club in official capacity, directors were provided with meals and beverages on a complementary basis, totalling $41,965 in 2010 and in 2009 $57,425. As I said, it is shown in their own reports that the President of the Revesby Workers Club has a pecuniary interest.
So I would say to the minister who is bringing in this bill that she needs to speak with the member for Banks, because he has a moral obligation, and we heard much about morality in this debate from the member for Lyne. The moral dilemma for the member for Banks is that if he votes for this legislation he will be in breach of his duty as a director of the Revesby Workers Club. If he wishes to vote for it and not breach that duty, he must resign from the board. He made his position clear that he would not lobby in the caucus, but I am afraid that does not relieve him of the moral obligation in this place, nor his obligation under the standing orders.
We have in this debate an enormous amount of politicking going on for all the wrong reasons. The clubs are taking responsibility for the real interests of people who need assistance, by way of counselling and by way of the actions that the club movement is taking to assist those who are identified as problem gamblers. But where is the responsibility for those people who are gambling away online? You can actually access poker machines online and lose your house before you get out of bed. Where is the moral obligation to those people? There is none. To attack the club industry, as the member for Lyne did by saying that they are vested interests and are manipulating political parties, is an insult to the intelligence of the people in this parliament, the thousands of men and women who enjoy their membership of their clubs and the directors who put in enormous amounts of time into the community interests that benefit from all of that work. It is a cheap shot, Mr Oakeshott. The moral obligation lies here with this government and one of its own members, who must either resign his position as head of the Revesby Workers Club or not vote on this legislation, in which case you will lose your bill. If there is any moral basis to this government—and more and more we see there is not—then the minister and the government must act to get a response from the member for Banks as to which action he is to take. Is he to resign from Revesby Workers Club and support the legislation, or is he to honour his obligations under the Corporations Act and act in the interests of his organisation and his members and abstain from voting on the bill? The moral dilemma rests with the Labor Party, as usual.