House debates

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

12:42 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012, the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 1) 2012 and the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 2) 2012. We just heard the member for Mackellar prosecute the case very well regarding the pecuniary interests and conflict of interest that the member for Banks, who is also on the Revesby Workers Club board, may or may not have. Certainly it is a problem for the member for Banks, who needs to clear his conscience as to which side he is going to support—whether he abstains from voting, as he should, or supports this bill and, therefore, enables its passage through the lower house.

A lot of different issues surround this proposed legislation. We heard the member for Lyne talking about the morality of the issue. We heard from other speakers about problem gamblers. There have been a lot of different points of argument and points of view about this bill. But one of the best points of view, I believe, in this debate was given by my Nationals colleague the member for Parkes last night, when he spoke of how this bill will affect regional areas. The member for Parkes pointed out the provisions of this bill for a $250-per-day automatic teller machine withdrawal limit, as well as the use of self-exclusion ATMs, but let us go first to that $250-a-day withdrawal limit.

In regional areas, as the member for Parkes correctly pointed out, sometimes the ATM at the local club is the only means that people in that town or locality have to withdraw their money. In many country towns and villages, financial services have largely departed. More often than not the only access point for cash is the ATM at the local bowling club or hotel. A $250 withdrawal limit would have a huge impact on how these people go about their lives. There is nothing worse than being caught short of cash, because in some country areas not every place actually has EFTPOS facilities; some places, particularly food outlets, rely on cash only. If people cannot access their money from the local bowlo or the pub, that is a problem.

This goes way beyond just being a reform on poker machines. I, like the member for Parkes, do not play poker machines. Like the member for Parkes, I do not believe this is just about poker machines. We know that gambling is a major problem for some Australians. We in the coalition support measures that will effectively tackle problem gambling and help address and prevent gambling addiction. Certainly in the Riverina we have our share of problem gamblers, unfortunately—as does every community. But this bill is not about protecting people from themselves, and it is not about protecting communities from problem gambling. It is more about what the member for Denison wants and about Labor securing his vote. Unfortunately, the member for Denison knows all too well how he was blindsided. His negotiations and his signed deal were effectively cut by the Prime Minister on that dreadful day of betrayal, Saturday 21 January, when he had that support withdrawn.

I know problem gambling can lead to theft, certainly from business institutions that have a large cash turnover or people who are in a position to breach the trust of their employers. It happens, and it is an unfortunate thing. But this bill, as I said, is not about problem gambling. The gambling industry is a major employer. We heard that from the member for Mackellar. We heard her say that clubs employ so many people, and they do such a power of good. I know they do a power of good in her community, and they certainly do a power of good in my community and in all regional communities—indeed, all communities in Australia, whether they be metropolitan or in the bush. Clubs support football teams. They support sporting sides. They support kids going on excursions. They do all that. More than that, they employ people. There are so many people whom the club industry employs. They have had a hard enough hit with, dare I say, the carbon tax, and now another impost is going to be put upon them by this particular piece of legislation if indeed it passes through. It will be interesting to see whether the member for Banks supports this or abstains from this vote.

The gambling industry employs around 67,000 staff directly in gambling activities. A further 105,000 non-gambling-activity staff are employed in casinos, hotels and clubs that offer gaming, whilst almost 50,000 are employed in the racing industry. The horseracing industry is one of the biggest industries in Australia. In fact, there were statistics, back when I was on the Murrumbidgee Turf Club board at Wagga Wagga, saying that it was Australia's fifth-biggest industry. That is an amazing statistic. About four per cent of Australians gamble weekly, and about 15 per cent of this group are problem gamblers. The Productivity Commission estimates that less than one per cent of the population are problem gamblers. So, are we going to bring in legislation that is going to affect all of those people? Are we going to bring in legislation that is certainly going to, once again, hit hard in regional areas? I hope not.

On 6 May 2011, the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform handed down a report entitled First report: the design and implementation of a mandatory pre-commitment system for electronic gaming machines. We do not believe that the key recommendations made by the member for Denison will effectively address or prevent the underlying problem of gambling addiction. Since the 2010 election the government has constantly rejected calls from the industry for a trial—calls that were supported by the coalition. According to manufacturers, the government's time line for these particular devices is unrealistic and unachievable. The coalition has grave concerns about proposed trials, including a concern that public money being provided as compensation to clubs involved in the trial may end up in the coffers of Labor clubs and eventually be returned to the Labor Party. Given the limited consultation, the coalition is monitoring developments relating to the Australian Capital Territory trial but remains extremely concerned about it.

The bill in general requires that new machines manufactured or imported from the end of 2013 be capable of supporting precommitment; that all gaming machines be part of a statewide precommitment system and display electronic warnings by 2016, with longer implementation time lines for small venues; and, as I said at the outset, that there be a $250-a-day ATM withdrawal limit for gaming venues other than casinos. The bills establish the requirements for precommitment systems in order for gaming machines to be compliant.

Gambling has traditionally fallen within the responsibility of state governments. Every state government supports voluntary precommitment. There has been considerable criticism from the states about the Commonwealth's proposed move to enter this legislative nightmare, particularly from New South Wales and Queensland but also from Western Australia, which does not have any pokie machines within its jurisdiction. There has been very little consultation with the states and with industry. And haven't we heard that so often in the past, so often in the days of this Gillard government and indeed so often since the Labor government took power in 2007? I will repeat it: there has been very little consultation with the states or with industry. And we have heard that in so many areas: we have heard it in health, we have certainly heard it in water reform, and now we are hearing about it in terms of this legislation dealing supposedly with poker machines but, to a wider extent, with gambling reform.

Labor has indicated that it intends to rush the legislation through in the final sitting week of the year—indeed, today, the final sitting day of the year. That has compounded the industry concerns about the lack of consultation and the unforeseen consequences of the legislation.

Here again, Labor is rushing policy. It is policy on the run. We saw it with the electronic health records system. That was implemented long before the doctors or the industry were ready. The coalition is deeply concerned about the lack of time the government has permitted for proper consultation and review of this legislation.

Above all else, the coalition added its voice to the calls of many others that legislation of such alleged significance in addressing problem gambling in our community deserves far greater scrutiny and community consultation. Surely this is something that Labor can consult with the states about, to a much greater degree. Surely this is a piece of legislation that Labor can consult on with industry.

This is an industry that employs so many people. It employs—dare I say it?—many people who hold union tickets. Surely, that is important. Those people who are paid-up members of a union deserve better than this from a government and a party which has long championed the cause of union membership and union members. And these union members are yet again being hung out to dry by the Labor government, which should be supporting them.

I was a union member for 21 years. Would you believe a Nationals member was a union member for 21 years? I paid my dues. I paid my union affiliation to the Australian Journalists Association and later the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and I expected that I would get value for money from that union membership. I expected that that union would use its money well to help me to do my job as a journalist. Unionists—people who are in unions—expect their unions to do the same. Haven't we heard so often in recent days in this place how unions have been hung out to dry by this government? There have been slush funds and all the rest.

But this is about gambling reform—or is it? I doubt that it is. The government has not allowed sufficient time to examine the provisions of this legislation and has roundly ignored warnings from experienced bodies about potential pitfalls in the bill. Likewise, those who have expressed concern about other potential negative consequences of this legislation—and there are many, including the impact on employment, particularly on the employment of paid-up union members in the hospitality sector—have not had their voices and their objections adequately heard. That is why the member for Mackellar and other members on this side are now giving those people a voice. We are voicing our concerns, the concerns of industry and the concerns of states about this piece of legislation.

The legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives on 1 November, with the subsequent Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform given a mere week to take submissions, and a further week to hold hearings. So this was, again, policy on the run. We had the same in the water debate. I know I am getting a little off topic—I fear the minister at the table may jump up and say, 'Get back on track'—but in the water debate we had meeting after meeting hastily organised. Then when the legislation was being debated and even voted upon, members on both sides of parliament—Labor members and coalition members—did not have the advantage of hearing what was in the submissions to the House of Representatives standing committee. People took time to prepare those submissions. They took the trouble to travel to Sydney and to Canberra to give evidence but none of that was even taken into account by the Labor government, which wanted to rush policy through. It was policy on the run, policy on the fly—and not good policy, at that.

A lot of the legislation that Labor has put forward—despite thoughts to the contrary—has actually been agreed to. In fact, the majority of legislation has been agreed to. Members of the Labor Party often stand up and say, 'You're all negative.' We are not negative; we just want good, sound, common-sense policy, which is not going to have an impact on regional communities and which is not going to have an impact on people who pay taxes, people who pay their union dues, people who expect better from a Labor government which says that it is there for the workers but, as with so many pieces of legislation, including this one, is not.

I call on Labor to look in their heart of hearts to think about what this is going to do to the person who is working at the club—at the local bowlo—who pays their union dues and who does a great job in an industry which also does a great job in providing sponsorship, employment opportunities, and investment in local communities. This piece of legislation is not good. It needs to be thought out far better. It needs to be rejected, and that is why I cannot support the bill, and neither does the coalition.


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