House debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-exclusion Register) Bill 2019, National Self-exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill 2019; Second Reading

6:11 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-exclusion Register) Bill 2019 and the National Self-exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill 2019. Labor supports the Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-exclusion Register) Bill 2019 and the National Self-exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill 2019—I'd hate to say that 10 times quickly! These bills will amend the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 to establish a national self-exclusion register that will allow individuals who consider themselves to be at risk of or experiencing gambling related harm to exclude themselves from interactive wagering services licensed in Australia and limit their exposure to direct marketing activities. People will be able to choose the period of self-exclusion, ranging from three months to permanent. Individuals will be prompted 14 days before the self-exclusion period ends and will be able to reregister for another period. Up to five support people can be registered, who will also be notified 14 days before the end of the self-exclusion period.

However, it has taken the government too long to act. This comes four years after the report of the Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, which described self-exclusion as 'an important tool in reducing the harms to at-risk and problem gamblers'. It also comes one year after the commencement of the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering. The National Self-exclusion Register will allow people to self-exclude from all online wagering sites and apps in one go and is due to be implemented by the Australian Communications and Media Authority by May 2020. A year ago the government acknowledged that more than 240,000 Australians were already experiencing significant harm from online wagering and called the ability to self-exclude a critical gap in consumer protection in Australia. Financial Counselling Australia has expressed frustration at the delay, and warned that there was a desperate need for a national self-exclusion register and urged the government to make it an urgent priority. Action could have been taken to introduce legislation before now. The government has been in no hurry to protect Australians vulnerable to the harms of online gambling. To meet the original time frame set down by the government, the Australian Communications and Media Authority must now establish, trial and test the National Self-exclusion Register, which will contain highly sensitive personal information, in just six months.

Labor has concerns about the government's decision to outsource the establishment of the register. The government has a terrible track record on IT procurement. We have seen its disastrous Centrelink online compliance program, otherwise known as robodebt, which impacted on tens of thousands of innocent Australians. In 2017 it was revealed that Medicare card numbers had been sold to the dark web, a massive and incredibly disconcerting breach of security. Government must guarantee Australians that people's personal information will be protected and that the highest standards of privacy apply.

The National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering has 10 measures which have been agreed to by state and territory governments. The first is prohibition of lines of credit. This addresses the conflict of interest in online wagering providers effectively acting like a bank to offer lines of credit.

The second is restricting payday lenders, stopping wagering services providers from advertising payday loans. Potential connections between online wagering customers and credit providers are also restricted, as customers cannot be referred to a payday lender, nor can customer information be given to payday lenders.

The third is customer verification. Online wagering providers have to verify their customers' identity within 14 days of registration, instead of 90 days. This is designed to reduce the risk that underage and self-excluded customers, and those operating under assumed names, access online wagering.

The fourth is restrictions on inducements. Online wagering providers will be prohibited from offering any credit, voucher, reward or other benefit as an incentive to open an account or to refer another person to open an account. This is designed to protect consumers from incentive based marketing and strengthen standards for direct marketing. It also includes preventing turnover requirements to withdrawing winnings from complementary betting credits or tokens.

The fifth is account closure. Online wagering providers have to give their Australian customers a simple, easy-to-find and readily accessible way of closing or cancelling their online accounts. Providers will be required to prominently display account closure information and ensure customers can close an account in the same channel as they bet. The account closure process must start as soon as the request is received, and consumers cannot be enticed to keep an account open.

The sixth is voluntary opt-out precommitment schemes. Consumers will be able to easily monitor and manage their gambling by setting deposit limits before they start gambling. Customers will be given a tool to precommit to their own limits, which cannot be increased on the spot, as part of a voluntary opt-out precommitment scheme. Every online wagering provider will be required to offer deposit limits to their Australian customers.

The seventh is activity statements. Online wagering providers will be required to send consumers meaningful activity statements so that they can easily track and monitor their online wagering spending and behaviour. Activity statements will increase consumers' awareness of their spending, wins and losses.

The eighth is consistent gambling messaging. Online wagering providers will have to use the same messaging about the risks and potential harm of gambling in their advertising, direct marketing, websites and other direct communications to their customers. This is designed to ensure evidence based, consistent messaging will be used.

The ninth is staff training. Staff involved in providing online wagering services, or with the capacity to influence the service, will have to undergo training in the responsible service of online wagering.

The last, and the subject of these bills, is a National Self-exclusion Register. Not all elements of the framework have been fully implemented, and it is important that all governments take the actions they have committed to as soon as possible. It is incredibly important that the government remains vigilant to online problem gambling and takes the necessary steps to make sure Australia is a leader in best-practice consumer protection.

Can I finish by adding that the challenge of online gambling, of course, is that it can happen anywhere across the world. It can happen so easily with the amount of technology that people have accessible to them now, and that is one of the real reasons that Labor is going to support this piece of legislation. Gambling, broadly, of course, is such a terrible problem—particularly the harm it causes to families and to individuals involved. We've all seen and heard, I am sure, some of the horror stories around gambling. With the advent and the increase in interactive gambling and the pervasive nature of interactive gambling, it is very important as one step—and it is only one step, I accept that—that a national self-exclusion register be established.

6:20 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-exclusion Register) Bill and the National Self-exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill. Labor supports these bills, which enable the implementation of an important consumer protection measure for individuals who are at risk of, or are already experiencing, significant gambling related harm from online wagering. But Labor notes that it's taken the government far too long to bring these bills before the parliament and that this delay means these vulnerable Australians may not have access to this key measure as soon as they should have.

The National Self-exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill amends the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 to establish a national self-exclusion register. The register will allow individuals to exclude themselves from being provided interactive wagering services by all licensed interactive wagering service providers in Australia and will limit the amount of direct marketing to the individual. The register will allow people to self-exclude from all online wagering sites and apps in one go, and will be implemented by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The register will reflect the principles set out in the national policy statement for the national consumer protection framework for online wagering as agreed by all Australian governments. The bill will expressly provide that interactive wagering service providers licensed in Australia must not provide interactive wagering services or directly market such services to individuals who are registered on this register. The ACMA will enter into an arrangement with the body corporate to keep and maintain the register, and the ACMA will be responsible for regulatory compliance and enforcement of the register scheme and oversight of the body corporate. The bill also provides for a levy for cost recovery by the ACMA for the cost of the register and regulatory oversight.

The cost recovery levy bill is to impose a levy on persons who provide licensed interactive wagering services and for related purposes. This bill allows for the ACMA to recover its register related costs from licensed interactive wagering service providers.

I want to turn to the national consumer protection framework. Labor recognises that a well-regulated gambling industry has a place in Australian society but must be underpinned by appropriate harm minimisation measures. Labor observes the growth in online betting is in an environment where digital technology, including smartphones, enables Australians to wager and gamble with relative ease. The borderless nature of the internet presents challenges in the provision of consistent and effective protections across jurisdictions.

While the majority of people who gamble do so in a responsible manner, Labor acknowledges that gambling in our community can, in some cases, have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences. That's why Labor has maintained a strong stance on supporting appropriate harm minimisation measures to protect and assist our community. Just as Labor supported the passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 as part of the progressive implementation of the recommendations of the review of illegal offshore wagering, referred to as the O'Farrell review, Labor supports the bills now before the House.

Labor believes it's necessary to do more to protect and assist individuals who are at risk of or already experiencing significant gambling related harm from online wagering and acknowledges the national self-exclusion register enabled by these bills will go some way to doing so. The review of illegal offshore wagering was undertaken and finalised in December 2015 to investigate illegal offshore wagering and how its impacts could be mitigated in order to protect all Australians. The review also examined the efficacy of approaches to protect the consumer, including consumer protection measures, to mitigate the risks of negative social impacts. The review noted that the rate of problem gambling amongst online gamblers is three times higher than all other gambling platforms. The review found that there was consensus among stakeholders that the National Self-exclusion Register is necessary to allow individuals to restrict contact by and their access to online gambling services without having to contact each individual interactive wagering service provider licensed in Australia.

On 26 November 2018, as part of the Commonwealth government response to the review, the Commonwealth government and state and territory governments agreed to a national consumer protection framework which includes the National Self-exclusion Register as a core measure. The register will allow individuals to self-exclude from all licensed interactive wagering service providers through a single process. Under a set of agreed principles, the National Self-exclusion Register must operate as follows. It must allow a consumer to self-exclude from all interactive wagering services in a single process. It must be quick and simple for a consumer to apply to. It must take immediate effect upon registration or sign-up. It is to be effectively promoted so that consumers are educated about self-exclusion and aware of the scheme. It must be offered across all phone and web based digital platforms. It must allow a consumer to choose their exclusion period, ranging from three months to permanent exclusion. It must afford a consumer the option to enter a sponsor, such as a friend or a family member, who will be notified at the end of their exclusion period. Information on gambling support, financial and counselling services, and information about land based self-exclusion tools must be made available to a consumer at the time they nominate to self-exclude. Information on gambling consumer protections must be made publicly available and accessible. An interactive wagering service provider is prohibited from providing any marketing and/or promotional material to a consumer who is registered for self-exclusion during the period of self-exclusion. And, upon registration for self-exclusion, all funds held in a consumer's active account must be returned to that consumer. Once all bets are settled, the account must be closed.

We expect this to be a step-change improvement upon the current self-exclusion tools that are available. Currently, only paper based processes or single-operator systems are available, which means that those most vulnerable currently have to exclude themselves from each online wagering service provider separately to stop wagering online. This piecemeal approach undermines the effectiveness of self-exclusion as a consumer protection tool. The National Self-exclusion Register is one of 10 consumer protection measures that make up the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering. The framework commenced just over a year ago, on 26 November 2018, and the measures in the framework are being implemented progressively over an 18-month time frame through a mix of Commonwealth, state and territory legislation and regulation, as set out in the national policy statement. This statement sets out the agreed implementation arrangements that Australian governments will use to deliver the national framework. It specifies the date each measures is introduced and comes into effect by reference to the commencement date of the national framework, which was November last year. The implementation time frame it sets for the national exclusion register, as I mentioned, is 18 months from the commencement of the national framework. It is subject to the enactment of enabling Commonwealth legislation and establishing, trialling and testing the National Self-exclusion Register.

I note that 18 months from the commencement of the framework in November 2018 would make May next year the implementation time frame for the register. However, given the length of time the government has taken to introduce the bills, the register will not be up and running by May 2020. It's concerning, as the shadow minister expressed, that the government took an entire year to introduce this legislation. A year ago, the government acknowledged that more than 240,000 Australians were already experiencing significant harm from online wagering and called the ability to self-exclude a critical gap in consumer protections in Australia. Financial Counselling Australia warned there was a desperate need for the register and urged the government to make it a priority. Yet six months later, under Labor questioning at Senate estimates in April 2019, the ACMA confirmed it was still waiting for the legislation to be passed and acknowledged that a May 2020 implementation time frame was challenging. Since then, there have been eight parliamentary sitting weeks when the legislation could have been introduced, but this government has only just managed to scrape it in during the final sitting days of this year.

This government, unfortunately, has been in no hurry to protect Australians vulnerable to the harms of online gambling. Yesterday, in response to questions on notice from October 2019 Senate estimates—question No. 100—the ACMA confirmed that the passage of these amendments is the key element to the delivery of the National Self-exclusion Register. The ACMA stated that it anticipates that from the commencement of these amendments, upon royal asset, it will take a minimum of 18 months to implement the National Self-exclusion Register. This means that this critical gap in consumer protections in Australia won't be delivered in 2020. At the earliest, according to the ACMA, the register will be implemented in mid-2021, which will be some 30 months after the commencement of the framework, on this analysis.

I note here that, according to the decision regulation impact statement of the National Consumer Protection Framework, the time frame for the implementation of a functional, centralised self-exclusion register ranges between 1½ and three years. The ACMA has approached the market with a request for expressions of interest and it's expected that a request for tender will be released once the legislation has been passed. The process of procuring, designing, developing, testing and trialling the register will then commence. The national policy statement provides that system functionality will be reviewed at the end of the first 12-month period from the date the register takes effect. Labor will of course be very interested in this review, and we are very hopeful—as I'm sure all the House is—that the measure takes effect as soon as practicable.

So, Labor supports these bills. We note that, despite the critical need for this consumer protection measure, this government has unfortunately not been in a hurry to introduce these bills into the parliament. But now that they are here, as I said, we support these bills. This will fill what has been a critical gap in the consumer protection measures for online wagering, and I believe it's the sincere hope of the entire House that these have the desired effect of harm minimisation and achieving the desired results.

6:31 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Put simply, there are millions of urgent reasons to support the Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-exclusion Register) Bill 2019. It's critically important that we pass it—and pass it as soon as possible. As many as 160,000 Australian adults suffer right now, today, with severe problems in their lives as a result of gambling. Up to a further 350,000 Australian adults currently display gambling behaviours, which may make them vulnerable to problem gambling in the future. According to the Productivity Commission, as many as 30 per cent of regular gamblers in this country are problem gamblers, and as much as 40 per cent of all of the money lost in gambling in Australia is lost by this relatively small group.

Recent research commissioned by the Morrison government shows that the problem may be even more serious among those who are participants in interactive wagering online. This research, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, surveyed 5,076 adults who have taken part in online gambling in the last year. No less than 52 per cent of respondents were classified as being at risk or already experiencing gambling related harm. The impact on their lives and on the lives of others, most particularly their families, can be very significant. On average, every one of these high-risk gamblers impacts six others' lives. They impact their spouses, children, family, friends and employers with their problem gambling. Each moderate-risk gambler affects three others, and even low-risk gamblers affect an average of one other person. The results can be deadly.

As Dr Charles Livingstone of Monash University, whom I've worked with a fair bit in this space in recent years, says: 'Gambling is a public health problem. In terms of disability-adjusted life-years, the impact of gambling is approximately the same as excessive alcohol consumption.' The evidence for this impact on gamblers themselves is overwhelming. It includes, among other studies, Black, Shaw, McCormick, and Allen's 'Marital status, childhood maltreatment, and family dysfunction: a controlled study of pathological gambling'. It also includes Hayatbakhsh et al's 'Young adults' gambling and its association with mental health and substance use problems' in Australia and New Zealand, from the Journal of Public Health, and Kerber et al's 'The impact of disordered gambling among older adults', in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services.

These studies found that problem gambling is strongly linked to increased financial problems and bankruptcy and increased likelihood of divorce, substance abuse, anxiety and depression, and even suicide. For the significant others of problem gamblers the impacts can be just as significant. A 2013 Swedish study by Svensson, Romild and Shepherdson in BMC Public Health revealed that those who were closely associated with a problem gambler were significantly more likely to experience poor mental health, risky alcohol consumption, economic hardship and relationship problems. These terrible impacts are no surprise when you know the sheer scale of losses that regular gamblers in this country are experiencing.

According to the Australian gambling statistics, collated by the Queensland government, in 2017 alone Australians lost almost $24 billion to gambling. That equates to around about seven hospitals the size of the University of the Sunshine Coast. These are sums that even financially secure families can ill afford to be losing on a regular basis. For those on lower incomes such losses entrench economic disadvantage and divert money in our economy away from productive uses. There is strong evidence to suggest that gambling impacts even on those who are not close to a problem gambler—for example, through an increase in crime.

Studies—including 'The Influence of Gaming Expenditure on Crime Rates in South Australia' by Wheeler et al.—suggest that an alarmingly high percentage of problem gamblers have committed a gambling-related offence like theft, fraud or robbery. You can see this illustrated clearly in the different crime rates in areas of the country with poker machines and those without. Postcodes in Victoria with no electronic gaming machines are associated with 30 per cent fewer incidents of domestic violence and significantly lower rates of income-generating crime. In South Australia a 2008 study found the same connection. In short, the greater the amount of money spent on gaming in a particular area the higher the area's income-generating crime becomes.

In conclusion, in this country we have more than 500,000 high-risk and moderate-risk gamblers. We have more than a million Australians gambling regularly. Many millions of lives are blighted by their association with it. We have $24 billion lost. We have increased levels of crime, divorce, bankruptcy, substance abuse, anxiety, depression and suicide. There are millions of reasons to support this bill.

Like people living with other addictions, many, perhaps most, problem gamblers go through times when they want to stop gambling. However, interactive wagering presents a number of unique challenges for anyone who wants to change their lives. Online gambling is constantly available, accessible at any moment from the smartphone in your pocket. If you have an account that phone will be bombarded with constant emails and messages promoting yet more and more wagers. Users can have multiple accounts and, indeed, on average, they have 2.3 of them. Though a user might shut down an account, often there will be others waiting to be activated and used when their resolve falters. Finally, online gambling can be hidden from those around you. Available silently and easily through a smartphone it is easy to conceal from people who are trying to help. These factors make online wagering a nightmare for any problem gambler who wants to make a difference for themselves and for those around them.

This bill will make these challenges significantly easier to overcome. By allowing users to opt-out of interactive wagering services for the periods of between three months and one's own lifetime, the bill furnishes users with the opportunity to give themselves a break. During that break their smartphone will no longer be an enemy in their struggle against problem gambling. Wagering will no longer be available to them at the touch of a button—right there in their pocket all hours of the day and the night. That break can be all a problem gambler needs to regain control and adopt a healthier approach to their wagering. For others, it will give them time to reflect on their habits or perhaps turn a corner and stop their gambling completely. By excluding the user from all of their accounts simultaneously and preventing them from signing up for any more, the register will ensure that their addiction cannot leave problem gamblers with an easy out. It will deny them that secret way back into their old habits, which can so often be the downfall of good intentions. By prohibiting interactive wagering providers from actively marketing to users during the time they are registered, the bill will end the constant barrage of promotion which makes temptation so much harder to resist.

Finally, the bill will allow users to nominate up to five individuals to be a support person and ensure that these individuals are informed about when the exclusion is beginning and when it is due to end. This will help problem gamblers to bring their struggle into the light and to draw on the support of their friends and family. By informing supporters when an exclusion is due to end, the register will encourage conversations about how well it has worked and whether the user should consider extending it.

If we are to reduce and hopefully even end the scourge of problem gambling in this country, we must support gamblers to transform their own lives. We must provide them with the means to limit their exposure and the tools they need to turn things around. That is what this bill delivers. It's an important step forward, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to support it today. However, as I've said in this place, in the media and in my conversations with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, I believe that alongside the legislation before us today there is more that we could also consider doing. In particular, I believe we should consider extending the government's restrictions on gambling advertising around live sport. It is very welcome that the government has acted to prohibit gambling advertising from traditional and online broadcasts of live sport between the hours of 5 am and 8.30 pm from five minutes before kick-off. However, any major sporting event broadcast on television or online often includes extensive pre-match coverage and entertainment which appeals to children.

I could not tell you the amount of feedback I got on social media from people watching the grand final—whether it was the NRL or the AFL—about the amount of absolute bombardment that people were getting on television for live sport betting. I believe we should consider extending the prohibition against gambling advertising to all such pre-match coverage. Equally, many of the biggest sporting contests are scheduled in prime-time evening slots to maximise their broadcast appeal. With sports matches lasting two to three hours, most of these major contests continue well past 8.30 pm. Many, if not most, children are allowed to watch these contests to the end. I therefore also believe that we should extend the ban to all coverage of live sporting contests whether it continues past 8.30 or not. Ultimately, in the longer-term, I hope that we will be able to act to prohibit gambling ads from broadcasting services altogether between 7 am and 10 pm.

We have a duty in this place to protect our most vulnerable Australians from the harm that is caused by gambling. The number of children who now seem to be able to disassociate sport from gambling is very, very concerning. When I was a kid, when you'd be swapping footy cards, you knew all the favourite players of your favourite teams, their positions and how many goals they kicked over the weekend. Today, what our young people know about sport is more and more about the odds that someone is offering them. It is a huge problem that we in this place have an obligation to address. Let kids be kids and sport be sport.

If people want to gamble when they're adults, that's a matter for them. But this bill will go a long way towards addressing problem gambling. We need to do everything we can to limit problem gamblers' exposure to wagering and help them avoid its most damaging effects. This bill is an important step forward in achieving that end for the hundreds of thousands of Australians who are already at risk of problem gambling, and I commend it to the House.

6:45 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

In the 1980s, economist Gary Becker developed the theory of rational addiction. Rational addiction, which applies to any sort of addictive substance, is the notion that, as an individual considers whether or not to take up an addictive substance, they think rationally about the probability that they will get addicted to it and the costs and benefits of all of that—so, when a teenager takes their first smoke, they're thinking rationally about the long-term impact it will have on their lives if they become addicted; when somebody takes their first drink, they're thinking about the risk of addiction and, mathematically, quickly doing all the costs and benefits as to the lifetime impact; or, when someone gambles, there are also computing the costs and benefits and considering rationally the probability of addiction.

If this theory sounds crazy to you, it's because fundamentally it is. Behavioural economics has taught us that people aren't rational when it comes to addictive products. The awarding of the Nobel prize to Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler reflected the better understanding in economics of addictions being irrational—how we find ourselves eating more than we should, exercising less than we want to, smoking more than we want to, drinking more than we want to and gambling more than we want to.

Gambling has been recognised as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It lays out nine indicators of a person with gambling disorder: (1) needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement; (2) restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling; (3) repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling; (4) frequent thoughts about gambling, such as reliving past gambling experiences; (5) often gambles when feeling distressed; (6) after losing money gambling, often returns to get even, 'chasing losses'; (7) lies to conceal gambling activity; (8) has jeopardised or lost a significant relationship, job or educational opportunity because of gambling; (9) relies on others to help with money problems caused by gambling. A person is considered to have gambling disorder if they present with four or more of those nine indicators.

The economics profession has also pointed to the role that chips and credit can play in causing gamblers to go over the top. It's a bit like the way in which we sometimes overspend when we use credit cards rather than cash. Casino chips and cash-out tickets from electronic gambling machines, and their virtual equivalents, can lead gamblers to bet more than they intend to. Modern gambling machines are designed with the help of psychologists who understand addiction, but from the opposite side—helping those who are trying to profit from gambling. They use something called variable interval reinforcement schedule, giving you payouts at unexpected times. They adjust the noises, the environment, the lighting, everything, in order to encourage gamblers to bet big. For some, that can increase the pleasure of gambling; for others, that can increase the pain to themselves and to their families.

We know that this is a huge issue in Australia. Australians are the world's gold medallists when it comes to gambling losses.

As the previous speaker, the member for Fisher, has noted, Australians lose some $24 billion a year. Gambling losses in 2017 were estimated at $1,068 per adult, which is 40 per cent higher than the next highest country, Singapore. Australian gambling losses per adult are twice the gambling losses per adult in the United States. Australians lose three times as much per person as Brits. We lose four times as much per person as a typical German or French adult.

As James Boyce noted in a recent article in The Monthly, that wasn't true of Australia in the 1970s. We have increased our gambling losses just in the course of the past generation. Part of that is due to the rise of poker machines. As Tim Costello has pointed out, Australia, a country with 0.3 per cent of the world's population, has 18 per cent of the world's poker machines. The member for Fisher has talked about some of the social harms that can occur as a result of problem gambling, such as bankruptcy, divorce and suicide—and the impact on the children of gamblers, who might not enjoy sport for its own sake but who might be captivated by in-play betting and think that to enjoy sport is to place a bet on the next play rather than to simply enjoy the game for its own sake.

The government has acknowledged that more than 240,000 Australians are experiencing significant harm from online wagering. Sometimes that harm can be tragic. Tim Costello has pointed to statistics from a Victorian coroner that indicate that, from 2000 to 2012, 128 suicides were tied to gambling. Financial Counselling Australia have warned that there is 'a desperate need' for the National Self-Exclusion Register and they have urged the government to make it a priority.

The Labor Party has been concerned that the government has not acted quickly enough on the National Self-Exclusion Register. We support it. It is a sensible behavioural economics intervention which allows people to choose a period of self-exclusion which would range from three months to permanent exclusion. Individuals would be prompted 14 days before their self-exclusion period ends. They will be able to re-register for another period. Each person who registers themselves can register up to five support people, and those support people will also be notified 14 days before the end of the self-exclusion period. That ensures that those who are suffering from gambling addiction are able to draw on the support of family and friends at that time.

Essentially, self-exclusion allows people to tie themselves to the mast just as Odysseus did for the Sirens. Odysseus knew that the Sirens would be too tempting to resist, so he had his men plug their ears with wax and tie him to the mast, with instructions that, regardless of what he said, he was not to be untied from that mast. Odysseus knew that the temptation of the Sirens would be something he would be unable to overcome. And so, too, will people who will use the National Self-Exclusion Register be able to tie themselves to the mast to exclude themselves from all online gambling. They won't have to deal with it site by site; they'll be able to do it holus-bolus—across the board.

The behavioural economic studies that have been done on these sorts of interventions suggest that there is a positive impact. A study by Damien Brevers and co-authors looked at the impact of pre-commitment on risk-taking while gambling and found that, in a randomised study, giving participants the opportunity to make a binding choice that made high-risk options unavailable caused them to decrease risk-taking. A study of Norwegian gamblers by Michael Auer and co-authors found that those gamblers who received personalised feedback in relation to limit-setting showed significant reductions in the amount of money gambled. These kinds of interventions are worth exploring more deeply.

But I do agree with the member for Fisher that there are other approaches that we should explore in this space. If we had a national research funding body, it might be able to not only bring together the existing research but also generate more research as to how we can help people overcome their own addictions. We do this with other addictive products as a matter of course. We have a whole range of government programs that aim to assist smokers kick the habit, because three-quarters of smokers say they would like to quit. But there's much less application of behavioural economics and smart interventions grounded in evidence when it comes to dealing with problem gambling. So small-scale studies looking at the impact of voluntary pre-commitment, limits on advertising and in-play betting and measures to ensure that people aren't hurt through addiction to pokies would be welcome. Many Australians do, indeed, enjoy gambling, but we need to ensure that the harms that are done by gambling are wiped out.

I want to acknowledge the courage of Tasmanian Labor and Bec White in the last Tasmanian state election in their willingness to stand up to vested interests in order to reduce the harm done to vulnerable Tasmanians. The result of that election does illustrate the importance of donation transparency. Labor has recently called for real-time disclosure of donations in order to ensure that these debates are carried out based on evidence rather than simply political donations.

There's a lot more to be done to reduce the harm that is being caused, by the government's own estimate, to almost a quarter of a million Australians. We shouldn't be leading the world in gambling losses. That's not a gold medal that I want Australia to have.

6:56 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank my parliamentary colleagues for their contributions to the debate today regarding the National Self-Exclusion Register for online wagering. This package of bills—the Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-Exclusion Register) Bill 2019 and the National Self-Exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill 2019—will establish the legislative regime for the register and will enable costs associated with the register to be fully recovered from interactive wagering providers through a cost-recovery levy. The register will allow people to quickly and easily exclude themselves from all interactive wagering services licensed in Australia through a single registration process. This will meet a critical gap in consumer protection for Australians who gamble online and reduce the harm of online wagering to vulnerable consumers.

The register will be available to around one million online wagering consumers but will target approximately 240,000 Australians who are already experiencing harm from online wagering. This is crucial as we know that the usage of online wagering is rapidly growing and the rate of problem gambling is three times higher online than it is across all other forms of gambling. The register is a key Commonwealth led measure under the national framework, and it's critical to protect vulnerable Australians who gamble online. The register will allow any ordinary resident of Australia to exclude themselves from all interactive wagering services licensed in Australia. All licensed interactive wagering providers are in scope for the register, including on-course bookmakers and telephone-only services.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will procure an independent third-party technology provider to supply, operate and maintain the register on their behalf. ACMA will regulate the register scheme, including the register provider and licensed Australian interactive wagering providers. The register bill will provide ACMA with the necessary powers to regulate and enforce compliance and fund the register.

Interactive wagering providers will be required to ensure that individuals on the register are not provided with any interactive wagering services. Additionally, interactive wagering providers must ensure that new interactive wagering accounts are not opened for registered individuals and that existing accounts are closed and funds returned to the individual after existing bets are settled. To meet these obligations, interactive wagering providers will be required to regularly check the register, with processes to be further outlined in the register rules.

In summary, this package of bills will establish a national self-exclusion register which will allow people to quickly and easily exclude themselves from all interactive wagering services licensed in Australia through a single registration process. This will ensure that this vital consumer protection tool is readily available for vulnerable individuals that are at risk of or are already experiencing harm from online wagering. The costs associated with the register will be recovered from interactive wagering providers through a cost-recovery levy. The register is a first in Australia, and I consider it an important step in achieving best practice for social responsibility in online wagering. The government will continue to work with stakeholders as we implement the register and we will monitor the scheme to ensure it is meeting its consumer protection outcomes.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.