Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Interactive Gambling Amendment (Credit and Other Measures) Bill 2023; Second Reading
Many Australians like to have a bet, myself included. But we all know that, for some people, betting can lead to harm for themselves and can have terrible impacts on their families, careers and other relationships. It can destroy lives. This issue is particularly acute during the Albanese government's cost-of-living crisis. As policymakers we have a responsibility to adopt sensible policies that can reduce harm. It's why the coalition took positive steps earlier this year with a bill to ban gambling advertising during live sport. Those opposite voted against that bill. It's a policy that we know has strong support in the community, and it should be enacted, because gambling advertising shouldn't occur during live sporting events that are watched by millions of Australian families and kids.
The bill we're talking about today, the Interactive Gambling Amendment (Credit and Other Measures) Bill 2023, stems in large part from an inquiry that was led by the member for Fisher, the former speaker—the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services report into the regulation of the use of financial services such as credit cards and digital wallets for online gambling Australia, which was published late in 2021. Its most important recommendation was to recommend a ban on the use of credit cards and digital wallets as payment methods for online gambling. Importantly, this recommendation would bring online gambling into line with offline gambling. You cannot currently use a credit card to gamble at a casino, at your local TAB or at other offline gambling venues, but you can use a credit card for online gambling.
What the member's inquiry recommended was that the online world be brought into parity with the offline world. It also recommended that any changes that were made have no adverse consequences for lotteries, included the activities of not-for-profits, charities and newsagents. I think we all know of charities that benefit from activities such as housie, and this recommendation had no intention of negatively affecting those activities. The member for Fisher is to be congratulated for his very deep passion and drive on this issue. His committee's report came down just in the lead-up to the last election. In general, I welcome the government's action in picking up his recommendations and seeking to enact them in this bill.
We know that people can get into problems when gambling with their own money, but obviously gambling using credit or debt can send people into a whole new world of financial distress. The Wallace inquiry's report cited total customer losses in Australia in 2018-19 of about $25 billion. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, that's the highest per capita loss from gambling in the world. In their submission to the Wallace inquiry, Responsible Wagering Australia said that about 20 per cent of customers were using credit cards with their online wagering accounts. It's important to differentiate between credit cards and debit cards. What this bill is about is not the use of a Visa card or a MasterCard in a debit sense for gambling; it's about when that card is in fact used for credit, so that the user is borrowing money. As I say, about 20 per cent of people, the institute said, were using credit cards.
The inquiry report highlighted that the combination of online gambling and credit obviously exacerbated problem gambling and its associated financial and social harms. It said that this combination could lead to extreme financial hardship, loss of employment, bankruptcy and broader harms, including relationship breakdown, and could contribute to mental illness and homelessness, so it's a very serious matter. The inquiry identified two key reasons for the speed and severity of the harm that can be driven by the combination of online gambling and the use of credit. First, it is quicker and easier to lose large sums of money when gambling online in comparison with other forms of gambling. Secondly, the scale of financial hardship can obviously be magnified when credit cards are used. That occurs because of the detrimental compounding effects that we see when problem gamblers quickly spend their own savings and then use credit to fund their own gambling and, effectively, chase those losses. It doesn't take a gambling researcher to understand how quickly that can become a very big problem. That's why, for some people, gambling with credit cards can be a road to ruin.
The inquiry findings were also backed up by the results of a recent review into this bill by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. As that inquiry noted and as others have noted, gambling using credit cards is already banned at land based sites. You can't walk into a casino or your local TAB and use a credit card, and the issue now is about the use of credit cards for online gambling. This bill would prohibit an operator of a regulated interactive gambling service that is a wagering service from accepting, or offering to accept, payments from a customer in Australia using a credit card, payments linked to a credit card including digital wallets, digital currency such as cryptocurrency or other methods determined by the minister. The bill would provide for a new criminal offence and civil penalties of up to $234,000. It would allow ACMA to accept and enforce undertakings relating to compliance with the provisions of the act. There would be a six-month transition period and a review of the ban after two years from commencement. As I mentioned before, the inquiry into the bill by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislations Committee recommended that the bill be passed.
It's also worth noting the very broad stakeholder support for the key provisions of this bill. Responsible Wagering Australia, which is the peak body for the gambling industry, has itself said that it supports the bill. Sportsbet says that it backs the introduction of a ban on Australian licensed interactive gambling services accepting credit cards and digital currencies as payment methods, and it describes the proposed changes as the final element necessary to prevent access to credit and ensure customers can conduct their wagering activity with only their own cleared funds. It also supports the proposed prohibition on the use of cryptocurrency. The Alliance for Gambling Reform, which has raised many issues about the problematic aspects of gambling, says that it has advocated for this ban and that it supports it. Financial Counselling Australia has welcomed the plan, and the Australian Banking Association says that the changes will establish consistency across the gambling industry, bringing the rules for online gambling into line with the rules for offline gambling.
The coalition, in principle, supports this bill. The government has picked up the findings of the Wallace inquiry recommendations from late in the last term of government and put them into the bill. In banning the use of credit cards for online gambling, the bill brings online gambling into line with offline gambling. But, as is often the case with Labor, as we've seen in many cases, such as their extraordinary and appalling misinformation bill, they can go too far. I want to flag that we do have some concerns regarding some of the detail in this bill, while supporting it in principle, and I'll have more to say about that when this bill goes into consideration in detail.