Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading
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".
The original question was that the bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Franklin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.
I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. This bill sends a strong message to overseas operators and regulators that Australia is very serious about compliance with its online gambling laws. As we know, international experience shows that a combination of strong regulation and enforcement significantly reduces the size of the problem. Since the introduction of the bill in November last year, already a number of major offshore gambling operators have ceased providing, or indicated that they will withdraw, their prohibited services, as Australia can no longer be seen as perhaps a grey market in relation to gambling laws. The disruptive measures that the government is proposing in this legislation include extending the ambit of enforcement to affiliates and agents. As we know, some illegal offshore operators use an Australian based group of agents and affiliates to recruit new customers in return for a commission paid by the operator relative to the customers' wagering activities. Our amendments to this bill enable enforcement action to be taken against such actors. This is a very important measure contained in this bill.
Depending on who you talk to, online gambling, for some, can be the most convenient form of gambling—or entertainment, as some have said to me—or a greater curse, according to others. In either case, gone are the days when people had to go to somewhere like a racecourse to have a bet, if that is what they wanted to do. In fact, in 2014, $2.4 billion was spent on online gambling by Australians, which is double the amount of 10 years earlier. Australians, as we know, are amongst the highest-spending gamblers in the world, spending $1,245 per capita in 2014, and we know that that includes many who cannot afford the loss. The overall expenditure on gambling in Australia in 2013-14 was $21.1 billion, and wagering made up $3.4 billion of this. As an interesting comparison, according to the government's Private Health Insurance Administration Council, private health insurance premium revenue for that industry for 2013-14, the same period, totalled $19.3 billion, with $16.9 billion, or around 85 per cent, paid as benefits to policyholders. From that comparison, we can see that in Australia we spend more on gambling than we spend on insuring our health. That indicates pretty well how a lot of Australians see gambling in this country.
Historically, gambling was something like a game of poker around the table with a group of friends. It does not look anything like that anymore. We now see gambling with online overseas service providers, often illegal offshore gambling providers. In Australia, we see all sorts of gambling, including poker machines and national lotteries, and some of these make very good contributions to good and worthy causes. For that reason, those forms of gambling are often supported in homes that would not be involved in other forms of gambling—because the profits are spent for the community good.
I look at horseracing and the changes and disruption that have occurred through the use of the internet and online gambling. The punter, as they are called, knows that odds are calculated to minimise the risk to the gambling host, be it a bookie at the track, if the punter is at the track, a TAB or an online betting company. Historically, it was not unknown for the humble track-side bookie, particularly in rural and regional areas, to go broke if he or she did not calculate their odds well or failed to spread the risk evenly. But today we see, especially with some of the internationally owned operators in the online space, the very extraordinary power of computing and computer programs, which make sure their profits are maintained. For those who are spending the money and having a punt or a gamble, a judgement for the punter to make is how likely they are to be successful in this space. What are the real odds for that gambler? Have they thought about that side of it or is it simply wealth transference, in a sense?
We have seen it made easier and easier to gamble online. That has been the conversion: from traditional products to any device, anywhere, at any time. And many Australians are accessing this service from what could be described as, at best, questionable overseas service providers.
I have seen the impact of this—and we have talked about the disruption of the internet in many fields—when I have looked, in rural and regional Australia, at some of the smaller physical racetracks. They are run, often, by community volunteers. I have seen the challenge they face in trying to compete, in running an event for local people and the community more broadly and for the industry that frequently is a major employer in rural and regional Australia. We have seen numbers of local bookmakers and bookmakers disappear. In fact, there are some great challenges for small racetracks and the volunteer groups.
With the overseas operators, there is greater risk for consumers because the legal protections are not in place and the standard consumer protections are not there. There is the potential, we see, for greater sports integrity problems, as relevant betting and transaction information is actually not available. There is less tax revenue for governments, and less product and other fees for the racing and sports industries. There are fewer jobs for Australians—and I have touched on that in talking about rural and regional Australia—and lower numbers of people actually employed in these industries. And some illegal offshore gambling sites are actually connected, as we know, to crime syndicates. So it is very, very important that there are strong and enforceable regulatory frameworks to protect Australians from the adverse effects of illegal online gambling services.
When, on 7 September, the government commissioned the review to examine the impacts of illegal offshore wagering on Australia, there came up a number of options to mitigate the effects. We also looked at the efficacy of consumer protection measures. We know from that review that the number of online wagering accounts in Australia has grown fourfold during the period from 2004 to 2014, from 200,000 to 800,000, with many people actually operating multiple accounts.
In April this year, the government announced it would implement 18 of the 19 recommendations in the government's response to the recommendations of the review of illegal offshore wagering. This review investigated the impacts of illegal offshore wagering on Australia, measures to mitigate its effects and the efficacy of consumer protection controls. It was led by the Hon. Barry O'Farrell and consisted of consultations with a wide range of industries, academia, those in responsible gambling and government stakeholders, problem gamblers and consumers. The review was told the existing approach to enforcement of the IGA was insufficient to actually deter offshore operators from providing what are prohibited interactive gambling services to Australian consumers and that the amount of money being spent on illegal wagering and its services could be as high as $400 million annually, just on the illegal gambling side. So the money spent on illegal and prohibited gambling services could be $400 million a year. Previous estimates found the total amount of money spent on all illegal interactive gambling services was close to a billion dollars annually. The review concluded that the aim of governments should be to reduce the scope of illegal offshore gambling activity and control the associated harms, through a range of disruptive and deterrent measures, and through strong enforcement of regulation, which we see in this bill.
In addition, the review showed that the rate of problem gambling is higher amongst interactive gamblers compared to gamblers more generally. Offshore gambling has a detrimental effect on the Australian wagering, racing and sporting industries, and on problem and at-risk gamblers, and on consumers and governments. I have touched on the impact that it has in rural and regional Australia, and I am sure that there are other members in this chamber who would have seen a similar impact on their small local racetracks, on their groups of volunteers who provide some great entertainment and also on the industry itself. There are so many people who are employed in the equine sector, and I think the sector is not always recognised for the significant employer it is, and for the economic multiplier that it provides in many rural and regional communities.
Australians are protected against illegal online gambling services through the Commonwealth's Interactive Gambling Act, and that actually prohibits the provision and advertising of prohibited interactive gambling services to people in Australia unless they hold a licence under the law of an Australian state or territory. It is the intent of the government to strengthen those protections—in the first instance, by clarifying the requirements to actually obtain such a licence.
The bill before us today will also introduce a civil penalty regime, to be enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which will allow the ACMA to be responsible for the entire complaint-handling process, from receipt to enforcement—a seamless process which I think, in this instance, is a critical part of the enforcement process and the civil penalty process. It will empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority with new civil penalties, and they will add to and complement the existing criminal penalty powers held by the Australian Federal Police. This demonstrates how serious this government is in this space. The government will also build relationships with international regulators and raise awareness of Australian gambling laws and the risks associated with illegal gambling services.
Online gambling has been linked with cybercrime and money laundering, and it really is imperative that this connection is broken. So I think that, with the AFP involvement, and as we see through this bill and the measures contained in this bill, the government is taking a proactive approach in dealing not only with the illegal operators but also the cybercrime and money laundering that goes with it.
The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 contains proposed amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 and the regulations made under the Interactive Gambling Act. The proposed amendments are designed to clarify the law regarding illegal offshore gambling and strengthen the enforcement mechanisms under the Interactive Gambling Act. They represent the first stage of the Australian government's process to implement the recommendations of the 2015 Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering.
I reiterate that Labor acknowledges and shares the concerns that many people have around the growth of online betting, and I affirm that Labor broadly supports the bill's main focus, which is to bolster the enforcement of the Interactive Gambling Act. Labor recognises that well-regulated gambling has a place in Australian society and believes that it is in the interests of industry and consumers that appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place.
As acting shadow minister for communications, I wish to speak to the second reading amendment to the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, moved by my colleague the member for Franklin, calling on the Turnbull government to work with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase-out the promotion of betting odds and commercials relating to betting or gambling during live sporting broadcasts, with a view to their prohibition. Labor's second reading amendment responds to the legitimate concerns of many Australians about the significant growth in betting odds promotion and gambling advertising, especially during live sporting broadcasts. It is designed to protect Australians, including Australian children, by acting to ensure that live sporting broadcasts are free from intrusive gambling advertising and betting odds promotion.
Like many people in this chamber, I have been watching sport on television for a long time. When I first started watching, things were far from ideal. For example, tobacco advertising used to be permitted on television—indeed, tobacco companies were the major sponsors of sport until tobacco advertising and promotion was prohibited in the early 1990s—but at least Australians were not subject to a barrage of advertisements promoting betting and gambling. That is not the case today; far from it. Today, gambling advertising is so prevalent it is changing the way our children think and talk about sport. To quote a recent report from the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, published in May 2016, entitled Child and parent recall of gambling sponsorship in Australian sport:
Sports betting companies saturate audiences with advertising across a range of platforms that include television advertisements, during sporting events and, more recently, through social media and sport sponsorship.
Further, 'The majority of children aged 8-16 years were able to recall the names of sports betting brands,' with three in four children able to correctly recall the name of at least one sports betting brand and one in four children able to identify four or more sports betting brands.
Referring to this research in an August 2016 ABC news article, Tom Nightingale reported that children consider gambling ads as a normal part of sport. I quote from that article:
Deakin University researchers said children as young as eight are recalling brand names and even promotional offers.
'Children are very easily able to tell you that if you bet on a certain outcome of a game, if your team kicks the first goal but then go on to lose, that they now expect to get money back on those offers,' study co-author Associate Professor Samantha Thomas said.
The article went on to say that in 2015:
… the gambling industry spent $145 million on promotion, making it the fourth biggest spender in Australian advertising.
A 14-year-old boy told the researchers it was because 'everywhere, the ads make you want to bet.'
A 10-year-old said: 'Every time there is sport on, I'm like, I'm going to bet $5 for the Socceroos to win.'
The article continued:
The researchers said a loophole in advertising rules risks creating a generation of sports fans for whom gambling is normal.
… … …
The researchers said a loophole in advertising rules risks creating a generation of sports fans for whom gambling is normal.
… … …
… we not only have children who can name gambling companies, but also can tell us things like bonus bets, cash back refunds, and the very specific creative factors within the advertisements they see,' Associate Professor Thomas said.
A number of reports have noted an increase in gambling advertising in recent years, despite restrictions on live odds and gambling advertising introduced about 3½ years ago, in 2013.
Gambling advertising has soared more than 250 per cent since Australia's broadcasting authority banned the promotion of live betting odds during sports coverage.
She noted that promotion of betting odds is allowed half an hour before and half an hour after the game by persons clearly identified as bookies, and that gambling advertising is still allowed and had increased since the live odds restrictions were brought in. To quote Ms Schetzer:
According to advertising monitoring firm Ebiquity, gambling advertising has increased 251 per cent. Between January and October, 2013, there were 19,953 gambling ads. During the same period in 2014, the number had jumped to 50,037.
Betting ads are also growing like crazy.
From $91 million worth in 2011 to $236 million in 2015.
And that’s far faster than any other sector of advertising …
It is instructive to revisit the context in which the current broadcasting television codes were amended to restrict betting odds and gambling advertising in live sports broadcasts. Following the leadership and intervention of the Labor government in 2013, the broadcast industry responded to address public concerns and develop rules to restrict gambling advertising in live sports broadcasting, and the promoting of betting odds, in particular. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy issued a joint media release on these issues on 26 May 2013. 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 noted that all generic gambling broadcast advertisements would be banned during play and that advertisements of this sort would only be allowed before or after a game or during a scheduled break in play, such as quarter-time and half-time. Most importantly for our purposes today, they stated:
The Government will monitor the intensity of generic gambling advertisements within the allowed periods. If it is found to go beyond reasonable levels, the Government will impose a total advertising ban.
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 for consideration. Subsequently, in July 2013, the ACMA registered the new codes, satisfied they contained appropriate community safeguards. While the provisions in these new codes of practice served to limit the promotion of live odds, in particular, and to restrict gambling ads during play, they continued to allow: promotion of betting odds half an hour before play and in the half-hour after play by clearly identified gambling representatives; and commercials relating to betting or gambling before play has commenced, during scheduled breaks, during unscheduled breaks and after play has concluded. That is to say, the codes of practice allow significant windows of opportunity for gambling advertising around live sports broadcasts.
It is notable that, in the backgrounder to its media release announcing the code registration, the ACMA stated as follows:
… the codes do not cover the field of community concerns around gambling advertising and general sports programming. For example, ACMA research also indicates just over 60 per cent of the community find unacceptable the presentation of odds and general gambling advertisements during sports-related programs.
The ACMA will consider if there is a need to review the effectiveness of the new codes following the Australian summer sports season and will continue to examine community attitudes in order to inform its decision-making on any future regulatory initiatives.
The point is that, back in 2013, both the Labor government and the ACMA noted that further action in this area might be necessary in future, once the effectiveness of measures to address community concerns at the time could be examined.
Labor is committed to evidence-informed policy, and it is instructive to consider the evidence of Australian community attitudes to gambling advertising during sports broadcasts. According to community research commissioned by the ACMA, Australians are highly interested in sport—no surprises there! In the July 2013 report entitled Betting odds and advertising for betting agencies during sports broadcasts, the ACMA reported that, at least once a month, 62 per cent of respondents watched live sport on television, 35 per cent watched sport related television programs and 29 per cent listened to live sport on the radio.
Given the popularity of live sports broadcasts among Australians of all ages, it is little surprise that the research found clear evidence that the community finds betting odds advertising, and advertising for betting agencies, to be unacceptable. The research found that two-thirds of respondents indicated that they found promotion of betting odds during live sports broadcasts unacceptable, and more than six in 10 respondents found advertising for betting agencies during live sports broadcasts unacceptable. The research is very clear in reflecting Australians' opposition, by a substantial majority, to this form of advertising.
Thanks to the leadership of the Labor government in 2013, the broadcast industry responded to address public concerns and developed rules to restrict gambling advertising. Now, and with the benefit of three years of the operation of these safeguards, it is apparent that they do not go far enough to address very clear community concerns. It is clear that Australians want to keep the broadcast of live sport and gambling separate. It is in everyone's interest to ensure that children do not associate betting and gambling as a normal part of watching sport on television, yet these commercials continue to intrude upon our nation's love of sport and to cause significant public concern. The rules need to go further.
The time has come for government, the broadcast industry and the sporting codes to accept that gambling advertising before and during live sporting broadcasts is contrary to community standards and to amend the broadcasting codes of practice accordingly. Current restrictions should be extended to ensure there is no promotion of betting odds or gambling advertising at all in the 30 minutes before play and to ensure there is no gambling advertising at all during scheduled breaks, such as half-time, or during unscheduled breaks, such as weather delays. This approach builds on and extends the safeguards introduced into broadcast industry codes of practice in 2013, following the leadership of the Gillard government in calling for the promotion of odds and gambling advertisements to be reduced.
Again today, Labor has shown leadership on the issue of gambling advertising. Our second reading amendment to the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, moved today in the House of Representatives, responds to the legitimate concerns many Australian parents and families have around the significant growth of betting odds and gambling advertising, especially during live sporting broadcasts. Labor calls on the government to work with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase out the promotion of betting odds and commercials relating to betting or gambling during live sports broadcasts, with a view to their prohibition. In doing so, Labor adopts a pragmatic approach. Labor is conscious of the need to address the public interest considerations in a way that does not impose unnecessary financial and administrative burdens on providers of broadcasting services.
Labor's approach demonstrates an understanding of, and confidence in, the co-regulatory system of broadcast regulation, prescribed in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Under this system, industry has the opportunity to develop codes of practice to address matters of concern to the community and, where a broadcast industry code of practice is not operating to provide appropriate community safeguards, the government regulator may step in and regulate by way of a program standard.
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, it is imperative that the government work with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase out commercials relating to betting or gambling during live sports programs, with a view to their prohibition over time. I urge the government to address this issue as a matter of priority, in the national interest.
The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 deals with online gambling and, in particular, international online gambling, which is deemed as illegal. Gambling is a great Australian pastime, and although I am not a big gambler myself, I do not mind a flutter. Normally I need to be at the races; I do not tend to gamble online or even at local TABs, but I do gamble at the local races and carnivals, places like Quorn, Hawker, Roxby Downs, Ceduna and the Kimba Cup, to name but a few of those fantastic racing events that happen across the electorate of Grey.
Gambling underwrites the thoroughbred industry; it underwrites the Melbourne Cup; it underwrites the Golden Slipper and it underwrites the Port Augusta and Port Lincoln cups, so it is very important that any adjustment we make in this area protects those interests as much as possible. It is also important that we make sure we are addressing those things that are happening in a fast-moving space which affects their viability, as is the case with this legislation and online gambling—I will get to those reasons in a little while.
My electorate of Grey—to keep with the racing industry for a little while—has generated some of the great venerated sporting heroes of Australia. There are, for example, Makybe Diva—a horse that never actually set foot in Port Lincoln but has its emotional home in Port Lincoln as that is where the name Makybe Diva came from and that is where its owner came from—right through to Kerrin McEvoy, who comes from that hotbed of thoroughbred racing, Streaky Bay, which is on, what we call, the west coast of South Australia. His family have been involved for generations as horse trainers, riders and owners, as have a number of other people from that area.
Thoroughbred racing is a great Australian passion and tradition, as is the action of putting a wager on the outcome of the race. In fact, thoroughbred racing alone, in Australia, employs about 250,000 people, full- and part-time, or about 77,000 FTE. It presents $427 million of prize money a year, and it comes as no surprise to note that most of this money comes from a regulated gambling industry.
Yes, there are benefits in a regulated gambling industry. There are safeguards to protect people. Some would argue there should be more safeguards. And yes, it is taxed. It is currently estimated that the illegal offshore gambling industry is siphoning about $400 million a year from Australia annually. That is presenting a significant tax revenue loss to Australia and those industries that those gambling dollars support.
The digital world has unlocked new opportunities for gambling—for instance, in-play gambling. This is presenting a great challenge to sporting regulators. Corruption and match fixing go hand in hand with drug cheats. If you look at some of the more famous cases in this area, like the Fine Cotton ring-in scandal here in Australia, the conviction and life ban of now deceased South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje—there are quite a number of international cricketers who have had lifetime bans imposed on them. Although some of them have been overturned since, there is no doubt of the view that the sport takes of this kind of behaviour. The former head of security for the United European Football Associations, Chris Eaton, says that match fixing is at a point of crisis. As I said, the link between drug cheating and the incentives to win, and undetected gambling, is strong. In the cycling world, perhaps the most famous drug cheat of all time is Lance Armstrong, and that industry has had a very chequered past with race fixing as well. So we would be fools not to think that this was not happening in other sports.
Match fixing is an anathema to the true sports fan, and Australia is full of true sports fans. Match fixing can occur with or without online international gambling, but any gambling that is hidden from the regulated system provides an avenue for people to harvest the gains of match fixing. That is one of the reasons this legislation is very important. It is important to shore-up the viability of the very good industry of thoroughbred racing in Australia and those others that benefit from the gambling dollar. It is also very important that we do our best to ensure the integrity of these sports so that people who do place a legitimate wager have a legitimate chance of trying to predict the outcome of that particular event without being influenced by things that have happened outside—in this case, match fixing.
The internet is challenging many of the things we take for the norm in our modern society with both good and bad results. There are some very good things we can do on the internet. One of the ones that, I guess, creates a little bit of tension in our economic make-up is the retail industry—I will come to that in a moment. Apart from the retail industry, there are the changes in news services, which we could describe as the opportunity to view both true and false news. This has been in the real news a little bit lately. The internet is also a platform for child and revenge porn. It is a place where people can impersonate an identity for the purposes of grooming children. It is a place where cyberbullying can happen. And it is a place where gambling takes place.
As a guiding rule in my life, I think that, if an individual's actions do not impact in a detrimental way on others, we should be very careful about what actions we take to curtail those actions or to regulate them. So, when you look at the various things that are happening on the internet, I think you need to take them on a case-by-case basis and examine who they are affecting. If you take the first example I used of the retail industry: yes, lost sales are impacting on our local retailers here in Australia, but it is difficult to make a very strong case that individuals should not have the right to buy from wherever they choose as long as they abide by Australian taxation requirements.
In news services, there is a great effect there, too. The slow demise of our traditional news-gathering services in Australia and the Western world, with the loss of advertising and newspaper sales, is going to present a very really challenge—in fact, for our democracy. But it is difficult to argue that people should not have the opportunity to view their news from wherever they wish, and I think it would be extremely unlikely for any government in Australia to try to curtail those activities. But, when it comes to identity impersonation, grooming, child and revenge porn, child abuse and cyberbullying, a very real case can be made that the effects of those activities on others are hugely detrimental. Governments have a responsibility to do what they can to curtail that damage and shut it down wherever possible.
That brings me to gambling. People could ask, 'Why can't you gamble wherever you wish? Why isn’t it a free choice?' Largely, it should be, except in this case, where international gambling organisations that are not registered in Australia are totally circumventing our regulations and tax laws. In that case, they are having a very real effect on the industries that those gambling products fund. So I think the case is quite solid for the reforms that the government is bringing forward at the moment. I thank Barry O'Farrell, the former Premier of New South Wales, for a very well-considered report. The government is adopting 18 of the 19 recommendations he made.
It is worth noting that the proportion of problem gambling in the online world is three times higher than in other forms of gambling. Yes, there is a personal choice issue here, but there is no doubt that this form of gambling is more damaging on the individual than other forms of gambling. Online gambling is the fastest-growing gambling sector, growing at 15 per cent per annum, with over $1.4 billion gambled online each year—which only underlines the urgency that the government move in this area. It is not something that we can put off to tomorrow. That kind of growth means that this is an issue of today that needs to be addressed today.
All those things considered, I commend this legislation that has been brought to the House. I think this is a very realistic move by the government. We need to keep order as much as we possibly can. As I said in my opening remarks, it supports a fantastic industry in Australia that we should guard jealously. Our thoroughbred industry is highly regarded around the world, and long may that continue.
I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 and to support the amendment moved by the member for Franklin. I would also like to say that I thoroughly agree with the comments that the member for Grey made towards the end of his speech. We have a wonderful thoroughbred industry in this country and a history of thoroughbred racing that is part of an iconic industry that employs a lot of people in my electorate. I represent the seat of Hindmarsh and smack bang in the middle of it is the SAJC Morphettville race track, and I know that there are a large number of people who are involved in that industry who work as trainers, strappers, jockeys and a whole range of things. At last count—the last time we managed to get some figures together—we found that we had over 600 people directly involved through the SAJC at Morphettville in South Australia, in my electorate alone.
I feel very strongly about our responsibility to ensure that, as a society, we do everything in our power to stop gambling from becoming a problem for people. I am no prim when it comes to gambling, but there are people in our society who, for some reason, fall into the trap and it becomes a big problem for them. None of us want to demonise gambling. I enjoy a flutter occasionally at the races. I attend the races with my wife Wendy a few times a year, and we thoroughly enjoy it. But we know that there are people who have different issues and become entrenched in gambling and it becomes a real problem not only for them but also for their families. The majority of people who bet do so in a responsible manner, but we also know that, when gambling becomes a problem, it can have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences for the gambler and people who are around them—family, spouses, children et cetera.
There is no denying that gambling is a big problem in Australia. According to data from H2 Gambling Capital, a London based industry researcher, and as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald on 2 September 2015, Australians lose more money per adult on gambling than every other developed country. Back in 2010, the Productivity Commission estimated that the average loss for each Australian that gambled was $1,500. In addition, research indicates that the actions of one problem gambler can negatively affect the lives of between five and 10 others. This means that there are up to five million Australians that could be affected by problem gambling each and every year, including friends, family, employers and people with a gambling problem. Unfortunately, only around 15 per cent of problem gamblers seek help. This figure is likely to be even lower amongst the most vulnerable in our communities, including migrant communities with the language, cultural barriers and stigmas related to gambling in those communities.
There are many good organisations in my electorate of Hindmarsh, such as the Salvation Army, St Andrew's by the Sea at Glenelg Uniting Church, UnitingCare Australia, and Bower Cottages Community Centre—all of which deal with and try to assist problem gamblers. Recently I had the pleasure of launching Relationships Australia's fantastic PEACE Community Ambassadors Project. Relationships Australia do amazing work in this space of gambling. In this particular initiative, they have trained 19 ambassadors from different countries and backgrounds with different language skills, to help address the stigmatised issue of gambling in different communities, and to advise how best to work with individual communities. Initiatives such as this should be supported, and Relationships Australia deserve our support for the great work that they do. All of these people work tirelessly to help families and communities cope with the problems caused by betting and gambling. I have spoken to all of them, on many occasions, and they have all told me firsthand some of the compelling stories of the devastation that has been caused to families by gambling. This is why we need a very well-regulated gambling industry, and why we need to seriously address the growth of illegal online gambling; something that all of the speakers before me have spoken about. So I support the intent of this bill, because it will go some way to assuring that the appropriate harm minimisation measures are put in place.
For example, the bill will clarify the law regarding illegal offshore gambling. This is an area that needs urgent attention. Interactive gambling in Australia has grown rapidly since 2004. We have seen that traditional forms of gambling are in decline, because betting online is using IT technology; things like smartphones, tablets and other digital devices where it has become so easy and so accessible that you have access at the click of your finger. For example, as we have heard, the O'Farrell report found that the number of active online wagering accounts in Australia grew from 200,000 to 800,000 between 2004 and 2014—in 10 years. That is an enormous jump, and that enormous jump coincides with the new technologies that we have. Online gambling at the touch of a button, anytime, anywhere, makes it extremely difficult for those that are vulnerable. It also makes it difficult for susceptible people to protect themselves from this particular temptation. Even more worrying is the fact that this technology has led to the exceptional growth of illegal offshore operators online. This, in turn, is something that we should be concerned about. It has impacted on problem gamblers as well as on Australian industries such as the thoroughbred industry, hotels et cetera. In an article published in The Advertiser on 28 November, it was reported that poker-machine spending in South Australia has 'hit its lowest level since 2003, amid warnings that punters are moving to online games where there is less oversight'. We have industries that are regulated: our thoroughbred industries and venues such as casinos which provide gambling activity are highly regulated; the danger is that people are moving away onto online interactive gambling, where perhaps there is much less oversight. This is worrying because, while all forms of gambling can pose a danger for problem gamblers, regardless of what form of gambling they engage in, we know that it is very easy to put very large sums of money on online bets with the simple click of a mouse. This is very worrying trend, because it is also putting local businesses and jobs at risk.
The second area of reform in this bill is that it seeks to prohibit the click-to-call in-play betting services—that is, placing numerous bets in a short period of time, which has the capacity to lead to gambling problems. Evidence to date suggests that young men are particularly vulnerable to this type of wagering and to addiction from this particular form of betting. If we look at the example of online gambling, it is at the click of a finger: you can just repeatedly click, click, click, click, and lose a massive amount of money. Looking at other forms of gambling, for example, in the traditional form of racing, there is a race every few minutes, or locally maybe every 30 minutes. You place a bet with a bookmaker, you then go out, you watch that particular race—you may win, you may lose—and then you have a bit of time to think about the next bet: what has taken place, and whether you can afford it or not. With interactive gambling, it is immediate. There is no time to think. It is a very, very dangerous form of gambling, and that is what is called click-to-call in-play betting services. It is placing numerous bets in a short period of time, and it has the capacity to lead to massive problems and, as I have said, all the evidence suggests that young men are the most vulnerable to this form of gambling.
In a report published by Financial Counselling Australia into the impact of uncontrolled sports betting, it was found that some unscrupulous sports-betting companies actively encourage customers to bet by offering them credit. If you have a poker machine venue in South Australia, you are not allowed to offer credit—and there is a good reason why not—whereas the report found that: 'In some cases, the lure is initial "free bets" which familiarise consumers with the game, before inducing them to take further credit.' This is very dangerous. The report also found that some of these companies 'swap customer account data, contrary to privacy legislation.' If this is true, it means that a company can swap their list with another company, who can potentially entice that person to resume gambling when perhaps they have ceased, or backed off, or slowed down a bit. For example, a person can receive a fully functioning account, populated with their private financial data, plus some 'free money' or credit to welcome them. This bill will hopefully help address these concerns by, amongst other things: introducing a civil penalty regime; prohibiting click-to-call in-play betting services; amending the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 to enable ACMA to notify international regulators of information relating to prohibited or regulated interactive gambling services; simplifying and streamlining the complaints and investigations; establishing a register of certain legitimate regulated interactive gambling services to raise awareness amongst consumers of services which should be avoided; and amending the ACMA Act to enable ACMA to notify the Department of Immigration and Border Protection of information relating to prohibited or regulated interactive gambling services.
As I said, I support the amendment moved earlier by my colleague the member for Franklin. Labor has taken a clear stance on this. We believe that Australia's children should be protected. We are calling on the government to work with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase out commercials in relation to betting or gambling during live sports programs with a view to their eventual prohibition. I feel very strongly about stopping the growing prevalence of gambling advertising on television during live sporting events. It is in the public interest to protect children and those who are vulnerable from associating betting and wagering as a normal part of watching sport on television. That is why it is time to show some real leadership on this issue. It is time to get the balance right. We are not proposing a blanket ban on gambling advertising, but we do want the government to put in place a transitional approach that will lead to genuine solutions.
Australians overwhelmingly want to keep the broadcast of live sport and gambling separate. We want parents and families to feel safe while watching television and we need to protect those who are vulnerable and ensure that kids do not grow up desensitised to gambling. I know first-hand that this is an area of great concern to many Australians. Many people have spoken to me about it. All of us enjoy watching footy or cricket on TV. It is a great pastime. I remember watching football games regularly with my kids. I want to be able to watch sporting events on TV with my grandchildren without being bombarded with betting ads. It is slowly becoming part of the game itself and the commentary. Families should not have to choose between watching a sports event and protecting their children from exposure to gambling. Children should be talking about their favourite teams, the skills on the field and their favourite players, not who they should put money on or what the odds are. We are seeing a trend towards that, especially in commentating on sports programs.
We have heard about many studies that have been done. One by Deakin University found that gambling advertising is impacting on teenagers and children as young as eight years of age and that more than one quarter of children can identify four or more betting companies. So kids as young as eight can identify four or more betting companies, and that is frightening. It is high time that we got the balance right because, despite all efforts, live odds and gambling ads continue to appear on our TVs. I understand that we need to balance the concerns that I am hearing in my community with the economic needs of broadcasters who face competitive pressures. At present, gambling ads are permitted to be played during news, current affairs and live sports events. We should work with the broadcast industries on a transition plan to phase out betting odds and betting commercials. I welcome the call to ban the promotion of betting odds, or gambling ads, in the 30 minutes before the commencement of play, during half time and during delays. What we are proposing is a transitional approach that encompasses a sensible and responsible way forward. I support the amendment. I feel very strongly about it.
It is my great pleasure to rise and speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. I want to commend those opposite who have joined with the government in supporting this very important bill before the House today.
On 7 September 2015, the government commissioned a review to examine the impacts of illegal offshore wagering in Australia. The bill implements key parts of the government response to the review. It was led by the Honourable Barry O'Farrell. I have to say that he has done a superb job. I commend Barry O'Farrell for the very comprehensive work he has done in this space. While we have bipartisanship on this particular bill before the parliament, it should be noted that we did not see this sort of action from members opposite when they were last in power. As with many other issues, we are very proud to lead the way on this important social reform.
On 28 April 2016, the government released its response to the review and agreed to 18 of the 19 recommendations, including measures to clarify the legality of services and strengthen the enforcement provisions under the Interactive Gambling Act. In responding to the review, the Australian government said it would do four things: crack down on illegal offshore gambling providers, which, as we know, is becoming more and more an issue with their insidious activities which are largely unregulated; clarify the law by prohibiting click-to-call in-play wagering services to respect the original intent of the Interactive Gambling Act; not expand the online betting market in Australia by legalising in-play betting; and establish a strong national consumer protection framework. The bill is the first stage of implementing the government's response to the review, addressing the first two parts that I mentioned. Part 3 does not require any further action, of course. Very proudly, we have announced that a national consumer protection framework was agreed to by state and territory gambling ministers on 20 November last year, led by the Minister for Human Services.
Looking at some of the headlines from my local papers—this is from The Geelong Advertiser on 1 August 2016—you can see that $2.2 billion was gambled in Geelong. Pokies take $50 billion in Victoria, and my wonderful region—the City of Greater Geelong—was fourth on the list of municipalities, losing the most behind Monash, Brimbank and Greater Dandenong. This is a considerable issue in my electorate of Corangamite where, even in Colac, poker machine losses have swollen to $7.7 million in the last year. We understand and we know that gambling is an addiction which affects so many families. Gambling is a social curse for many families where it runs rampant and causes enormous issues with family breakdown and with financial hardship. We have all heard so many stories about families losing their homes, losing their livelihoods, getting caught up in illegal activity trying to repay their gambling debts and, of course, causing enormous damage to the family unit.
While online wagering is only a small part of the overall gambling market, it is Australia's fastest-growing segment. The review found that the number of active online wagering accounts in Australia has grown four-fold from 200,000 to 800,000 during the period 2004 to 2014; many people have more than one account. Legal online wagering is growing due to increases in mobile devices and changes in consumer behaviour, and we heard from the previous speaker the concern about television advertising, which I do think is a legitimate point. With mobile devices in our lap while watching TV and the prevalence of more and more television advertising, it is all too easy for a person to click or to push on a particular app and to make a decision that may end in trauma or absolute hardship for them and for their family.
The market is highly competitive. It largely consists of internationally-owned companies licensed and operating in Australia. The review found that estimated gambling expenditure by Australians on illegal offshore sites is between $64 million and $400 million per annum. Today I am very proud that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill will crack down on illegal offshore gambling. It will amend the Interactive Gambling Act to introduce a range of measures, including amending the law to make it clear that it is illegal for overseas gambling companies to offer gambling products to Australians unless the person or company holds a licence under the law of an Australian state or territory. It empowers the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, with new civil penalties, complementing the existing criminal penalties powers held by the Australian Federal Police, and it allows ACMA to be responsible for the entire complaint-handling process from receipt through to enforcement.
It introduces other disruption measures to curb illegal offshore gambling activity, such as placing company directors or principals of offending gambling companies on the movement alert list so that any travel to Australia can be disrupted. It empowers ACMA to notify international regulators of operators providing illegal or unlicensed interactive gambling services. It creates a register of eligible regulated interactive gambling services in order to raise awareness among Australian customers of interactive gambling services that should be avoided, as evidenced by their non-inclusion on the register. Currently the Interactive Gambling Act prohibits online in-play betting on a sporting event, such as Aussie Rules—and let's not forget to mention the wonderful Geelong footy team—football, rugby league, cricket or tennis, but it allows in-play betting wholly by way of voice calls made using a standard telephone service. Some gambling providers have contravened the original intention of the act by using click-to-call technology, allowing individuals to place in-play bets by selecting their bet online either through an app or the website and confirming the bet by placing a call through to the gambling provider.
The bill before the House today clarifies the law by prohibiting click-to-call in-play betting services, to respect the original intent of the Interactive Gambling Act. The government does not intend to further expand the online betting market in Australia by legalising online in-play betting. As I mentioned at the beginning of my contribution, we are also moving very, very strongly towards putting stronger consumer protections in place. This is not dealt with in relation to this bill, but it is a key element of the government's response. I do commend the Minister for Human Services, Minister Tudge, for his work in leading the way to make sure that consumers of gambling products are properly protected—that gambling providers are put on notice to ensure they are giving the appropriate warnings. We know how much of an issue this is for our children.
Following on from the bill, the government's next step is to implement the recommendations in the review to work with the states and territories to establish a strong national consumer protection framework, which was reached in principle on 25 November 2016. This is yet another example of how the Turnbull government is supporting families. The reaction to the bill has been extremely positive. As I have mentioned, we have seen very strong bipartisanship across the chamber today on this important measure, but it is disappointing that it took a Liberal-National government to implement these important reforms. In so many respects we have seen in this parliament that we are fixing up Labor's mess, and it is regrettable that this has not been dealt with earlier. But let's not dwell on Labor's failures in this respect; let's be positive and reflect on the fact that we are seeing strong bipartisanship.
We take our responsibilities in this space very, very seriously. Our work on e-safety for children on the internet is incredibly important. Our eSafety commissioner commenced on 1 July 2015. We have a very effective complaints system backed by legislation to get harmful material targeted at Australian children down as fast as possible from large social media sites.
Again, when it comes to the safety of our children—who, more and more at a younger and younger age, are using the internet, going on websites, accessing apps through their phones, their tablets—we take it extremely seriously. They are more and more vulnerable to being exploited online, and we are very proud of the work that we have done in relation to the work of the eSafety Commissioner and the legislation that surrounds that.
It is well known that the Interactive Gambling Act to date has been a key reason why many illegal offshore operators have been providing services into Australia. This bill sends a clear message to overseas operators and to regulators that Australia is serious about compliance with its online gambling laws. It is serious about ensuring that we will not let international companies come into Australia and to exploit children and families illegally and, as you can see, from the breadth of this bill and what is encompassed in it, there are many ways in which we are tackling the seriousness with which we take these particular amendments.
Australia has, unfortunately, been a grey market when it comes to gambling laws. A number of major offshore gambling operators have made the most of this but, when I reflect on the sorts of amendments that we are putting to the House today, such a putting some of these directors of companies on the movement alert list, they now know that they are not able to come into this country when they are operating illegally. So we are now seeing a number of major offshore gambling operators who have indicated that they will cease their services. Some have stopped already providing those services and some will withdraw their services once this bill has passed the House.
I urge members on the other side to, obviously, move as quickly as possible to pass this bill in the House of Representatives and then of course in the Senate so we can get on with providing good government and ensuring that, when it comes to it, families and children are properly protected and that the laws in our great country are complied with. I commend this bill to the House.
I would like to make some observations on what I would like to characterise as a well-meaning but ineffective bill. I would like to make a few comments first about how the original bill works. The bill is a bill to amend the Interactive Gambling Act 2001. It arises from recommendations of the O'Farrell review. The O'Farrell review is just the latest in a series of reviews which have inquired into this piece of legislation and the surrounding area of problem gambling in this country. I have been involved in some of them but not all of them.
The bill, like the act that it seeks to amend, is a well-meaning attempt to prohibit the provision of certain online gambling services in Australia. I say well-meaning but ineffective for several reasons. By definition, the provision of online gaming services are transnational and notoriously difficult to ban. Even if you thought it was a good idea to ban them, it is very, very difficult to ban something that operates in international space across jurisdictions. There are prohibited gambling services that are offered to people in Australia. They operate from other countries. Sometimes those businesses are regulated in the jurisdictions where they operate; sometimes they are not.
I have had a look just before coming down here just to prove the points that I am about to make. I seek leave to table this document, which is one I have just recently downloaded from the internet, headed: 'Best online casinos for Australians.' I seek to table it to make the point.
The document that I will quote from includes a series of top recommended Australian casinos. It gives you a list of the top 10, including the betting limits in Australian dollars and how they rate out of 10 according to this online organisation. It gives you an example of the games that are able to be played if you go online and play on one of these online casinos that are specifically marketed to Australians. You can play live dealer games, pokies, blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps, keno, bingo, Let It Ride, three card poker and a range of other games. What is interesting about this is that these are specifically the online gaming services that are banned by the 2001 bill. They are banned by the 2001 bill but proudly promoted online by this specific site.
The curious reader can scroll down a little further and go to the heading: 'Is it legal to play online?' And you get the legal advice from this organisations as well. It says: 'Yes. Laws currently in effect are based around Australian gambling companies and licensing. It is illegal to operate a web based casino in Australia but it is not illegal to play one. The casinos we recommend are based offshore and, while they may be infringing on Australia's Interactive Gambling Act regulations, it is not illegal for players to utilise the services they offer.'
There you go, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly, I am not surprised that the minister opposite was attempting to prevent me from tabling this document, because it demonstrates in a nutshell that, while however well-meaning this legislation may be, it is ineffective.
I could give other examples how the substantive act attempts to ban the advertising of these illegal gaming activities. That is sensible enough: if a service is banned in Australia, it follows that the advertising of that service should also be banned in Australia. Dutifully, our free-to-air broadcasters, our pay TV operators, our newspapers—in fact everyone regulated by the Broadcasting Services Act—and all the proprietors of newspapers in this country abide by the prohibition. But it does not stop the many online services that are broadcasting over the top—Twitter, Google, Facebook and the like—from advertising those prohibited services. This is why I make the point that it might be well meaning but it is not very effective.
Quite contrary to the comments made by the ill-informed but passionate member for Corangamite earlier , I think we should be looking to more effective means of regulating and dealing with these activities that many Australians, quite rightly, have concerns about. The second reason I say the act and the bill are ineffective is the willingness and capacity of law-enforcement bodies to police the law. It is understandably limited. There have been no prosecutions under this act. I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of our law-enforcement bodies. They have limited resources and, as I said at the outset, policing transnational operations is notoriously difficult. If they have to make a choice between spending their precious resources and chasing down would-be terrorists or paedophile rings operating across national and state borders, I know where I would be saying they should be focusing their precious resources—of course it does not have to be a zero-sum game. These are not reasons to oppose the bill—but let us not be as dishonest as the member for Corangamite was just now, and others have been, about what the bill actually does—these are reasons to take a very clear, hard look at other, more effective means of regulation which will achieve the stated aims of the bill and this substantive act.
The O'Farrell report cites the Global Betting and Gaming Consultants findings that the offshore wagering market in Australia in 2014 was worth around $64 million. This is down 70 per cent since 2004. The steep decline, according to the consultancy, in offshore wagering expenditure from Australia coincides with the ability of onshore sites to legally advertise nationally since late 2008—that is, the closing down of legally advertising these gaming activities since 2008. It has had material effect on offshore online gaming and industry consolidation, which has resulted in large numbers of significant offshore operators obtaining Australian wagering licences in recent years. These findings should be instructive to lawmakers and regulators about the best way to go about dealing with the problems I think most Australians would agree are associated with problem gambling in this country.
I am not against gambling. I am not a mad punter. I will have a bet every now and then. Like most Australians, I will do my dough at the Melbourne Cup and a couple of times in between and, if somebody tells me something is a sure thing, I will sometimes mistakenly rely on their advice and, more often than not, I will do my dough—I am definitely one of those. As I tell many people, 'I am an Irish Catholic. There are a few things we do.' It is almost culturally ingrained within us to have a punt every now and then.
However, for some Australians, gambling is a serious problem that has destroyed families and lives. Since coming into this place in 2010, I have spent much time considering the laws and regulations we have in place regulating gambling. I was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform in the 43rd Parliament. I had the opportunity of dealing with a lot of the evidence and a lot of the experts in this area, which has informed a lot of the views underlying my comments in this chamber today.
I was an advocate in 2013, which led to what I like to refer to as the 'Tom Waterhouse reforms', which are now enshrined within the code of practice made under the Broadcasting Services Act in this country. I call them the 'Tom Waterhouse reforms' because back in 2013 you could not go to a football match, a cricket match or a tennis game or watch them on television without this particular bookmaker or many of his competitors thrust down your throat. In every break, in-between and during the play, we were seeing advertising for gambling. It got to the point where young kids could quote the odds before they knew the rules of the game. Something is very, very wrong when that is allowed to occur.
I was pleased—and the member for Corangamite obviously did not catch up with this—that the Gillard government did move to force broadcasters to come to the table and ensure that a new code was put in place that regulated the broadcasting of gambling services during sporting fixtures. I thought this was a first step in the process and an opportunity for the industry to show that it could responsibly self-regulate.
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:
At that time, all generic gambling broadcast advertisements were banned during play, and advertisements of this sort would only be allowed before or after the game or during scheduled breaks in play such as quarter-time and half-time. This was a significant improvement to where we were before that new code of practice was put in place. In July 2013, the Australian Communications and Media Authority registered the new codes, satisfied they contained appropriate community safeguards. It is notable that, in the backgrounder to its media release announcing the code registration, the ACMA stated:
… the codes do not cover the field of community concerns around gambling advertising and general sports programming. For example, ACMA research also indicates just over 60 per cent of the community find unacceptable the presentation of odds and general gambling advertisements during sports-related programs … The ACMA will consider if there is a need to review the effectiveness of the new codes following the Australian summer sports season and will continue to examine community attitudes in order to inform its decision-making on any future regulatory initiatives.
In my previous comments, I have already demonstrated why the bill as it currently stands is ineffective in its stated objective of prohibiting the provision of interactive gambling services delivered online to Australians. We see the operators providing quite accurate legal advice to their would-be customers on websites that are available here in Australia. I say the most effective means needs to have us looking at the way we are promoting and meshing gaming, including online gambling services, with our sporting fixtures, and this goes to the heart of the second reading amendment which the member for Franklin has moved in this House.
It is worth making this point: we understand the circumstances that the commercial broadcasters find themselves in, with a challenge from online providers which is creating a leakage of revenue that would otherwise flow to them through advertising, at the same time as we are seeing the sporting codes themselves acting in a perfectly commercial way and continually asking more and more and more for the broadcasting rights to very popular sporting fixtures. I understand that the Big Bash League—and I am a big fan of the Big Bash—are looking at receiving fees in excess of $60 million for broadcasting rights, and there is a battle going on beyond Channel Nine and Channel Ten to win those exclusive broadcasting rights. The Australian Open is receiving over $40 million a year through its exclusive broadcasting rights with Channel Seven. The NRL receives $185 million per annum from Channel Nine—extraordinary sums of money. I am not against the sporting codes asking as much as they possibly can for the rights, but the broadcasters and the sporting codes themselves cannot expect, if they continually up and up and up the bidding, that that money is going to be backfilled by gaming advertising during those fixtures. The Australian public will not stand for it, and if this government does not do something about it I am quite certain the next government will.
Honourable members of this House will know the position of the Nick Xenophon Team when it comes to gambling and our continued push for legislative reform in this area. It is no secret that Australians love to gamble, and there is certainly nothing wrong with the occasional punt. However, Australia wagers more than any other country in the world. Some estimates put the amount that Australians spend on gambling at around $20 billion a year.
In the Nick Xenophon Team, we are committed to Australian communities. As long as predatory gambling companies continue to prey on Australians, we will continue to push for reform. Our position includes the banning of in-play betting Australia wide, ending ball-by-ball microbetting, and outlawing the broadcasting of sporting betting ads during games, especially during G-rated periods when children are watching sport. I echo the honourable member for Hindmarsh's comments in relation to watching sporting games with his children and how sports betting is becoming the norm on television and children are constantly seeing this. I do not want my children or other children to be thinking about the odds of each game; I want them to be enjoying the game.
I recently watched the Australian Open with great interest, but I was dismayed at being constantly bombarded with gambling advertisements and live odds updates. The federal government needs to get serious on predatory gambling and this predatory behaviour. Make no mistake: gambling hurts Australian families every single day in this country. These are the facts: according to the Department of Social Services, 500,000 Australians—that is half a million Australians—are at risk of becoming, or already are, problem gamblers, and these people lose around $20,000 each per year. That is close to one-third of the average Australian salary. Between 2015 and 2016, Australians spent $16 billion having a punt, and $13 billion of that was on pokies. This statistic is even more worrying given that young people spend more on pokies than any other age group.
Predatory gambling is a scourge on our society, and this is money that is coming out of our communities, and particularly our regional communities. It touches families everywhere. It does not discriminate based on race, age or gender. We in the Nick Xenophon Team have heard the stories of those families ruined by gambling, from mothers who hide their gambling addiction from their families until they wind up having to steal to pay the bills, to fathers whose gambling addiction has meant they have lost the family home. Yes, there are material assets that are lost, but it also pulls families apart, and people go from the pokie room to the family courtroom.
There is no doubt that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 is a step in the right direction, and I commend the government for this measure. For too long the Interactive Gambling Act has been impotent when it came to dealing with overseas online gambling organisations operating within Australia. These organisations operated freely within our borders and caused immeasurable harm to Australian citizens. I have questions regarding how the government will be able to enforce penalties against those companies who may continue to disregard the measures in this bill. I would like to see a requirement on internet service providers to block access to websites operated by those who continue to operate within Australian borders without permission to do so.
While I welcome the measure within this bill and I am glad to see the government is recognising that gambling reform is much needed, I do, however, still harbour some concerns about this legislation. For example, some provisions will provide further opportunities for licensed betting venues to offer electronic betting devices. This bill will allow the expansion of the use of electronic devices, including tablets and smartphones, with an in-play betting function within licensed venues. If the aim is to reduce in-play betting, I fail to see how this helps. In-play betting is only supposed to be performed in person or over the phone. These measures will allow gambling operators to potentially expand their operations within licensed venues. Surely that is against the intention of this draft legislation.
I would like to see in-play betting limited to electronic betting terminals to ensure that gambling operators do not seek to expand their operations by allowing people to place in-play bets using tablets or smartphones at a bar. These terminals are permanent installations located in a specific area set aside for gambling and are unable to connect to the internet. That is the sort of protective measure we need.
In my opinion, the bill as it is currently written will increase the opportunities for in-play betting without addressing the very serious concern that this could increase opportunities for gambling. In-play betting is especially dangerous, as it gives a person an immediate opportunity to win their money back, which also heightens the potential for bigger losses. These are spur-of-the-moment decisions people make when they are swayed by emotions and possibly under the influence of alcohol.
I think it is pertinent that, if a government is going to introduce legislation on gambling reform, they consider the issue of harm minimisation. I fear that the current harm minimisation tactics used within bars and gambling venues are inadequate. During the Senate inquiry into this bill, my colleague Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore questioned the department as to whether they thought the current harm minimisation strategies were working. Their response was that harm minimisation was a matter for the states. But this affects all Australians, and I want to see our federal government take more responsibility for this area and work more closely with the states to improve harm minimisation.
Given that this bill will see an increase in betting devices within licensed venues, it cannot be argued that the expansion of the gambling market would not result in harm minimisation. I and the rest of the Nick Xenophon Team will continue to hold the government to account and keep the pressure on to ensure that harm minimisation strategies are considered and implemented as we continue to fight against predatory gambling.
One of these strategies is to continually train gambling service employees to recognise the early warning signs of problem gambling and be able to intervene. The evidence at the moment shows that gambling service employees rarely intervene when they believe a customer is struggling to control their gambling. I would like to see it become an offence for gambling organisations to fail to train their employees to recognise the warning signs and to empower them to act.
This bill does not address some of the issues that contribute to gambling addictions and the devastating impact on families. In August 2015, Financial Counselling Australia released a report called Duds, mugs and the A-list: the impact of uncontrolled sports betting. In that report, a number of industry practices were identified as contributing to problem gambling, and this bill does not address some of those key concerns—for example, the ability to gamble online using credit, which was identified as one of the biggest contributors to the spiral towards problem gambling. I would like to see online gambling operators restricted from offering credit to customers, just like they are in the pokie room. This would be of immeasurable benefit to families across Australia.
In conclusion, this bill is a good first step in curtailing the influence of overseas gambling organisations, but I would like to see it go further to protect Australian families from predatory gambling organisation and I will be moving amendments to that effect.
I have no interest in being a member of the 'fun police'. I believe responsible Australian adults have a right to spend their money as they see fit. But there is a reason why we as a society determine that we turn into adults at 18 years of age. We could argue all day about whether adulthood should start earlier—say, at 16—or revert to 21, but we had to draw a line somewhere, and that line right now is 18. It is at 18 that we as a society have determined that people are responsible enough to decide to consume alcohol and commence gambling. Both of them are potentially addictive behaviours. As a society we have determined that people younger than 18 are not deemed responsible enough to gamble. Gambling is an adult endeavour. It is not for children.
It is for this reason that Labor is speaking on the government's Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill. We believe children should be protected. We do not want them, from a young age, making an automatic association between gambling and sport. We are asking the government to work on a transition plan with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations to phase out gambling commercials during live sports programs, with a view to their eventual prohibition.
Those of us with young children know how much they enjoy looking at a screen, whether it is a TV, an iPad or a smartphone, and they suck in what they see like a thirsty man in a desert sucks water from a dirty puddle. Kids are impressionable, and, when they are bombarded with fast-moving graphics and high-volume sales pitches about betting, their young synapses fire up like it is New Year's Eve. When kids hear respected commentators spruiking odds, they listen. When kids see their sports idols advertising for betting companies, urging them to sign up now for the best odds, they get hooked.
The association between sports and betting gets hot-wired into kids' brains. Our kids are effectively trained by the time they are 18 to irrevocably link sports with gambling. They are never really given the chance to make their own decision as adults. They are preprogrammed. A study conducted by Deakin University and released earlier this year found that three-quarters of children can recall at least one sports betting brand. More than one-quarter can identify four or more without prompting. Young teenagers have told researchers disturbing things such as, 'The ads—they make you want to bet.' When young children can recite odds with more certainty than they can recite their times tables we know we have a problem. We need to give our kids a chance to enjoy sport for its own sake. When they are older and when they are adults they can make the decision to take a punt or not.
Labor is asking the government to respond to the legitimate concerns of many parents and families about the significant growth of gambling advertising during G-rated times and sporting events. The figures the gambling industry spends on promotion are staggering: $140 million a year. With that saturation level of advertising our kids do not stand a chance. We are asking the government to protect Australian children. It is time to show leadership. Despite the intervention of the Gillard Labor government in 2013 and the industry response to address public concern about gambling advertising in live sports broadcasting and the spruiking of live odds in particular, gambling ads continue to intrude on our television screens, commercialising our nation's love of sport. They continue to cause significant public concern. At present, gambling ads are permitted to be played during news, current affairs and live sporting events.
Labor is conscious of the need to balance these community concerns with the economic needs of broadcasters, particularly in these parlous days of fractured audiences and the inexorable rise of the internet as a competing broadcaster. We acknowledge the competitive pressures that the commercial free-to-air television industry faces, and we understand that betting and gambling advertising represent a significant revenue stream to industry. But we have been here before. Tobacco advertisers used to be major sponsors and advertisers on our television screens. They have long gone, and our codes and our national health are better for it. Change is possible, and should never be shirked when it is in the community interest. Labor acknowledges that blanket proposals to prohibit betting and gambling advertising overnight would not take account of commercial realities in terms of contracts already in place, nor take account of the co-regulatory system for broadcasting in Australia and the role of industry in addressing community standards. By no means is Labor proposing a blanket ban on gambling advertising. What we are proposing is a transitional approach in relation to advertising that affects children and that encompasses a sensible and responsible way forward.
Labor recognises that well-regulated gambling has a place in Australian society and Australian culture. Australians love a punt. We are amongst the biggest gamblers in the world. The 2015 Review of the impact of illegal offshore wagering report found that in 2014 each of us spent $1,245 a year—around $24 a week—on gambling. We are increasingly betting online. Active online betting accounts in Australia exploded in the 10 years between 2004 and 2014, growing from 200,000 to 800,000. In 2014 the total amount spent in Australia on all forms of interactive gambling was $2.4 billion. This includes both onshore and illegal offshore gambling activities.
There is no doubt that Labor has concerns about the growth of illegal online gambling. Many consumers have moved away from traditional gambling products to betting online using smartphones, tablets and other digital devices. The changes in technology and the way that people access it means Australians can access gambling via the internet whenever and wherever they want, including with illegal offshore operators. The ease of access is a headache for regulators and law enforcement agencies and it is a nightmare for those seeking to combat addictive behaviour. Offshore gambling operators are increasingly targeting Australians, and that is a problem. Offshore companies do not pay any tax, they do not cooperate with our law enforcement agencies, they do not pay fees to local sporting organisations and they have no obligation to consumer protection. When gambling dollars go overseas the positive dividends are lost to our community. It is hard enough for this government to winkle tax dollars from big businesses that operate openly in Australia without having to work out how to hunt down corporations operating illegally offshore.
There is also the risk to the integrity of Australian sport. Unlike licensed counterparts, illegal offshore operators do not share information with law enforcement agencies when it comes to suspicious betting activities. Nor are they required to share any of this information. We do not want to encourage a sports culture in this country of taking a dive or of fixing a race or a match. It will be crushing to not just the individuals and teams involved, but to our sense of self as a proud sporting nation. Where there is organised match fixing you will often find organised crime syndicates. We should do all we can to ensure our sports keep their integrity.
Then there are the serious social implications from illegal offshore gambling. Offshore gambling providers to do not have the same legal or moral obligations around consumer protection and harm minimisation that we impose on our local providers. We have an understanding in Australia that many dividends of domestic gambling are folded back into the community via sports and charities. We task our domestic providers with the requirement to be mindful of problem gambling and to be active participants in minimising social harm. I do not want to overstate the level of what I will loosely call problem gambling, but neither do I want to ignore it. In 2014 the Psychology of Addictive Behaviours journal estimated that 80 per cent of punters were at no risk, 12 per cent were at low risk and six per cent were at moderate risk. Less than one per cent of Australian gamblers are deemed to be problem gamblers, which equates to 0.6 per cent of the Australian adult population. It is not a high percentage, but it is still around 90,000 Australians. And of course, the impacts extend to their families, their workmates and their friends.
There is not enough evidence to suggest a causal link between an increase in problem gambling and online gambling. It could well be the case that online gambling does not create problem gamblers but, because of the ease with which online gambling sites can be accessed, at-risk gamblers are simply more susceptible to its temptations.
Labor does not propose we sit on our hands. It is time to show leadership. Labor believes it is time to act and prohibit these operators and stop the growth of illegal online gambling. Labor does agree that this bill picks up on some of our concerns around the growth of illegal online operators. 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, whether they try their luck weekly with lotto as I do—I did not win last night, I am very sad to report—or whether they have an occasional flutter on Cup Day. However, Labor knows that gambling in our community can in some cases have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences. That is why we have maintained a strong stance to ensure appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place that protect and assist our community.
It is also why Labor commissioned the Productivity Commission report to update its previous report on gambling industries in Australia when we were last in office. We also rejected recommendations to water down Australia's online gaming laws until harm minimisation strategies were adopted.
Labor acknowledges the concerns that many people have around the growth of online betting. We share the concerns. Even though there is an act in place, it has not been an effective instrument that has stemmed the tide of online illegal gambling services.
Labor accepts that Australians love a punt. We have no interest in being the fun police for responsible Australian adults. But gambling is an adult endeavour, and we should do all we can as legislators to ensure that we allow children to grow up without believing there is an inextricable link between gambling and sport. We must do all we can to stamp out the insidious impacts of illegal online betting.
I also see merit in the government's bill and I will support it. I think the government is to be applauded, at least as far as this bill goes, for finally moving on the reform of online gambling and, with this bill in particular, for starting to address the problems caused by offshore online gambling sites.
We have already heard from a number of speakers about a number of the issues that are relevant to this debate and to this bill—for example, the prevalence of offshore sites, measured in the thousands, and the way they offer games or forms of gambling which are illegal in Australia. In other words, they are not allowed to be offered by Australian gambling service providers. We have heard about the way these offshore sites rig games or make it difficult or impossible for people to collect their winnings and so on. It is beyond time for this reform. I applaud the government for moving with this particular reform.
There is, however, one significant deficiency in the bill and it is a deficiency which I understand the member for Mayo will seek to address—I will have my own amendment as well that seeks to address it—and that is the way this bill would, in fact, allow the liberalisation of in-venue in-play gambling, because of the way it would allow venues like casinos and TABs to depart from the current practice of hardwired kiosks and start to offer wireless technologies within those venues.
My concern here is that it would be the start of a very slippery slope. If people could, for example, go into a casino and pick up an iPad or some other mobile device, or perhaps download an app to put on their own mobile device, it would be a slippery slope. Before we know it people would be saying, 'If we can do that inside the casino or the TAB, why can't we do it at the front door when we go outside for a cigarette?' And if we can do it outside the front door of the casino or the TAB or whatever, why don't we just let people engage in in-play sports betting from home?
My concern here is the way the bill, by being silent on the definition of what sort of devices can in future be allowed for in-play betting while in venue—by failing to define the type of technology that will continue to be allowed for in-play betting—it effectively puts in place a foundation stone for the liberalisation of that sort of gambling. I will be moving am amendment, in the third reading, seeking to bring clarity to what sort of technology would be allowed within venues.
There is also the much bigger issue. I have to give credit again to the government and to the minister, Minister Tudge. He has foreshadowed there will be another government bill, I assume this year, which will seek to put in place some protection for gamblers, and that is good. But we are always talking about that next bill. I think it is a missed opportunity today that today we are not debating a more comprehensive bill and one that addresses a number of other very important issues.
I was listening to the member for Lyons talking about the problem with gambling advertising, and he is quite right. In fact, if you were to go out into the community and ask people, 'What is the single most annoying and problematic aspect about online gambling?' I think the majority would say, 'It's the advertising.' So, while there is merit in all these other reforms and protections, we are ignoring the biggest single problem. The member for Lyons is quite right: there is an abundance of research showing that children are being bombarded with gambling advertising and it is affecting their behaviour. That, quite simply, is because gambling advertising is actually forbidden in all and any G-rated television times, but there is an exemption for sporting events. Why on earth do we allow an exemption during that time of the day when in fact many, if not most, children are watching the telly? I do not think they are watching the telly; they are enthralled by a game of sport and are watching their sporting heroes. So when they are at their most vulnerable government regulation allows gambling advertising to occur. I lament the fact that we are missing this opportunity in this place this week to address that issue. I applaud the opposition for moving their own amendment, which I will support, seeking at least to start to address the issue of gambling advertising.
There are also a number of other issues, some of which I understand the member for Mayo is tackling. Again, they are a missed opportunity that we could be addressing today. For example, the way that some Australian service providers do have somewhat effective self-exclusion arrangements is good and commendable, but the problem is that if someone who has an app for one gambling house and has excluded themselves is desperate for a punt they can swipe to another app and start gambling with another service provider. What is needed, and what I am told by the industry is technically achievable, is a national self-exclusion database for online gambling—in other words, for all gambling service providers effectively to be talking to each other electronically. So when someone reaches a self-imposed limit with one service provider or if someone has excluded themselves from one service provider that information would be shared in real time with other service providers so people could be confident that the limits they had placed on themselves would in fact be in place with all Australian online gambling companies. I think that would be a really effective harm minimisation measure. Yes, there will be another bill which will look at protection of gamblers, but we have to stop talking about this. We could have done it all in one go at this point in time.
Another issue which I am very mindful of and which the government—or, I think, the opposition either—have not shown any interest in is a genuine crackdown on the provision of credit for gambling, in particular the provision of credit for online gambling. Yes, we are talking about service providers not being allowed to offer credit, but of course people are gambling using their credit card. In other words, just about every person who is engaged in online gambling is enjoying the use of credit. I will not mention any particular service provider, but what is the point of saying to a service provider: 'You can't offer a couple of hundred dollars or $500 or $1,000 of credit,' but we will allow the gambler to use their credit card, perhaps with a $50,000 line of credit? I am quite influenced in what I am saying here by people who work in the financial services and banking industries, who tell me that it is actually technically quite achievable and that, in fact, there is already at least one Australian bank that prohibits the use of their credit cards for online gambling. So it would be possible. It would be quite easily achieved to insist that in future people could only use some sort of debit facility when engaging in online gambling. They are things for the future and things for us to keep focusing on and to look for areas of reform.
What the interactive gambling act completely ignores, what this debate today completely ignores, what all of our applauding each other for making some reform possible ignores—what it all ignores—is the other half of the problem. Yes, online gambling is a big industry. It is growing rapidly and it is reasonable to assume that with that growth will come an increasing number of gambling addicts. But what about the other half of the equation? What about the 200,000 poker machines in this country, on which some 100,000 or so Australian gambling addicts are losing each year $4,000 million or $5,000 million? We know that over $10 billion is lost on the pokies each year, and that 40 per cent of that is lost by gambling addicts. So we know that $4 billion or $5 billion a year is being lost by people who cannot afford to lose it. Yet the government remains completely unwilling to introduce further reform in that area. The opposition is silent on the matter. I lament the fact that although the Gillard federal government did introduce some modest poker machine reform the Abbott government overturned those reforms and in fact overturned them with the support of the Labor Party in the Senate.
It is more than a shame—it is a tragedy, actually—that the current Prime Minister before he became Prime Minister put on the record his concern about poker machine gambling addiction. He said things suggesting that he would be a reformist should he ever have the opportunity in the future. But like any number of other things—like marriage equality, climate change—here is a case where the Prime Minister has let us down terribly. We had a wonderful opportunity in this parliament with an apparently reformist minded Prime Minister to finally do something about poker machine gambling addiction. Imagine if this parliament, the 45th Parliament, was the parliament that not only introduced effective reform of online gambling but was also the parliament that finally introduced effective reform on poker machines and introduced effective harm minimisation measures for people who gamble on poker machines. Unfortunately, I do not hold out any hope that this parliament will be the parliament to move on poker machines. That is a shame.
I am pleased to say, though, that some in the industry are trying. I was delighted to see that Wesfarmers and Coles is hoping to introduce $1 maximum bets on the 3,000 or so machines that it owns and operates through its string of hotels. I was appalled that they could not find a single Australian poker machine manufacturer who will retrofit or manufacture new machines for the implementation of that policy. What does that say about the industry? So when it comes to pokies, not only does the Liberal Party not care and not only does the Labor Party not care, but the industry does not care. All the while, there are some hundred thousand or so Australians out there who are suffering at the hands of gambling addiction from poker machines. They are mums and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, work colleagues, friends, people who often lose their job or their house, people who cannot afford to buy their kids breakfast. We need to keep moving on that.
I will end my speech now, because I can see we are almost out of time, even though I am a couple of minutes short of my allocated time. I will support the bill. I will also support the amendments of the Labor Party and of the member for Mayo.