House debates

Wednesday, 8 February 2017


Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading

11:13 am

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to outline Labor's position on the government's Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. While Labor recognises well-regulated gambling has a place in Australian society and that indeed many Australians enjoy a responsible punt, there is no doubt that we do have concerns about the growth of illegal online gambling. We are concerned of course because times have changed. The growth of digital technology, including smartphones, allows Australians to wager and gamble whenever and wherever they choose. With this change in technology, there has been an influx of illegal online offshore operators, and this in turn has impacted on problem gamblers as well as Australian industries. Labor believes that it is time to do more and to amend this act, to prohibit these operators and stop the growth of illegal online gambling.

Labor agrees that the government's interactive gambling bill picks up on some of the concerns around the growth of illegal online gambling. It will also go some way to improving the protections for those who choose to wager within an online environment. The majority of people who bet enjoy it and gamble in a responsible manner. However, Labor also knows that gambling in our community can, in some cases, have devastating consequences: social, financial and emotional ones. That is why we have always maintained a strong stance on ensuring appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place to protect and assist our community. It is why Labor, when we were last in office, commissioned the Productivity Commission to update its previous report on gambling industries in Australia. We also rejected, until harm minimisation strategies were adopted, recommendations to water down Australia's online gaming laws. While Labor broadly support the intent of this bill, we do have some issues and reservations. I think it is fair to say that Labor have been very consistent in our approach on gambling reform. What we want is evidence based policy. We therefore welcome the views from stakeholders, consumers and the public that have contributed to the evidence that has helped shape this bill.

I understand from the government that this bill is just the first of three tranches of review in the area of gambling and in implementing the recommendations of what is known as the O'Farrell review. In relation to this first tranche, Labor agrees that reform to the Interactive Gambling Act needs to occur. From the evidence that we have heard from stakeholders and the information we have examined to date, we will support this bill. The reason we support this bill is that we know the Interactive Gambling Act in its current form has been ineffective in preventing the growth of illegal online gambling services. Evidence to support this is that there have never been any prosecutions under the current Interactive Gambling Act.

Labor broadly supports the bill's main focus, which sets out to bolster the enforcement of the Interactive Gambling Act. What Labor wants to ensure is that these new reforms will be about protecting people and mitigating the effects of problem gambling. Currently, illegal offshore providers can target Australian gamblers, even though they operate outside of this country. Labor recognises that that has to stop. We know that this bill will go some way to stopping these operators in the responsible jurisdictions from trading in Australia illegally. But we are not naive; illegal offshore gambling operators will still try and operate in Australia, and we should continue to look at innovative ways and means to stop this from happening.

As mentioned previously, this bill is focused on implementing the recommendations included in the 2015 Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, referred to as the O'Farrell review. The O'Farrell review revealed that Australians are among the biggest gamblers in the world, spending $1,245 per person in 2014. Figures suggest that Australians lose about $1.4 billion a year gambling online and a quarter of that money now goes overseas. The growth of interactive gambling in Australia has grown since 2004, with many consumers moving away from traditional gambling products to betting online using their smart phones, tablets and other digital services. The O'Farrell review also found that the number of online active wagering accounts in Australia has grown from 200,000 accounts in 2004 to 800,000 accounts in 2014, with many people having more than one account. Due to the ever-present nature of mobile phones and changes in consumer behaviour, offshore gambling operators are targeting Australians. It has become clear that the Interactive Gambling Act in its current form has, sadly, passed its use-by date.

The second area of reform in this bill seeks to prohibit 'click to call' in-play betting services. It is important to maintain integrity in sport in Australia and overseas. We have seen in the past years concerns about links to gambling and sporting incidents and to match outcomes. We also know that this type of betting is linked with problem gambling. Placing numerous bets in a short period of time does have the capacity to lead to problem gambling, and evidence to date suggests that young men are particularly vulnerable to this type of wagering and addiction from it. From a perspective of harm minimisation, it is a sensible way forward, and we support the prohibition of 'click to call' in-play betting.

One area that Labor will continue to watch very carefully is in-play betting in licensed venues and how the government continues to tackle this into the future. To be clear, Labor does not support a proliferation of in-play terminals in venues. We do not support a shift from tethered terminals in venues to electronic mobile services. However, as this is the government's bill and we cannot be certain of how the government will deal with this form of on-premise betting into the future, we are concerned about what this means. Within the explanatory memorandum, a new definition of 'place-based betting service' clarifies that electronic betting terminals can continue to be provided in places where the provider is licensed under a law of a state or territory to provide such services. Theoretically, this does seem to be a bit of a contradictory message by the government, and it would be beneficial if the minister could clarify the government's position on a major expansion if it were to occur, given that he supports exempting some venues from this type of betting but, on the other hand, says it is related to problem gambling.

In August of last year the minister actually said, 'I think we have enough sporting integrity issues and problem gambling already without needing to bet on every single moment of every game 24/7.' He went on to say, 'More and more people, particularly young men, are struggling with online gambling and this is an opportunity to tackle it head-on.' So clearly the minister does not want to see more young Australians affected by problem gambling when it comes to in-play betting, no matter where this form of betting takes place. Given there are protections included in the government's explanatory memorandum, this would assume it supports the status quo in relation to in-play betting venues. Therefore, we can only take this as a signal that the government does not have any appetite to expand this form of betting in licensed venues. Labor will be watching very carefully to see if any expansion of these services does occur and what the government's response is if this does happen. We assume that the government will act if proliferation of mobile devices in licensed premises does occur.

We know that the O'Farrell review highlighted that Australia's consumer protection was weak and inconsistent. As I already stated, Labor are supportive of harm minimisation and of strengthening consumer protection when it comes to problem gambling and we think this bill could be improved in some aspects. We have already acknowledged that gambling can, in some cases, have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences. Problem gambling can, and has, ruined lives. We know that improving protections for consumers is a good thing. While we welcome the government's response to the O'Farrell review, which stated it will aim to agree on a consumer protection model within 12 months, and we also welcome the commitment by the Commonwealth, state and territory ministers in November to work together to develop a national consumer protection framework, and we are supportive of the establishment of a national consumer protection framework, what we do not want to do is wait for another three years for this important work to be completed. While we welcome progress, our message today for the government is that they really need to get to work on this without delay.

Labor knows that gambling in our community can have a devastating impact, as I have said, so we are very surprised that in this bill the government has not included any reform around the banning of credit betting, especially when you consider the coalition's policy on problem gambling, where it flagged the prohibition of credit betting back in 2013. For the past three to four years the coalition has had a policy position on the banning of credit betting, and yet, in its first tranche of reform, it does not seem to deal with this very issue. That begs the question of why the government has not dealt with credit betting within the reform of the Interacting Gambling Act, particularly given that the minister has been very keen to ban this type of betting. To strengthen harm minimisation for problem gamblers, I want to indicate that Labor would support that direction.

To continue with the theme of protection, I wish to speak on a matter of significant and widespread public concern that has gone hand in hand with the growth of online betting in Australia. This is the issue of gambling advertising on television during live sporting events. Like so many of you in the chamber today, I grew up watching sport on TV, enjoying the playing and the on-field antics, the barracking for my favourite players and, of course, the progress of my favourite Hawks. For me, as for so many Australians, watching sport on telly was a family affair. Children and adults would enjoy some time together to discuss the rules of the game, listen to commentators and perhaps do a little bit of armchair heckling. But that is not the case today—indeed, far from it. Today we hear reports that our sons and daughters are talking about sports games not through the prism of what is happening on the field but through the prism of the associated betting.

Labor wants to protect children from associated betting and wagering as a normal part of watching sport on television. Labor believes that the time is right for change. We believe it is time for leadership. We want to work towards a genuine solution on how we can best address the growing concerns of parents and families. Many Australians want to see change in this area. Labor believes that it is in their best interests to protect children to ensure that they do not connect sport and gambling. That is why it is time to get the balance right. Ask any parent who watches a sporting event with their children if they are concerned that there are too many gambling advertisements and in most cases the answer is yes. Ask parents if they are worried about their children associating sport and gambling and in most cases the answer is yes. A Deakin University study released in June last year revealed gambling advertising is impacting on teenagers and children as young as eight. The study found that three-quarters of children can recall at least one sports betting branch without being prompted and more than one-quarter of children can identify four or more.

Following the intervention of the Gillard government in 2013, the broadcast television industry responded, addressing public concern and developing rules to restrict gambling advertising in live sports advertising and the spruiking of live odds in particular. However, betting odds and gambling ads do continue to intrude on our television screens and upon our nation's love of sport and continue to cause significant public concern. It is instructive to revisit the comments of our former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the then communications minister, Stephen Conroy, when they issued a joint release on 26 May 2013. In it they stated:

The Gillard Government has demanded that Australia's broadcasters amend their broadcasting codes … to ensure a reduction in the promotion and advertising of gambling during sport …

They also stated:

The public have had enough of odds and betting promotions being shoved down their throats while listening to and watching sport.

In response, the commercial and subscription radio and television sectors of the broadcasting industry provided draft codes of practice to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, for consideration. Satisfied the codes contained appropriate community concern, ACMA registered the new codes on 30 July 2013. In its current form, the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice restricts the times that commercials relating to betting or gambling can be broadcast by prohibiting them in programs classified G or lower at certain times of the day as well as prohibiting them during any program that is broadcast between 5 am and 8.30 pm and is principally directed to children. However, these restrictions do not apply during all programs. Indeed, at present, gambling ads are permitted to be played during news, current affairs and sports programs.

The code also sets out detailed rules that restrict the promotion of odds and commercials relating to betting and gambling which are broadcast during live sporting events in particular. While these rules have served to limit the promotion of live odds and to restrict gambling ads during play, they continue to permit the promotion of live odds and gambling ads during and around play. The rules continue to allow clearly identified gambling representatives to promote odds half an hour before play and in the half an hour after play, and they continue to allow commercials relating to betting or gambling before play has commenced, during scheduled breaks, during unscheduled breaks and after play has concluded. Broadcast television codes have been harmonised, and similar provisions apply to other categories of broadcasting services through their specific codes. These rules have been in place for just over three years now but still Australians—adults and children—continue to be bombarded by advertising for gambling and betting as they watch live sport.

Labor is very conscious of the need to balance community concerns with the economic needs of broadcasters. We acknowledge the competitive pressures that the commercial free-to-air television industry faces and understand that betting and gambling advertising represents a significant revenue stream to industry. We believe that a consultative approach to the development of a transition plan will give stakeholders, including national sporting organisations, the opportunity to address and assess the potential impacts of a phase-out and time to adjust. We also acknowledged that blanket proposals to prohibit betting and gambling advertising overnight do not take into account commercial realities in terms of contracts that are already in place, nor do they take into account the co-regulatory system for broadcasting in Australia and the role of industry in addressing community standards.

Given continuing public concern around gambling advertising during live sports broadcasting and evidence as to the harm of such advertising, particularly with respect to children, today I will move a second reading amendment that the government work and consult with the broadcast industry on a transition plan to phase out the promotion of betting odds and commercials relating to betting or gambling during live sport broadcasts, with a view to their prohibition over time.

We have put the government on notice that we will be watching very carefully that it does not use this bill as a mechanism to allow the expansion of any form of in-play betting. Labor believes the government must as a priority progress work on establishing a consumer protection framework. We believe the government has missed an opportunity to ban credit betting—a move, as I said, that Labor would support as another safety net to ensure harm minimisation measures are bolstered. Labor's second reading amendment acknowledges the growing concerns around the promotion of betting odds and gambling advertising in sports events, as stated, and we call on the government to support our amendment for transitional change. I therefore move:

That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to work with the broadcasting industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase out the promotion of betting odds and commercials relating to betting or gambling before and during live sporting broadcasts, with a view to their prohibition".


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