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

11:40 am

Photo of Robert McClellandRobert McClelland (Barton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset, I should place on the record that my wife has recently been appointed as a director of the St George Leagues Club Ltd, which is a well-known club in my electorate and one arm of the famous St George Illawarra Dragons. Indeed, the club is a major supporter of that famous football team. I would also like to place on the record my appreciation for the work of registered clubs in my electorate and indeed throughout Australia. Also, I should place on the record that I myself have worked in registered clubs, and I am very grateful for the support that Ramsgate RSL Club provided to me by employing me as casual labour for most of my period of studying at university. I should also place on the record that both my son and my daughter are employed at a local RSL club while they are studying.

I think that account would give an indication of what valuable institutions clubs are. In fact, registered clubs are the second largest employer in my electorate, and it goes without saying that jobs and employment opportunities are foundational to the economic and social wellbeing of individuals and families. This parliament should therefore be very cautious about—indeed, those preparing this legislation have been very mindful of, and the discussion that has taken place in the course of proceeding with this legislation has been very mindful of—introducing a regulatory framework that has the potential to adversely impact on employment and, specifically, to result in people losing their jobs.

The objects of the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 are admirable—that is, to reduce the extent of problem gambling in our community and the adverse impact that has on families. But, equally, it must be appreciated that regulatory reform should be introduced in a manner that avoids families suffering from the adverse impacts of loss of employment, and I know that the minister has been attuned to that issue.

Like most members of this House, I am a great supporter of the registered club movement. I have mentioned the issue of employment, but clubs are more than simply employers and entertainment venues. They are literally part of the fabric of our civil society. Speaking from the perspective of a representative from the state of New South Wales, I think it is fair to say that there would be very few local sporting organisations that are not the beneficiaries in some way, shape or form of local clubs. In my younger days, when I was playing rugby union, we were supported by the Kyle Bay Bowling Club. When I played rugby league, we were supported by the Kingsgrove RSL Club. Indeed, the sporting teams that my children have played in have all, in some way, shape or form, been supported by one of our local clubs. Again, I think that story would be common to very many families with children in my electorate.

I have a particular knowledge of the St George Leagues Club, which I have referred to. I can indicate, for instance, that that club distributes some $250,000 per year to junior sport at a local club and school level.

From my experience in a multicultural electorate, where 48 per cent of the population were either born overseas or whose parents were born overseas, you cannot overestimate or overstate the importance of sport as a community builder. Lifelong friendships are made and, irrespective of a person's social, economic or cultural background, people come together in a spirit of teamwork. Sport plays a significant unifying role in drawing together the multicultures in our community. As a number of members have said, sporting organisations have been supported so tremendously well by the club industry.

In addition, in terms of those doing it tough—and there was landmark legislation introduced this morning with the National Disability Insurance Scheme—the St George's Leagues Club Ltd contributes some $250,000 per year towards supporting children with disabilities. A number of other charities are also supported, including through direct assistance such as the donation of motor vehicles.

I have mentioned St George as a result of my particular knowledge and association, but other clubs in my electorate also make valuable contributions to our local community. Indeed, when I served as Minister for Emergency Management, I saw the contributions that clubs make to their local communities in times of crises. In some cases, the sturdy construction of the club premises itself provided a safe venue, a safe harbour to literally weather the storm. The club premises was safe accommodation that protected people while the storm, indeed cyclone, passed through. In other instances the clubs have been the focal point of the post-disaster relief effort, providing food and sustenance to volunteers and providing food, sustenance and support—indeed, emotional support—to residents who have been affected by natural disasters. In some cases the clubs provided ongoing accommodation for those who had been displaced from their residences. This is an indication of how registered clubs have become part and parcel of not only our society but our natural environment. It goes without saying that clubs can be a focal point for many citizens, including senior citizens, who have the opportunity of obtaining cheap meals and the value of companionship, particularly for instance if one of their partners unfortunately has passed away. The ongoing support that comes from their association with club members can be a vital contributor to their wellbeing.

To address some criticism, I constantly make the point that, in my experience, registered clubs have always been concerned about problem gambling. When I was employed at the Ramsgate RSL Club some 30 years ago I was instructed to keep an eye on certain patrons and advise the duty manager if I thought they were overdoing it on the poker machines. Invariably the duty manager would sidle up to them, perhaps with drink in hand, and sit down and chat with them to advise of some options to address their issues.

I appreciate that such a personal approach is particularly difficult in large venues; nonetheless, it would be completely wrong and unfair to suggest that registered clubs are not currently taking steps to address problem gambling. I have literally not walked into the foyer of any club in recent years without seeing referral details for counselling services to address problem gambling. Indeed, the club industry itself is one of the major supporters of these programs and supports a number of research programs developing best practices around the world.

Poker machines, it obviously has to be conceded, in this day and age are a common and convenient form of gambling, but they are not the only form of gambling. Other forms of gambling include casino games such as roulette or blackjack and wagering on a horse race, trotting race, dog race or indeed virtually any event. Gambling on literally any form of sporting event and electronic gaming machines can now be readily accessed over the internet.

In the atmosphere of this hung parliament there can be and obviously has been an intense focus on a few lightning rod issues, and addressing problem gambling is legitimately one issue that has drawn the focus and attention of the parliament. But of course—and as the minister recognises in the steps that have been taken in the checks and balances in this bill—we do need to be cautious that, in making the political point and highlighting concern about an issue and demonstrating action to address an issue, we are actually addressing the issue and not simply displacing the problem. The foot on the balloon analogy is appropriate, where pressure on one side may constrain the balloon on that side but see a bulge in the other.

Poker machines are but one mechanism through which problem gamblers exercise their addiction. We need to be very careful that, in focusing attention on poker machines, we are not naive to the prospect of seeing a bulge or expansion of gambling taking place in other areas. For instance, my son is an avid watcher of rugby league, and I have real concern with the amount of advertising encouraging gambling that is aired during the telecast of those games. I know that the minister and indeed the minister for communications have also expressed concern about that issue. It is important to realise while we are addressing this issue that other areas obviously require attention.

I have also noted that the research suggests that between 80,000 and 160,000 Australians suffer significant gambling problems. That is obviously a lot of people, particularly when you think of the broader family members who may be affected by that addiction. But those numbers are not insurmountable in developing targeted programs that address the addiction of the individual as opposed to addressing the mechanism through which they may exercise that addiction—the focus, in this case, being on poker machines. I am pleased to see that an important part of this legislation is the proposal by the government, through the provisions in this legislation, to focus on enhanced research. Indeed, that enhanced research into the issue of problem gambling, which will be funded by the government, will present a real opportunity to focus in on the causes of the gambling addiction of those individuals, as opposed to constraining a particular outlet or mechanism through which they exercise that addiction.

In short, there are many aspects of this legislation that have merit—for instance, requiring the progressive implementation of precommitment technology, which I believe could be in the interests of patrons, and also of clubs in terms of discharging their obligation to show that they have exercised a duty of care for those who identify themselves as potentially being problem gamblers or at least wanting to limit the amount that they spend on gambling. But we need to bear in mind that it is still work in progress, and that research in other countries—for instance, in Nova Scotia and Norway—suggests that this sort of technology can be effective but that, on the other hand, there is also an indication, going back to that point that I previously made, that it may have displaced gambling activity, for instance to the internet. That may well have been because there has generally been an increase in internet usage, but the point is that more research is required before we can definitively say what is effective. I note that, as part of this regime, there will be a trial of this technology in the ACT, and I think that that trial should inform the development of the implementation of these programs.

It is very important that we appreciate in this House—and here the real-world experience of members of parliament is very important to draw on—that, when we introduce regulatory reform, it is going to have an impact on businesses and on venues, whether they be hotels or clubs. So we need to make sure that that regulatory impost is moderated but, firstly, that it is justified, and that has been the aim of the government. We need to make sure that the regulatory impost does not create a situation where it has an impact on employment which itself causes hardship.

I note that the timing of implementation is going to be a crucial part of the debate in the committee stage of this legislation. Obviously, if we can give some time for these programs to be implemented then it is going to reduce that regulatory impost, and that is going to be a significant part of the debate during the committee stage that I personally will be paying particular attention to.

11:56 am

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the shadow minister and his approach on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012. It is a bill which really does contrast the way in which we, as members in this place, think about our fellow Australians. It shows what splits many of us in this parliament, into those who believe in personal responsibility and do not assume that not all Australians are bad and need to be protected by government legislation or regulation and others.

Serious governments address problems where they exist, and undoubtedly many families and many people face challenges related to addiction to gambling. But the absurdity of this legislation is that it focuses purely on one form of gambling, as if to presume that there are no other ways for Australians to lose their homes, their incomes and their families and no other things which cause as much pain as addiction does. It somehow presumes that a piece of legislation focusing on one aspect of gambling will reduce or stop the impact on so many thousands of Australians, as if there is no other way that you could possibly find to feed the addiction that so many undoubtedly face.

We have seen this bill being pulled and pushed around. It started on Monday or Tuesday; it is now Thursday, the last sitting day. It has been on and off today a couple of times. We have seen a lot of walking around. We know there is a big brawl going on between the Greens and the member for Denison, and lots of leaking about polling and so forth. We are in the middle of all this.

But there is apparently an intent here. It is not all about politics; it is not all about someone getting one up on the other, so that one party gets to run around Denison and say that they have done something that the other person did not; it is not about GetUp! having all this support from online gambling but focusing on poker machines—not at all! This is all good public policy on the last sitting day of the year, there is no doubt in the world! I am sure the minister has really enjoyed the last 48 hours, dealing with all these issues as she has wandered from one office to another trying to get a deal to satisfy all the egos involved.

But never will you satisfy some of the egos involved, particularly that of the member for Melbourne; there is no guarantee about that. If you want to see sanctimony in this place, look no further than the Australian Greens and look no further than the Murray-Darling Basin. But I digress.

I would urge many members to read the speech of the member for Moncrieff on this bill. In that speech he made some very important points in relation to this issue. There is a very serious issue here, which is that many Australians face a problem with addiction. There is no doubt a problem, and there need to be programs which assist. There should be regulation of gambling—indeed there should be. But to presume that somehow this industry will be able to take an extra burden, an extra whack, when it is screaming and saying, 'We can't,' puts at risk the thousands of people who are employed in this industry—for instance, in and around the thousands of clubs that so many Australians enjoy spending so many of their hours, enjoying their lives.

It is true that some people enjoy playing poker machines. It is true that some people enjoy following racehorses. It is true that some people enjoy playing poker online. It is also true that most people are able to do these things in a manner which is within their limits. They take responsibility for themselves; they know how much they can spend; they know when enough is enough. Of course there are some in society who go too far, but the problem with this bill is it seeks to legislate against one—and only one—form of gambling on the presumption that there is no other way for people to restrain themselves.

Gambling in Australia is changing very rapidly. The online accessibility of gambling is increasing as the internet's role increases in so many facets of our lives. I tend to agree with the member for Barton when he expresses concern about the pushing of gambling on televised sporting events. I enjoy a punt occasionally, but I do find it frustrating that, when I am watching a great test match or a great AFL game, gambling is being pushed through betting odds constantly being displayed on the TV screen. I think that we in this place could look at and address this practice.

This bill assumes that problem gambling on poker machines can be stopped by regulating them to death. This is no doubt the intention of the Greens and the member for Denison. But in doing they will send people with a gambling addiction back in their home, and the sort of gambling they do there is completely unregulated. It will always be difficult to regulate offshore gambling sites, which GetUp!, interestingly, does not seem to have a problem with for some reason. It is not possible to identify problem gambling which occurs at home, and—unlike in pubs and clubs across Australia—there is no-one watching out for home gamblers and saying, 'I think that person's spent too much,' or 'I can see a problem developing.' The addiction to online gambling will be played out silently in our suburbs, but the member for Denison and the Greens will feel good about themselves that they got legislation through to show that they have cracked down on pokies and the pokie barons and stopped the pokie palaces and so on. Of course, to do so would be to play pure politics in the interests of meeting political promises rather than to address the very serious issues of problem gambling which some people face. It would not address the aggressive advertising of some of the new forms of gambling. Young people have access to online gambling through their TV screens, the internet and their smart phones—

Mr Bandt interjecting

The member for Melbourne thinks it is funny that on the last sitting day he gets a bit of politics up with the member for Denison. He gets to run around and say: 'Look! we got it!

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Mayo will confine his comments to the bill.

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

That is disorderly, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I would appreciate if you would pull him up.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Mayo will confine his comments to the bill and do his best to ignore the interjections.

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

It is ironic coming from the member for Melbourne. But this is a very serious issue, and he thinks it is hilarious.

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Mayo will resume his seat. Honourable members will cease interjecting, and the member for Mayo will confine his comments to the bill rather than to those who are interjecting.

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

I am confining my comments to this very serious bill. I take very seriously that the minister has worked day and night for the last few weeks to try to get an outcome which she believes is in the best interests of Australian government policy. I do not think it is hilarious; I think problem gambling is a serious issue in our society. Many Australian families have had their lives torn apart by problem gambling. I think it is a disgrace that we are playing political puffery in this place under the cover that this bill is going to address problem gambling; I do not think it is a laughing matter at all. I say very strongly that the member for Melbourne should be ashamed of coming into this place and laughing during this debate. That he does so highlights the absolute sanctimony of these people.

Many thousands of Australians rely for their income on jobs they hold in places that have poker machines, and any legislation should be considered in the light of its impact on the families of these Australians. The shadow minister has rightly identified that the bill goes too far and puts jobs in the gaming industry at risk. That is why there is so much outrage over this bill. I believe very strongly—and I have said this quite often in South Australia—that AFL footy, which I love very much, has some problems with the way it finances itself at the lower levels, and particularly in SA. Some clubs at the SANFL level benefit greatly from poker machine revenue, and they have a great advantage because of it; other clubs at the same level have not benefitted as greatly from poker machine revenue. There needs to be a rethink about the revenue base of the South Australian National Football League if we want community football to continue to go from strength to strength. One of the challenges for the SANFL is to work out how to deal with the diminishing revenue they receive from poker machines due to increased online gambling. Any hotel owner in South Australia will tell you that the returns from poker machines are diminishing because people are able to access at home through their computers and their smart phones the gambling needs they seek to service.

Those people with addictions, as I said before, will not be seen by people in hotels. Their community will not see the impact on them if there is an impact. While people who have abused poker machines in the past have sometimes not been picked up—quite often with terrible consequences—there would be no way in the world that other people would know whether they are abusing online gambling, particularly with offshore sites. We can regulate Australian gambling quite easily—indeed we are debating that now—but we cannot regulate offshore sites. We cannot regulate people's access to offshore sites. We cannot regulate the internet, as the government found when it tried to apply a so-called filter. You cannot regulate the internet; indeed, we should not seek to.

This bill focuses on one type of gambling and impacts on a huge industry that employs many thousands of Australians. Hotels and clubs do many good things in communities and provide a place where elderly people in particularly, like my wife's 91-year-old grandmother, can go to have a cheap—subsidised in effect by poker machine revenue—lunch. My wife's grandmother does not play poker machines but gets a cheap lunch and some companionship with friends every week. These sorts of places will find it more difficult as they continue to be regulated. That is quite clear. That is the intention of the bill. I think it is a great shame that we do not take into account the collateral damage done under the claim of good intentions.

There is an addiction problem not just with gambling but in so many different ways in our society. But addressing it through one lever alone will not help those families that are affected so badly by it. That is why we on this side have a comprehensive approach. We have put out a discussion paper to engage with the community and to work through the issues of addiction, not just to poker machines but more broadly. We will try and find ways to better see those in the community who are being troubled, who are putting their own lives and their families at risk. No one in this parliament wants to see people adversely affected by gambling; I genuinely believe that. We are looking for the best way to deal with it. This bill is not the best way. I support the coalition position of opposing this bill. It is a bad piece of legislation. Its intention is bad. It comes from a wrong premise in its beginning and will not have the outcome it seeks in the end.

12:10 pm

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak fairly briefly, I hope, on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and to foreshadow some amendments that I will be moving in the third reading stage. I will make a few general comments before getting more specific. Problem gambling has been a concern for the community for a long time. I think in some ways it has displayed the value of the crossbench both within the Senate and in the House as the parliament tries to wrestle with a real issue in the community and develop a process that is not only acceptable to the community but that has general consensus throughout the community.

I would particularly like to thank the member for Denison, to whom the issue of problem gambling is of great importance. Senator Xenophon in the Senate as well has raised this issue over many years. I know there will be people that will not be happy with certain aspects of the final outcome of this legislation. But we would not be dealing with it at all if it had not been for the member for Denison. It has come at some considerable cost to him in pressure and angst as he has stuck to his guns. The other thing that needs to be said is the member for Dobell will be seconding my amendments, which I believe may well have the numbers to get up.

Some would say, as the previous speaker said, that there have been some games played in the last few days. I have been in politics for a while now and what I have always found is that the things that actually work long term have the widespread endorsement of various groups. I think we have just seen another classic example of that with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, where the great majority of the parliament is going to endorse reform. In the great majority of communities there is acceptance of that reform and hopefully some degree of trust in that particular legislation. This bill has similar aspects in my view. Particularly in some of the country areas, it will be very difficult to work if people do not accept it.

The amendments I will be moving relate to the timing of the application of the bill. I will work through them briefly because we are still getting phone calls in my office from people who are obviously either being fed the incorrect information or do not have a full comprehension of what the legislation is about. The minister will correct me if I am wrong or out of kilter here, but those businesses that have fewer than 10 machines will have unlimited time in which to convert their machines to be precommitment and warning ready. Businesses with 11 to 20 machines—there are quite a few of those in my electorate—and those with fewer than 10 machines account for about 83 per cent of the poker machines within the electorate. Currently in the bill those with 11 to 20 machines have until 2020 to be precommitment ready. The amendments I will be moving, which will be seconded by the member for Dobell and endorsed by at least some of the other crossbenchers, will move that precommitment-ready deadline out another two years. Moving the deadline out will have significant meaning within the industry. It would mean that those medium-size clubs that do have some financial issues would be able to get to the stage that the bill wants them to get to. So there is an extension of two years. The clubs with more than 21 machines, the bigger clubs, will also—and I think this is very significant—if the amendment is passed, have an extension from 2016 through to 2018.

I have had my issues with the club movement—not so much with the hotel movement, but the club movement. My photo was left in a lot of clubs for quite some time when I agreed very early—and the member for Denison will remember this—not to support his original proposal. I did support the need for a trial, which is going to take place in the ACT. But my standing with the club movement now, or at least with some within the club movement, is not that brilliant.

But there are some additional measures which the clubs are willing to take, irrespective, as I understand it, of whether the legislation goes through or not. I think that is to their credit. If the additional two years are accepted—there are other amendments relating to manufacture and import and to the levy, but I will not go into the technicalities of all that—the clubs are prepared to put in place a range of additional measures. The member for Dobell might elaborate on that. I think, Minister, that when you see those measures, assuming the amendments do go through, you will see that they complement the legislation.

I think we are getting closer to acceptance on both sides of this debate. The trial is still very important in all of this. But I think there is movement at the station—I think we are getting closer to widespread acceptance. As we all know, and as I said at the start, if you can get widespread acceptance, you are probably more likely to get a real outcome at the end of it and to diffuse some of the political divisions which tend to plague us.

In closing, I recognise the work of the member for Denison and of Senator Xenophon. There have also been many others out there—Tim Costello, for example—who have been very proactive in raising this issue. If I were God—and I am not—I would ban poker machines. But that is not going to happen in the real world. I think we have to find real world solutions to the very real issues of problem gambling. I congratulate the minister, too, for wrestling with this monster. It is not an easy one. But it looks as if we may be getting somewhere near a conclusion where the great majority of people—not everybody of course—will be in agreement with the process.

12:18 pm

Photo of Robert OakeshottRobert Oakeshott (Lyne, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

12:29 pm

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

(   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.

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.

12:57 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill and cognate bills. I question why this bill is currently before the House. Why, on the last day of sitting, with issues pressing, are we now debating a bill that has been floating around the House for some time?

I applaud the commitment to the bill by the member for Denison. His position has been steadfast. His position has been unique the whole way through this process. I felt for the member, for whom I have a degree of support in this. The Prime Minister gave him a deal—there was an agreement in place that this issue would be dealt with. I felt for him when the government reneged on that bill. They chose to step away from that because the dynamics of the crossbenchers had become somewhat different and, as a result, the strength of the arm of the member for Denison was drastically weakened. So I sympathise with the member about that. However, in listening to comments today I associate myself with the member for New England, who earlier said that if he was God or if he had a magic wand there would be no poker machines. I tend to support that. I am not a big lover of poker machines. I think that since poker machines were introduced into Queensland I would have put a total of about $20 through poker machines. That is my personal perspective.

However, poker machines are not illegal, and the operators, like clubs, hotels, bowls clubs and football clubs, help the community. I speak from a regional perspective; I do not have big sports clubs in my electorate. If you wanted to play the poker machines in my electorate you would go to a pub, which would probably have 20 machines, tops. A small bowls club in my electorate would have five or 10 poker machines. The revenue from those machines helps the community. In fact, some of those clubs survive not because of the poker machine revenue but because of the volunteer hours that are put in to keep those community interest groups afloat.

Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to sit with the member for Denison and speak about this issue at length. I raised concerns with him that if poker machine access was wound back an addict may then punt through other gambling outlets, whether it be on racing or online gambling. I think the response was that they stay siloed. I tend not to support that concept, because of the other options that are available for people who are addicted to gambling and practise that addiction through putting money down the throats of poker machines. I do not believe that this legislation addresses the whole problem. I do not believe that, if you take away the capacity to gamble in one location, an addicted gambler will not migrate to another location to gamble—that is, unlegislated international gambling outlets, which are accessible as simply as through a phone. This bill is farcical. In the last 12 months we have seen greater access to sports bets through betting on live action football games. It is hypocritical that the bill before the House is trying to deal with a particular member's interest in gambling machines when gambling is becoming so widespread through our community.

In the evidence from the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform the comment was made that there will be mass noncompliance with reference to the regulation of this bill. Comments along those lines concern me. There are also allegations that the industry was concerned about the time frame for the rollout of this bill.

Being from a regional centre I often get approached by people in the streets saying that political correctness has gone mad. It is like they form a parallel with gambling addicts and alcoholics. This bill to me represents trying to stop alcoholism by limiting the ability of alcoholics, when they go through the drive-through, to buy a carton and only allowing them to buy a six-pack. When I was first elected I stood on the principle that I would stand up for the silent majority of my electorate. In my presentation on this bill today that is exactly what I am endeavouring to do.

The coalition acknowledges that gambling is a major problem for some Australians. We support measures that would effectively tackle problem gambling, helping to address and prevent gambling addiction. Any response to gambling must recognise that many Australians gamble responsibly. Many Australians also rely on the sector for jobs. This legislation specifically impedes those gamblers who go out on a Friday afternoon, have a couple of beers and drop a few bucks through a poker machine. This is an impediment to those guys. Tackling problem gambling requires a measured response that does not just look at poker machines but tackles the underlying problem of gambling addiction, right across the gamut. Fundamental problem gambling can only be tackled by providing problem gamblers with counselling and support services. Suggesting that addiction is siloed is fundamentally flawed and I do not accept that.

The coalition will look at approaches that provide additional, better equipped and more efficient counselling support services for problem gamblers. So, whilst we are saying that we cannot support this bill, we do appreciate that there is work to be done in the industry sector on addressing problem gambling. We support voluntary commitment programs and would like to see these extended to all gaming venues. Decisions should be implemented as a result of detailed and careful consideration, not a handshake deal between a candidate from the Prime Minister and a single Independent member of parliament.

Earlier on today the member for Lyne suggested that the coalition's position on this bill was primarily based on fear of the loss of revenue from gambling outlets. I, like the previous speaker on our side, take offence at that. I think it is hypocritical for the member for Lyne to take that moralistic high ground in this debate. I am trying to put forward a logical and self-determining position.

Since 2010, the government has constantly rejected calls for a trial from industry. Those calls were supported by the coalition. The member on the other side of the House shakes her head, but I encourage her to—

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Disability Reform) Share this | | Hansard source

Because we're having a trial.

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am going to get to that, with reference to the trial. According to manufacturers the government time line is unrealistic and unachievable. I have already mentioned those points. The coalition has grave concerns about the proposed trial in the ACT. These concerns include that public moneys being provided as compensation to clubs involved in the trial may be siphoned back to Labor clubs and returned to the Labor Party coffers. You do not have to be Dick Tracy to go back and work out the audit trail and find out that some of the funds end up at that Labor Club here in Canberra where the trial is proposed. So it is on those points that I say to the member for Lyne that our opposition to this is not because of where the money comes from. It is purely because of our succinct and clearly outlined opposition to the bill.

The bill also provides for monitoring and investigation of compliance with new requirements. The regulatory reforms these functions and this legislation set out have enforcement measures including civil penalty orders; infringement notices; injunctions; enforceable undertakings; and compliance notices. This will mean that Labor will have established yet another new bureaucracy, a federal gaming regulator. There are not too many bills coming before this House that have a pattern or trend to them, which is that they either set up new bureaucracies, look after Labor mates, or somehow create a siphon trail for funds from this government back to a union movement, and this one just about ticks all three of those boxes.

The bill provides for the Commonwealth to delegate the regulatory function to the states and territories, with the approval of the relevant state and territory ministers, but there is no assurance that the Commonwealth would in fact delegate this power. These bills provide for the Productivity Commission to undertake two independent inquiries. One is in relation to any trial or mandatory precommitment system. The second is to inquire into the progress that is being made by gambling machine premises towards complying with the precommitment systems, the dynamic warning requirements, the limits on ATM withdrawals and the progress being made by manufacturers and importers in meeting the manufacturing and reporting requirements. The bill also establishes an Australian gambling research centre within the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The legislation was introduced into the House on 1 November, with the subsequent Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform given a mere week to take submissions, and a further one week for hearings. Given the scope of the legislation and the dimension of the challenge it seeks to address, this was far from adequate. The debate has been in the public arena for a considerable amount of time, but we do see a pattern emerging with reference to legislation. Where the legislation is somewhat sensitive you can virtually say that if the government has something to hide, or if they want to suppress transparency, one week is normally the guideline for this type of bill, and this is not an isolated incident.

The coalition supports voluntary precommitment as one of a variety of tools for addressing the complex issue of problem gambling in Australia. However, we disagree with the approach proposed by the government as contained in its ill-conceived legislative proposal. The coalition does not believe the legislation should be supported in its current form. The Productivity Commission itself stated that the issue of addressing problem gambling:

… is a complex task for public policy. The coverage and design of regulation require particular care to ensure that the benefits exceed the costs, and that account is taken of what is often imperfect evidence.

Closer examination of the evidence suggests that a number of initiatives that significantly improve the effectiveness of the legislation should be supported.

The coalition has identified six areas of concern with reference to this legislation. In brief, it is the influence of the Commonwealth; the lack of time given to industry; the cost of implementation; the negative impact on industry; the financial hardship; the risk of widespread noncompliance, which was another issue that came out of the report; and the matters associated with ATMs. This point is best demonstrated by the evidence. A respected professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney, Dr Anne Twomey, stated:

… gambling is fundamentally a State matter that should be dealt with by State laws.

…   …   …

… it would be more consistent with the federal system and with the principle of subsidiarity for such laws to be applied at the State level.

I conclude where I started: I am not a great lover of gambling through poker machines—full stop. I do not spend a lot of money at the track and in fact I only very rarely buy a lotto ticket. I make that choice because it is my personal choice. I would suggest that trying to direct the Australian public as to what should influence their personal choices is not something that is best dealt with through legislation.

There is no way I can support the bill in its current form, because I do not believe it goes to the intent of what its authors intended. However, I would like to see reform in this industry.

1:12 pm

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Disability Reform) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the member for Denison not only for his commitment to addressing the concerns of people who have serious problems with gambling, and the devastation that means for them and their families, but also for the way in which he has been prepared to work through these issues. I thank him on behalf of the government, but I also want to thank him personally. I also would like to personally thank the other Independents and the Greens, and I once again personally thank Senator Richard Di Natale for the professional way in which he has worked through the issues with us.

The introduction of these bills does represent the first time that our national government has legislated to help tackle the harm caused by poker machines. As a result of extensive work that has been done, first by the Productivity Commission and then through considerable discussions with the community and with the industry, we have arrived at the bills that are currently before the House.

The bills provide for voluntary precommitment technology on poker machines, dynamic warnings on poker machines and limits on withdrawals from ATMs in gaming venues. Most importantly, I want to remind the House that these bills build on the May 2011 agreement of the Council of Australian Governments Select Council on Gambling Reform to support the infrastructure for precommitment in every gambling venue in the country. That was agreed by all states and territories with the Commonwealth back in May 2011. These matters have been discussed and debated for a long time. Exposure drafts of these important pieces of legislation were released on 17 February this year. So we have had almost a year of discussion and consultation about the legislation that is now before the House. The bills have been informed by ongoing consultation with the key industry groups, the manufacturers, state and territory governments and many, many community groups that have been working so hard in the interests of problem gamblers for so long. All of that has happened since February this year, when we released the exposure drafts of the legislation.

I want to thank all of those stakeholders who have worked with the government on the legislation. I would also like to thank the members of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, especially the chair, the member for Denison; but I would also like to single out the government members who worked cooperatively with the member for Denison on these very important matters.

The National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 requires that all poker machines be part of a state-wide voluntary precommitment system and display electronic warnings. A precommitment system allows a pokie player to set a loss limit—that is, a limit on the amount that he or she is prepared to lose during a limit period, using poker machines located in that state or territory. Once that person reaches that loss limit, they are prevented from using gaming machines in that state or territory for the rest of their limit period. Precommitment allows pokie players to set a limit before they play and stick to it. These bills mean that people can take back control of their addiction. A registered user of a gaming machine will be able to choose to set no loss limit and will still be able to access transaction statements and other player information to help them to track and review their play. The legislation also requires that all new poker machines manufactured in Australia or imported must be capable of supporting precommitment.

We do understand that for small venues, particularly those in our regional areas, having time to get ready is very important; therefore, the legislation provides for longer time frames for small venues to introduce the changes so that they can reduce costs. And the government will be supporting the amendments foreshadowed by the member for New England that will extend these time frames a little further.

The legislation also introduces a $250-a-day ATM withdrawal limit for gaming machine premises other than casinos. Patrons will still be able to use EFTPOS facilities. We have considered the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, which inquired into the legislation, and the government are proposing an amendment to give venues until 1 February 2014 to implement the change. I might just mention, for the benefit of those members of the opposition who plainly have not read the legislation, that there is an exemption for small communities where there is only the one ATM in the small town or community. They will in fact be able to seek an exemption. It is unfortunate that the opposition did not even bother to look at the bill.

The package introduces two levies: the supervisory levy and the gaming machine regulation levy. These two levies are imposed by, respectively, the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 1) 2012 and the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 2) 2012.

The bills provide for two inquiries by the Productivity Commission. The first is into the results of the proposed trial of mandatory precommitment in the Australian Capital Territory. The second is to assess the progress towards the key reforms that are contained in the bills.

The legislation contains real action to support problem gamblers, to help them and their families. It provides a clear path for the future, where action to tackle problem gambling is based on sound evidence. I thank the members who are supporting the legislation.

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be read a second time.