Senate debates

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sports Betting) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:31 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to talk about the Greens bill on sports betting, which aims to separate gambling from sport. Sport has always been a huge part of Australian culture—we are a sporting country; we love to play sport; we watch it; it is a big part of the lives of many Australians—but over recent years we have seen the gradual creep of gambling into most of our major sporting codes. It has resulted in the quadrupling in the number of betting advertisements over the last two years to the point where it is very hard to watch a major sporting broadcast without being bombarded by a barrage of betting advertisements and, until recently, the promotion of live odds through those broadcasts.

There has been some movement on this issue since I last rose to speak about it. We have had an announcement from the government for the first time indicating that it was prepared to put the brakes on gambling in sport. I will talk about that in a moment, but before that I would like to talk about how we got to this point and how we got to finally seeing some action in this area. It really does highlight how critical it is to have an alternative voice—another voice, that of the Greens—in the Senate.

At the start of this year I was sufficiently concerned about the not-so-gradual increase of the influence of gambling in sport in recent years that I referred the issue to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling. Through that committee we heard evidence from the major broadcasters, from the sporting codes themselves and from a range of other stakeholders, including people who, like me, were extremely concerned about the rise of sports betting promotion and advertising in our major sporting codes. Through that inquiry process it became absolutely clear that we needed legislation in this area. I drafted a bill—one that was reasonably straightforward—that focused on three key areas. The first area was around ensuring that we no longer saw the promotion of betting odds through sporting broadcasts. The second area was the issue of advertising through discrete commercial breaks during children's viewing times. We have the situation where we are not allowed to advertise gambling products during G-rated programming and yet we have this enormous, gaping loophole that says, 'If it is a sports broadcast, no matter what time of day it is, we are going to continue to allow the advertisement of betting products.' It is a loophole that we decided needed to be fixed and we drafted legislation that would effectively prohibit gambling advertising before 9 pm.

The third component of the bill was around the issue of gambling promotion embedded not only in sports broadcasts but in the myriad of sports related programs around the major sporting codes—programs like TheFooty Showwhere during the actual programs we were seeing a whole lot of cross-promotion around betting products, with betting companies being named regularly in the show. We decided that if we were going to stop the promotion of betting advertising then that needed to include advertising during the broadcast itself. That was the third major component of that bill.

That bill was supported by the community, with several polls demonstrating that there was widespread public support for the notion that betting advertising through children's viewing times needed to stop. We then took the issue to the parliament by putting forward a motion around those components of the bill in an attempt to get support for it. What we saw was some movement from some Labor backbenchers, who essentially took up the major elements of our bill and threatened to put the bill to caucus in an attempt to get it up as a private member's bill. In response to all of that action—action that was initiated by the Greens originally through the referral to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling and later through our private senator's bill—we saw huge community response. The community responded very clearly and very loudly and said they wanted to see it stop, and in response to that we saw some action from the government. We are very pleased that the government did respond, or at least acknowledge, the issue. We are not as pleased with the breadth of their response. The government response was to effectively prohibit the promotion of betting odds through sports broadcasts. That is a good thing and we absolutely support it. However, the proliferation of gambling advertising and gambling advertising during children's viewing hours will continue under the government's proposal. Furthermore, it does nothing to address the issue of gambling sponsorship of sports related programs, so we will continue to see shows like The Footy Show spruik betting products. Finally, it was a proposal that would not be legislated but would continue to remain the responsibility of industry. Our concern is that, with the change in government, we may in fact see industry backslide on that proposal. We are very, very concerned about that, which is why we want to see these changes legislated.

But the point remains that we would not have seen any action had it not been for the continued advocacy of the Greens and some of my fellow crossbenchers, who have also done a lot of work in this area, and, indeed, some of those government backbenchers who took up the Greens proposals and put them to their caucus. It is a very powerful reason why the Australian community continue to vote for the Greens in the numbers that they do, because they know that we need an alternative voice, another voice, in this place to put these issues on the agenda—issues that would not be there without advocates like us.

The concern I have is that, up until this point—and including the response from government—what we are seeing is a response that essentially leaves the responsibility for action with the government. I might be missing something—I am new to this place—but this idea of self-regulation has always been one that I find most intriguing. It is the responsibility of betting companies to increase their market share. It is the responsibility of betting companies to increase the number of customers that they attract. That is what they do. They are companies that exist to make a profit. I do not blame them for doing that. I find it remarkable that we would entrust a company whose primary motivation is to increase the number of customers using their product with the responsibility of actually putting limits around the promotion of their product. It is no wonder that we have seen no action to date. This is not simply an issue that relates to gambling products. It applies to other adult products like alcohol, where we again have entrusted the industry to control and monitor advertising to see whether that is appropriate. We are entrusting them, at the moment, with the development of warning labels on alcoholic beverages. It is no wonder that what we are seeing as a result of that process is action that is almost meaningless.

We think this action is necessary because gambling is not a harmless product. It is fun for some. There are people in the community who enjoy the odd punt, but there are others where problem gambling destroys their lives. It means that kids sometimes do not get fed at night. It means that families break up. It means that some people end up losing their homes. When there is a product with that potential for harm, there is a very clear role for government to step in and legislate. I am not proposing a ban on the activity itself. It is really important we make the distinction between the product—and there are obviously very clear controls around the way the product needs to be sold, and we support those—and the promotion and marketing of the product.

We are not advocating a ban on gambling. In fact, we know in the sports betting arena that a ban on gambling could lead us down a particularly dangerous road. We know that there is the potential for corruption in sport. We have seen that internationally, and that is why we do acknowledge that there is a role for a regulated betting market in this country. The question is: what sort of limits are we prepared to put around the advertising and promotion of that product in an effort to protect, firstly, young children who are exposed to the advertising of an adult product and, secondly, those adults who will get into serious trouble as a result of an addiction to that product? At the moment we have a situation where what we are going to see from both the codes and the gambling industry is an approach of continued advertising and marketing and as little change as possible. To the Greens that simply is not acceptable.

The issue that has generated the most outrage with the sporting community has been the inclusion of bookmakers like Tom Waterhouse as part of the editorial team. I think it is fair to say that the sporting codes lost a tremendous amount of goodwill as a result of that relationship. We saw a huge response from the community, particularly through social media. The response of industry, of course, was just to change the logo on Mr Waterhouse's microphone and to take him out of the commentary box but put him on the sporting ground where he would become, effectively, a commentator from the sidelines. There is simply no way for a young person who is watching a game of rugby or a game of footy to make the distinction between Tom Waterhouse the commentator and Tom Waterhouse the bookmaker. That is why it is important that we step in and legislate in this area.

I genuinely believe that we are at a crossroads when it comes to sport in this country. We heard, through evidence tendered to the joint select committee, that young kids now can recall a number of the major sporting companies, the names of those sporting companies, and some of the names of athletes and other celebrities associated with those sporting companies. In fact we are seeing now young adults integrating their enjoyment of a game of football with gambling. We are seeing now the situation where going to a game of football has become almost like going to the racetrack. That is not a future that most Australians want for their major sporting codes. They do not want watching a game of football to become an interactive gambling experience. They do not want going to a game of football to be like going to a small casino. They want to enjoy the sport for the sake of enjoying sport.

We have to remember that there are many, many good things that sport does bring us. As a young person growing up and playing sport it was an opportunity for me to become a part of my local community. It is an opportunity to keep fit and healthy and it is an opportunity, particularly in regional areas, where I now live, to bring together people from all walks of life in the shared pursuit of doing something that is both healthy and enjoyable. The growing entanglement of gambling and sport cuts against some of those terrific objectives.

Sport is big business—of course it is. Our major sporting codes have huge, billion-dollar television deals. There are huge profits and professionalism associated with most of our major sporting codes, but the most corrosive and the most insidious change to our major sporting codes is not the increasing professionalism associated with those sports. I am not a big fan of the music that comes on after every goal and the marketing paraphernalia such as the new jumpers that come out each year—and I know that other people feel the same way—but that is just a minor annoyance to some of us. What most Australians object to is that, until recently, gambling was on one side and sport was on the other. If you wanted to have a punt you went to the racetrack, if you wanted to gamble you went to the casino and if you wanted to play or watch sport you would go to the local sporting oval. But now, for the first time, sport and gambling are entwined. We are seeing a huge increase in the number of advertisements in sponsorship that occur in all of our major sporting codes. There is a real blurring of the line between commentary and advertising. So the time has come to change it.

As I said when I started, when we began this campaign earlier this year it was clear that there was huge community concern. We took that on through our referral to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform and through the development of this bill, which we will continue to work on to get passed. We are pleased that there has been some response from government, but there is much, much more to do. During this election campaign we will continue to ensure that the issue of sports betting and the entanglement of gambling and sport remains on the agenda and that we get a firm commitment from whoever forms government to legislate and take decisive action.

11:50 am

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in opposition to Senator Di Natale's bill. I have been thinking on what he is about, and I have a short story to relate. There is an Indigenous community where $20,000 is withdrawn from an ATM on a Thursday night, and the store in that community has receipts for about $14,000 over the next few days. The question is: what has happened to the other $6,000? The answer is: it is gambled by people who lack education and also lack work, so they sit down under the trees and gamble. I was wondering in listening to Senator Di Natale's contribution how this legislation was going to affect those people. Will they be watching the TV at nine o'clock at night? I do not think so.

Debate interrupted.