Monday, 2 May 2016
Gambling Harm Reduction (Protecting Problem Gamblers and Other Measures) Bill 2016; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill would in essence implement the recommendations of the Productivity Commission from 2010. The bill I have just tabled is exactly the same as the bill that I introduced in November 2014, which, regrettably, because of the decision of the government and I am sure supported by the opposition, was never listed for debate. This bill is consistent with the Productivity Commission's recommendations. It would implement mandatory precommitment for all poker machines in Australia. It would introduce $1 maximum bets; it would introduce a $250 withdrawal limit on all ATMs and EFTPOS devices in poker machine venues. It would restrict jackpots on poker machines throughout the nation to a maximum $500. It would make the maximum banknote that could be inserted into any poker machine at any one time $20. It would make the maximum credit that any poker machine could accrue $20. Also, it would require that all machines sold in Australia were capable of complying with all of the above by 31 December 2017 and that all machines sold must comply with all of the above by 31 December 2021. Moreover, it is quite clear that venues with more than five poker machines must be compliant by that date of 31 December 2021 but venues with five or fewer poker machines are given two years longer and must be compliant by 31 December 2023.
It would be at least an understatement to say that it is beyond time for the national parliament to act on poker machine problem gambling. Just to remind honourable members and, through this place, the broader community of just how serious poker machine problem gambling is and how great the harm is: the Productivity Commission found in 2010 that almost 95,000 Australians have a serious problem with poker machines. There is no reason to think that number of about 100,000 poker machine problem gamblers has changed much since then. Moreover, the Tasmanian government's own research shows that for every poker machine problem gambler there are another five to 10 people affected—whether they be brothers, sisters, mums, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, work colleagues, the business owner or friends. The bottom line is that when you tally that up there are a million or more Australians who are either poker machine problem gamblers or directly affected by someone who does have a gambling problem with poker machines.
The enormity of this problem is also illustrated by the amount of money that is at stake. It is hard to know an exact figure but we do know that between $10 billion and $12 billion is lost each year on the pokies in this country and about 40 per cent of that money is lost by problem gamblers—that is, people who cannot afford to lose that amount of money. In other words, four or five thousand million dollars is lost in this country every year by people who cannot afford to lose that money. These are real people. They have real families. They have real jobs. These are human beings. This is not just some statistic in a Productivity Commission report. This is not just some number in a newspaper article. This is about 100,000 human beings who are being deeply affected by a machine that is legal in this country and that is almost encouraged in some jurisdictions by the way that advertising is allowed when it comes to these machines. These are people who cannot afford to pay their bills, who cannot afford to feed their children.
In Victoria, the second most prevalent cause of crime—second only to drugs—is problem gambling, mostly from poker machines. That we have a problem of such magnitude in this country and yet this place has failed to act and has certainly failed to act decisively is to our great shame. For the life of me, I do not know why it is so hard to get the attention of this place, to get attention of the major political parties, when the problem is so severe. I am delighted that the honourable member for Melbourne will be seconding this bill. I do applaud the Greens, because the Greens is one of the very few parties that actually has taken a decisive and strong leadership position on this. What does it say about our parliament and the situation with politics in this country right now that again it is left to the crossbenchers, the minor parties and the Independents, to stick up for the majority of Australians and what concerns them? And it is the majority of Australians, because we know for a fact through poll after poll after poll that a clear majority of Australians want legislative reform regarding poker machines. The community knows these things hurt. The community knows that these things can kill, that the rate of suicide among problem gamblers is markedly higher than the baseline rate of people who take their own lives in this country.
Why is it so hard? I will tell you why, Mr Deputy Speaker: it is because the parties in this place are on the take. It is simple as that. I will give you a few examples. Before the last election, ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association indirectly donated $75,000 to the re-election of Kevin Andrews, who was the shadow spokesperson on social services for the then coalition opposition. The man who would become—if he became minister, as he did—the central figure, the driving force, the architect, of this government's poker machine policy. Yet people did not seem to bat an eyelid that the industry gave him $75,000 for his re-election. What about in the previous parliament when the reforms that I was pushing at that time were a big issue for that parliament and the crossbench had the balance of power. Who batted an eyelid when Crown Casino gave Katter's Australian Party $250,000 at the time? In a developing country that would be considered corruption on a grand scale, and we here in Australia would be all high and mighty and sanctimonious about it and criticise that developing country—but it goes on in this place and it goes on all the time. How dare Crown Casino give the Katter's Australian Party a quarter of a million dollars when the member for the Kennedy was then part of the balance of power and considering serious poker machine reform.
The Labor Party are also no better. In fact, the Labor Party owns poker machines. In the ACT, the Labor Party owns the Canberra Labor Club. It has four venues, which, between them, operate almost 500 poker machines. The gambling revenue each year, including from those poker machines, is some $14 million, and those clubs give the Labor Party half a million dollars in donations a year. In other words, none of the major parties in this place is beyond reproach. In essence, they are on the take. With our donation laws, the poker machine industry hands over enormous amounts of money, and they do not do it for any other reason than to buy influence in this place—and what a great investment they make!
For the sake of a handful of millions of dollars a donation, their $12 billion industry is spared decisive action.
It needs to be decisive action by this place, by this parliament, by this level of government, because, regrettably, the state and territory governments cannot be trusted. They are significant financial beneficiaries of poker machines through the taxation they collect through those poker machines. In Tasmania, the poker machine regulator is in the Treasury department, not in social services or human services or the Premier's department. It is in the Treasury, because in Tasmania—like in every other jurisdiction—poker machines are regarded, first and foremost, as a source of revenue. In this day and age, when the state and territory governments have proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted on poker machine revenue, it is up to this place to pick up the 2010 report by the Productivity Commission. That is where the blueprint is.
I am proud to say that the bill I have table today, seconded by the member of Melbourne, picks up on those recommendations and lays out the blueprint. You know what? This week, if people cared, they could get the bill through this House and through the other house, and it would be law. We could go to the election figuring we had finally done something for the people of this country.