Thursday, 9 February 2012
Gambling; Order for the Production of Documents
I, and also on behalf of Senator Xenophon, move:
That there be laid on the table by 27 February 2012 by the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (Senator Evans) any advice or documentation received by the Government regarding the cost of implementing $1 bet limits on poker machines, particularly in relation to the $1.5 billion figure referred to by the Minister in public comments.
The government is, of course, happy to release departmental advice on the costs of the $1 maximum bets on poker machines when the appropriate review and consultations have been undertaken. Senator Xenophon has also written to the minister and submitted a freedom of information request to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs for the same material. These requests are being processed, and the department's independent FOI process has begun. As the advice includes materials from third parties, with possible commercial-in-confidence implications, they will also need to be consulted. It is right and proper that this consultation is conducted.
I note the minister's comments. I did put in a freedom of information request to the minister for details of what documents there are and on what basis the government says it will cost $1.5 billion to have machines made $1-bet-capable. I find it extraordinary that the minister says, 'Well, you're going through the FOI process; we don't need to do this.' I think this is a better process. The parliament and the Senate ought to order the production of documents. The coalition know my views, and we have yet to hear from them what they say about this particular motion. I understand they are opposing it at this stage, and I hope they can reconsider. I have consistently supported the opposition when they have sought production of documents on the minerals resource rent tax, for instance. I think it is the right thing to do in the order of transparency.
I think Senator Di Natale will make reference to the fact that in Victoria there has already been a change of machines from $10 to $5 per bet, and that was done with a minimum of fuss and a minimum of cost. So this order for the production of documents, I believe, has some urgency to it. It is important that we find out, in terms of the upcoming debate on poker machines, what the actual costs will be. I suspect the figure has been plucked out of thin air—or hot air—and I do not see what the problem is in providing these documents as a matter of urgency.
Given what we have just heard from the senator, I am not surprised that the government is reluctant to release details of the costings, particularly if those costings were made on the basis of third parties such as the poker machine industry. We know that $1 bet limits are the simplest, cheapest and most effective way of achieving poker machine reform. We also know that in Victoria, where a bet limit was introduced reducing the limit from $10 to $5, it was done with a minimum of fuss and with no outcry from the industry and no complaints—it was done very, very quietly. We also know that the proposal to reduce poker machine bet limits to $1 was costed independently by groups such as the Australia Institute and a number of academics at in the order of $200 million. That is wildly different to the government's costing of $1.5 billion.
This is important because the government has indicated that, when it comes to $1 bet limits, the only barrier to their implementation was cost—not support in the parliament; cost. Given that cost is a major barrier, according to the government, to implement the most effective, simplest and, in our view, cheapest way to achieve reform in this area—reform that is supported by over 60 per cent of the Australian community—why shouldn't the Australian people get to see the basis on which that $1.5 billion figure was made? Why shouldn't this parliament get the opportunity to see on what basis those costings were made? If the senator is correct and those costings were made on the basis of third-party advice—that is, advice from the poker machine industry—I can understand why they would like to keep those costings under wraps.