House debates

Wednesday, 8 February 2017


Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading

4:32 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. This is an important issue for many of us in the parliament, particularly those who have worked closely with community outreach groups who are dealing with the addiction of gambling. I pay tribute to many of the frontline workers, who do an outstanding job day and night dealing with this insidious problem in our community. Every year, two in every three adult Australians will place a bet in one form or another. I am one of them and I enjoy the occasional bet on the Melbourne Cup. It might be that you are interested in scratching numbers at a newsagency or taking office sweeps, but it also might be acknowledging the fact that in Australia as Australians we spent nearly $2 billion in 2013 and $2.2 billion in 2014, and, of more concern, these figures included illegal offshore interactive gambling, with up to 20 per cent of expenditure going to offshore providers. That is just over $1,200 per adult. What is concerning most about that statistic is that the amount of money we spend on gambling is rising year on year even as the number of people who gamble is falling at the same time. So it is not that more people are gambling; it is that fewer people are gambling much, much more. It is concerning because the average hides the actual reality for many people who are caught in a hole they cannot gamble their way out of.

We have always agreed and Labor has always agreed the gambling industry has a place in Australian society. I know that in my own community we have fantastic community clubs, RSLs and hubs. In particular, I work closely with the Goodna RSL and Inala Blue Fin Fishing Club, one of the largest fishing clubs in Australia—incidentally, it is nowhere near water, but there is another story to that that I will tell another time. Both of these clubs are great social areas where people come, join and share fellowship, and the other great thing about these service organisations and service clubs is that they provide a lot of community benefit. They provide support through grants through community organisations. I pay tribute to the volunteers and the workers in those organisations.

But we should not be so naive as to pretend that gambling is like any other industry. It is an industry predicated on risk and reward. It is risky to gamble. It is risky because you do not often get that $5, $10 or $100 back. It is risky because it is pretty easy to try. And it is risky because there is nothing harder to chase than a loss. But, so long as participants are mindful of the risk and the reward and can balance those two interests against each other, there is no reason why gambling cannot remain an ongoing part of the Aussie way of life.

The problem for many Australians is that the ability to strike that balance may have gone and an addiction is inherently irrational. It is why it is not enough to tell smokers that maybe they should not smoke because of cancer, because you know it is hurting them or you know it is hurting their close family and friends. You know all of this but you do not want to stop and you cannot stop.

I do not believe that the government should be in the business of telling people how they can and cannot have fun, so before I get any lectures about the nanny state I want to be very clear that I do not want to see fun becoming an addition that you cannot break free from. That is when we need to think in this place about how we can help We must act to minimise the potential for harm for this vulnerable group of Australians.

The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 amends the Interactive Gambling Act and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act. The purpose of the act is to protect Australians against illegal online gambling services and it regulates against the provision and advertising of prohibited interactive gambling services to persons in Australia. The second act this amendment seeks to amend is to empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority to better serve as the Interactive Gambling Act's enforcement mechanism.

These amendments, I acknowledge, have been a long time coming. We on this side of the House are acutely aware of the shortcomings of the Interactive Gambling Act in its current form. I acknowledge the shadow minister, the member for Franklin, the work that she has done in this space and her contribution—and those of all other speakers—earlier today. That is why Labor conducted a review of this legislation when we were last in government. The final report, which I was able to have a look at, was damning in its assessment. To speak plainly, the Interactive Gambling Act is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is not fulfilling its role of keeping Australians protected from the risks of illegal online gambling services. As a result, I know that both sides of this House find themselves in agreement on this issue, and I believe that we do so because this bill goes some way to dealing with this issue. That is why it has bipartisan support.

Critically, as we have heard in the debate earlier today, this bill will prohibit 'click to call' in-play betting services. As we are aware, these services allowed consumers to place high volumes of bets in a short space of time. There is no cooling off period and no opportunity to pause and consider risk and reward, yet they were available through a loophole in the act. The fact that these in-play betting services can remain available, despite their clear capacity to present a risk to problem gamblers and despite its inconsistency with the aim and purpose of the Interactive Gambling Act, presents a clear regulatory issue that we in this place must confront.

Also important to this amendment are its measures to increase enforcement of Australian law and to tackle online illegal gambling. It will do so by clarifying the laws around online gambling. It will strengthen a number of enforcement measures around noncompliance and will better serve to regulate what for too long has been an under-regulated sector of a highly regulated industry. As the O'Farrell Review has demonstrated, there have been no prosecutions under the IGA since it was introduced in 2001—not a single prosecution, not because there have been no complaints but because the act is no longer fit for purpose.

However, while this bill demonstrates some way forward, it does not tackle the issue of gambling advertising, especially during live games. I acknowledge this issue was not included in the terms of reference of the O'Farrell review commissioned by the government, and I want to quote from the report:

While not referred to in the Terms of Reference … Advertising, while providing operators with the opportunity to inform potential customers about their services, has also been identified as a potential driver of at-risk gambling behaviour. In addition, there is concern that advertising risks normalising gambling within sport, particularly amongst children.

The report noted further:

    Therefore I will be supporting the amendment, and I want to thank the member for Franklin for moving it. On this side of the House, we believe that the government must work with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations. We know that there has to be a transition plan. We know that it has to be done in a thoughtful and constructive way to phase out commercials that encourage betting or gambling during live sports programs, with a view to their eventual prohibition.

    Back in 2013, the Australian Psychological Society's submission to the review by the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform noted that viewers watching a live sport game were exposed to an average of 341 minutes of gambling advertising. The Sunday Age reported last month that during the tennis William Hill had 114 advertising spots in New South Wales, 77 in Victoria and 90 in my home state of Queensland. Also, research by Associate Professor Samantha Thomas found that up to 75 per cent of kids in research conducted thought gambling was normal or just a part of sport. ACMA's community research paper entitled Betting odds and advertising for betting agencies during sports broadcasts, published in 2013, indicates:

      Up to 80 per cent of respondents support restrictions on gambling advertising during live sporting broadcasts, the strongest respondent groups being parents with children.

      I am not certainly not arguing for a blanket ban on all gambling advertising. The approach we want to see is holistic reform, and I hope that the government will show leadership on this issue. This will build, open and extend some of the safeguards introduced into broadcast industry codes of practice by the former Labor government. I support the view that broadcasting of live sport and gambling should be separate. The rules need to go further for this bill to represent a genuine and holistic approach to reform in this space.

      Labor supports this bill because Labor believes that, for the gambling industry to survive in a modern Australia, we need to modernise the way it is regulated. We know that we are a country of early adopters, of technological first movers. We are innovative and we are at the cutting edge of a whole range of technological advances, and I believe our regulations need to be the same. Right now, offshore gambling operators are illegal in name only, and it is about time this changed. We have protections in place that offshore operators simply do not honour, because to them harm minimisation is an optional extra. I know from talking to a number of parents in my own community that they are lovers of sport but are sick and tired of watching sport and seeing advertising, time and time again, that says, 'Make sure you gamble; make sure you have a bet.' It is becoming the norm. As I said in my earlier remarks, I have no problems with people having a bet. I have no problems with people coming together, sharing a beer and perhaps having a laugh and placing a bet together. But we need to ensure that kids are protected. We need to make sure that the excesses that we have seen in some areas do not continue.

      I am really pleased that this bill has been put forward and I am particularly pleased that the shadow minister, the member for Franklin, has moved this amendment. I wholeheartedly support it. We want to make sure, and I certainly want to make sure, that the gambling industry's long-term plan is sustainable, but also that we have a long-term plan to end problem gambling in Australia. I support this amendment and I look forward to further reforms in this area.

      4:45 pm

      Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

      I speak in support of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, subject to the passage of the amendment that has been moved by the member for Franklin. It is a very sensible amendment to this piece of legislation. It 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 during live sporting broadcasts, with a view to their prohibition'.

      As I said, this is a very sensible amendment, and it deals with an issue that I regularly receive representations and complaints about from constituents—that is, gambling advertising during sporting broadcasts, particularly at G-rated television time. Many parents in the community of Kingsford Smith have contacted me about this important issue. To be frank, they are sick and tired of watching the footy or the cricket with their kids and having a gambling company pop up during half-time or an ad break, spruiking odds to their kids. I had a father tell me that his eight-year-old son, who he regularly watches the football with on a Friday night, can now quote the odds. He says things like, 'Dad, look, the Tigers are up to $1.10—good time to get on.' When an eight-year-old kid can quote odds like that and say that to their parent, as the member for Franklin said, it is frightening, because that kid is on the fast track to gambling when they are able to, when they turn 18—or even earlier, unfortunately—and they are in many respects on the fast track to becoming addicted to gambling, because that advertising is normalising that behaviour. It is normalising that activity to children when they are watching sport. They associate gambling with sport if they grow up seeing it on television all the time.

      It is an issue that we as legislators can no longer ignore. There is deep concern in the community about this, and it is about time that the government and this parliament took action on the issue. I congratulate the member for Franklin for moving this very sensible amendment.

      In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of gambling companies and websites, and in the ways we bet. You no longer just go to the TAB on a weekend or go to a licensed venue; you can now bet over the phone, over the internet, over the internet on your phone, or in any licensed venue. The other thing is you can bet on anything. You have been able to bet on just about anything in recent years. You can even bet on how long this Prime Minister is going to last in the job and who is going to take over from him in the years to come. You can bet on everything at the moment.

      What we need is appropriate regulation to encourage responsible gambling. I am certainly not arguing that gambling or all betting should be phased out, but we need to ensure that we have a mix of regulation and appropriate advertising so that these companies can advertise in appropriate ways to adults; that we are doing our utmost to protect the vulnerable; and, importantly, that we identify problem gambling when it does arise and provide appropriate assistance to ensure that those people are not blowing their whole pay cheque on online gambling or gambling in licensed values.

      This is particularly important when it comes to offshore gambling that is illegal. Again, the number of offshore operators has been increasing, and access to them is available to Australians, particularly online through certain sources and Dark Web sites. Offshore operators pay no Australian taxes. They pay no racing or sporting fees. In recent years, there was the race fields case, whereby the racing industry sought recompense from some of the gambling operators and those that use the intellectual property produced by racing—namely, the ability to gamble and to use the fields to do that.

      We have seen legislation passed in recent years to ensure that the value of that copyright and that intellectual property comes back to the industry and goes into things like supporting the welfare of jockeys. The Australia Jockeys Association have done a wonderful job in setting up a trust, the National Jockeys Trust, in Australia to provide assistance to jockeys who are injured or who have fallen on hard times, or to their families on the sad occurrence of a jockey passing away while undertaking their trade. We have been able to use that race fields legislation and that intellectual property return to ensure that it goes back into the industry and does foster the welfare of the participants in that industry.

      Offshore operators do not share information with law enforcement or sporting bodies regarding suspicious betting activities. There have been some celebrated cases of corruption and of individuals undertaking suspicious betting activities, where betting has had to be suspended on NRL games, on soccer games and on tennis matches because of suspicious activities. It is often gambling agencies that alert the authorities when they detect suspicious activities over their platforms, but that cannot be done by offline and offshore operators. They offer gambling services that are prohibited under the IGA and they provide minimal harm minimisation and consumer protection control. So there is a need to regulate this aspect of the industry.

      This bill is the first of three legislative tranches and will introduce a civil penalty regime to be enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the ACMA. It will prohibit click-to-call in-play betting services by tightening the definition of a telephone betting service. It will amend the ACMA Act to enable ACMA to notify international regulators of information relating to prohibited or regulated interactive gambling services. It will simplify and streamline the complaints handling and investigation process to remove mandatory requirements to refer matters to the police and enable ACMA to handle the entire process. It will enable the minister to determine by legislative instrument that a specific thing is or is not a sporting event for the purposes of interactive gambling. It will establish a register of certain legitimate regulated interactive gambling services to raise awareness amongst consumers of services which should be avoided. It will amend 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.

      These are all sensible amendments to the gambling architecture and the legislation relating to the IGA but, as I mentioned earlier, there is more to be done in this industry. The amendment that is moved by the member for Franklin foreshadows that work that must be done by this parliament in the future. That is, to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect the vulnerable—particularly our kids—from exploitation and from setting them on a path towards problem gambling in Australia. I commend the member for Franklin for this amendment. I urge others to support that amendment to this bill.

      4:54 pm

      Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

      I rise to sum up. In doing so, can I thank all of the members who have spoken on this bill. Many have given very impassioned speeches about their concerns, about the issues to do with problem gambling, to do with illegal offshore providers and also, as we have just heard from the member for Kingsford Smith, some of the concerns around gambling advertising.

      This bill originates out of the Barry O'Farrell review into illegal offshore wagering. That review was a comprehensive review looking predominantly at how we can prevent some of the dollars going offshore to illegal offshore gambling companies. In making his recommendations he also covered a number of areas and gave us strong recommendations as to how to make the overall gambling environment a safer one as well. In essence, his recommendations fell into three groups: firstly, how we can do more to crack down on those illegal offshore gambling providers; secondly, to fix up, if you like, the click-to-call issue by clarifying the law to ensure the original intent of the Interactive Gambling Act is adhered to; and thirdly, to introduce stronger consumer protections.

      This bill squarely deals with those first two. It deals with cracking down on the illegal offshore gambling providers and it does clarify the law to ensure the original intent is adhered to as far as the click-to-call issue goes. In relation to this third issue of stronger national consumer protections, we are absolutely committed to implementing those recommendations and in some places going further than the recommendations. We are working very cooperatively with the states and territories as we consult appropriately, as we should, before introducing such measures.

      I will just quickly outline a quick summation as to the major measures contained in the bill and particularly those measures which deal with those illegal offshore gambling providers. I should also just recap why they are a problem for Australia. They are a problem for many reasons. Obviously, money goes offshore when it would be otherwise better spent in Australia. It also creates greater consumer protection risks because when you bet on an illegal offshore gambling provider, clearly you do not have the same sort of legal and consumer protections that you would if you were betting on an Australian licensed provider. Of course, we know that some of those illegal offshore gambling providers are actually connected to large crime syndicates. So we have a very strong interest to ensure that we are not inadvertently supporting those crime syndicates through bets which Australians may be placing, not knowing where those gambling providers are domiciled and who they are connected with.

      Consequently, Mr O'Farrell made a number of recommendations which we are implementing in this bill. First of all, it amends the law to make it very clear that it is unlawful for an unlicensed offshore provider to be providing bets to Australians. We think that alone will make quite a big difference, as it has done in other jurisdictions. It particularly makes a difference for those gambling companies who are domiciled in what I would call responsible jurisdictions, because they will ensure that Australian law is adhered to.

      Secondly, the bill empowers the Australian Communications and Media AuthorityACMA—with new civil penalties to ensure that the rules are enforced. Currently, the Interactive Gambling Act only provides criminal offences for most of the provisions of the act. Consequently with criminal offences there is a much higher burden of proof and we have in fact had no prosecutions under that, despite the fact that there have been 140 complaints made to the Australian Federal Police. Civil penalties, we think, will be more effective.

      Thirdly, we are introducing what we call other disruptive mechanisms to deal with these illegal offshore gambling providers. The most important one which is contained in this bill is that it will enable the company directors of what you might call recalcitrant illegal companies to be placed on our movements alert list. That means if they try to come into Australia they will be picked up at the border. So that is another important disruptive mechanism.

      Finally, we will be creating a register for the benefit of Australian citizens so that they know exactly which ones are Australian licensed providers and which ones are not.

      We think these measures will have a very significant impact on reducing the amount of money which is flowing to those illegal offshore providers. It will not stop it all. The experience internationally is that nothing can stop all of the money going to illegal offshore gambling providers but in most cases it does have a demonstrable difference, and we think it will in this particular example. I should mention we are also exploring some other disruptive mechanisms with the ISP providers and the banks.

      The second major thing that this bill does, as I mentioned, is clarify the law in relation to what is known as click-to-call in-play betting. We have made it crystal clear that we have no intention of expanding the amount of gambling products in the Australian marketplace. We think there are enough already. But with one of those, the click-to-call in-play betting, we think some of the gambling providers have in essence been either flouting the law or, certainly, flouting the intention of the law in how they have gone about their business. So this bill clarifies the law to make it crystal clear what the original intent of the Interactive Gambling Act was, and I think that will be welcomed.

      As I said, the next tranche of reforms, which we will be introducing, will be stronger consumer protections. Mr O'Farrell outlined for us a number of those which he believes we should introduce. We have said that we will be very determined to introduce those as part of a national consumer protection framework. I am pleased to report to the House that I have been having very good discussions with state and territory gambling ministers in relation to this. We have in-principle agreement across all of the 11 measures which we have said that we will do.

      These will include, for example, prohibiting gambling companies offering lines of credit to their customers to continue to bet with even if they are out of money in their savings accounts. It will include a national self-exclusion register, which we think will be of great benefit to gamblers who want to self-exclude from a particular betting provider, and in doing so they will be able to self-exclude from all betting providers as a way of managing their own gambling expenditure. It includes the provision of greater information back to the gambler as well, so they know exactly how much money they are spending and how much money they may be losing.

      I think that this national consumer protection framework will be very important and, indeed, will be the most significant set of measures that this federal parliament has ever introduced in order to deal with problem gambling. We are working very cooperatively with the state and territory ministers on that as well as having ongoing consultation with the sector.

      I will deal with the Labor amendments which have been put up by the member for Franklin. The amendment, which is being proposed by the member for Franklin on behalf of the Labor Party, in essence concerns gambling advertising and promotion during sporting events. We certainly acknowledge the concerns which many Australians have in relation to that.

      I should point out, however, that different jurisdictions already have different rules in relation to broadcasting. While in some respects we acknowledge the concerns which the member for Franklin has raised in this amendment, we cannot support the particular amendment, because we do not think it has been thought through properly—which I am sorry to say is quite typical of the Labor Party. If we pass this amendment, in effect it would mean that on Melbourne Cup Day you would not be able even to show what the odds were for the most famous race in Australia. For the race that stops the nation you would not be able to say who the favourite is and who the long shots are. We do not think that this motion has been thought through. Consequently, while we acknowledge some of the concerns out in the community, we cannot support this amendment. I do point out, though, that we have ongoing discussions with the broadcasters in relation to advertising issues.

      I will conclude by thanking again all the members who have spoken on this bill. I thank the Labor Party for their cooperation throughout the process of developing this bill. We had good consultations with several members of the Labor Party in relation to this bill in order to keep them informed and hear what their concerns might be. We also had good consultations with some of the independents both here as well as in the Senate.

      I also thank the sector, who have engaged with us very constructively. I would like to think that we have been upfront in relation to our intentions, that we have listened to what they have had to say and that this bill does incorporate the concerns that they have raised and what they hope to achieve. Of course you cannot please everybody, but I think that we have been genuine in the way that we have gone about consulting in relation to this bill. We do think it will be very significant in dealing with those illegal offshore gambling providers. We do think that it clarifies, introduces and makes stronger the laws to ensure the intent of the Interactive Gambling Act, as it was originally enacted, is there.

      Finally, once we have all the measures from the national consumer protection framework in place, it will have a very strong impact in providing a safer environment for people to gamble while still allowing them, if they want to punt, to be able to have a punt.

      I again thank the House.

      Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

      The original question was that this 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. The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Franklin be agreed to.