Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Matters of Public Importance


4:23 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today eight proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Siewert.

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

'The need for the federal government to take a stronger and more active direct role in the regulation of harmful and predatory gambling.'

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:24 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The matter before the Senate at the moment is indeed a matter of great public importance. The damage done to communities, individuals and families around the country by the massive continued expansion of harmful and predatory gambling is something that I'm sure we are all aware of, and we also must be aware of the fact that it is not being adequately addressed as things stand. One of the things that I think many in the community find most frustrating and irritating when they are raising a persistent problem that is not being addressed by elected representatives is when people try to pass the buck between state and federal level and say that it's a state issue, or a federal issue, or a local issue, and there's nothing we can do about it. The simple fact is there is something that needs to be done about this, and it can be done at federal level with more federal leadership.

The Greens have long campaigned for winding back the extraordinary expansion of poker machines in Australia. Australia is home to 0.3 per cent of the world's population but 18 per cent of the world's poker machines. Australians lose more money per capita to poker machines than do people anywhere else in the world. This isn't some manifestation of a quirk of the Australian character where we somehow or other love a punt more than anyone else in the world or have a compulsion to put coins into a machine; this is the result of an explicit policy choice by governments of both major party political persuasions, at federal as well as state level, for many years. This is an almost inevitable outcome of the regulatory regimes at state and federal level and a lack of political will to tackle this problem.

It is no coincidence that the gambling lobby in general—the pokies, the casinos and the like—put in literally millions of dollars of political donations at state and federal level. We need not just greater transparency about those donations but to eliminate those donations. The Greens have long campaigned to eradicate political donations from the gambling sector, as we did long ago in the tobacco industry—well, not so long ago in regard to the coalition in particular, who seemed keen to keep taking money from that sector for quite a long time. It is clear that this is a harmful industry and needs to be better regulated at federal level, with incentives, assistance and support for states to wean themselves off the revenue stream that they themselves have become addicted to.

A 2010 study by the Productivity Commission, hardly a bleeding heart social welfare body, found that problem gamblers account for 40 per cent of losses to poker machines. Most countries around the world—226 out of 238—do not have poker machines in pubs and clubs. Suicide rates among problem gamblers are twice the rates among those with other addictions. Problem gamblers are far more vulnerable to depression, relationship breakdown and job loss. Parts of our criminal justice system are being affected by this as well. This is a failure of the political system, because there's a lack of political will to tackle a major problem. It's not just about pokies. The expansion of online gambling is another serious concern with regard to the lack of protections for people. It's not a wowserish anti-gambling approach; it's about recognising that some forms of gambling are predatory, deliberately and knowingly causing harm to people and families. We need to stop that.

4:28 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If ever there were a demonstration of the fact that the Greens live in a parallel universe, this motion is it. As Senator Seselja said just a moment ago: while criticising the government and the opposition for taking donations from the gambling sector, the good senator admitted to the fact that the Greens take donations from a professional gambler, noting that one of the things that particular gentleman, David Walsh from MONA, wants to do is set up a new casino in Tasmania. So not only do they live in a parallel universe but they also don't come here with clean hands.

Then, when you consider the context of the matter of public importance itself, it seems as though they've been living under a rock for the last 12 months. It's no secret that I haven't been in this chamber for the last 18 months, but I have seen firsthand during that period of time the efforts that the government has been going to, working at a national level, sometimes with the cooperation of the states and territories and sometimes not, with the gambling industry and with those who don't support the gambling industry—like the community services sector, who have concerns about those who can't manage their own gambling—to make some changes.

Minister Fifield, for example, has successfully negotiated and legislated through this place changes to broadcasting laws that will see a welcome change in gambling advertising on television—a clear demonstration of the activity of government over the last 12 months in relation to the management, at a national level, of gambling. It demonstrates that this motion by the Greens doesn't really reflect the reality of what's occurring, the work happening now that was instigated by the former minister, Minister Tudge, who I know actively sought to put in place a national consumer protection framework for those who were engaging in gambling—in particular in online gambling but also in gambling across the board—so that there were some protections in place.

That is national leadership taken by this government. It was taken by the former minister, Minister Tudge, because he was passionately involved with a case where one of his constituents had been hurt and because he wanted to make a difference during his time in the portfolio. I saw firsthand that passion and desire. I worked with him to achieve the principles of a national consumer protection framework, which had things like a national self-exclusion register, which worked across the online platforms, and the removal of credit betting. These are measures that are making a difference.

The Greens motion today doesn't even stand up in the context of being in the real world, because this government is actively taking measures to protect people who need that protection, because they can't manage it themselves. It's been good to see both the gambling sector and the community services sector working closely to make sure that the intentions of the government's reforms are actually met, because there are those, and they're not necessarily those you might expect, that are opposed to some of the changes.

We're looking at things such as voluntary precommitments: the opportunity for a consumer, at an early stage in their involvement with a gambling entity, to set their own targets. That is the best way for these things to work. We are not going to change the world overnight—and not by putting in some artificial measures that the Greens might like to think would work—but we are actively working in this space to provide the measures that will make a genuine difference, and some of those I've already mentioned. Precommitment—when someone signs up for a gambling account—is an important part of that process. They know what they can afford to spend. They know what their patterns are. The opportunity for them to be advised of how much they're spending, through reports back to them that are easily accessible, is also an important part of the process.

It's quite confounding to me that just last night the Greens voted against the cashless credit card, a process and a mechanism that might not be a silver bullet but is something that has already been proven to significantly reduce spending on gambling in communities that are at risk. So we see not only the blindness to what is actually happening but the hypocrisy of the Greens when they vote against something that government has put forward for communities that has already clearly been demonstrated to provide a significant reduction in gambling. In fact, 48 per cent of gamblers in the communities where the card has already been trialled are gambling less, and yet the Greens vote against that and then come in here to criticise the government for not doing enough while they themselves are inhibiting government attempts to improve outcomes for those who are susceptible to gambling. You really cannot understand where the logic comes from. I know logic and the Greens in the same sentence really don't mix, but it is helpful that they continue to demonstrate that through their actions.

This government, through Minister Fifield, is providing a reduction in gambling advertising on television, and I don't know too many people who don't welcome that. In fact, in the Great Hall on budget night last year the fact that we won't be pestered by gambling advertising before 8.30 of an evening was probably the only announcement that received spontaneous applause from those present. It is a real measure that will improve the lot. It is outlawing credit betting and has measures to block international betting sites. If you look at the current debate in Tasmania, where the Labor Party is proposing to ban pokies, you see the naivety of that policy. The Labor Party is looking to take pokies out of pubs and clubs, and the naivety of that will just see people move to online gambling on overseas gambling sites with no taxation to the Australian government, no protections in respect of their spending and a real likelihood that their financial details will fall into the wrong hands and they will end up in further pain.

So the policy that's currently being proposed in Tasmania by the Labor Party is completely naive and supported, I might say, by the Greens in their own parallel universe. And yet they come in here and criticise the government that over the last 18 months has taken real, practical actions that will work, that are supported broadly by the community and that, might I add, have had support from the gambling sector. So the complete hypocrisy of the Greens is again demonstrated along with that life in a parallel universe where they don't understand what's actually going on and yet they themselves voted against a measure in this place last night that will improve the lot of those susceptible to gambling. (Time expired)

4:38 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to be able to participate in this afternoon's MPI, moved by Senator Siewert, about the need for the federal government to take a stronger, more active and direct role in the regulation of harmful and predatory gambling. I want to take the opportunity to put on the record just how powerful the sharing of life experiences from older adult Australians with younger children can be as an interrupter to the sorts of behaviours that we are seeking to discuss here today. People fall into gambling addiction because there are harmful and predatory practices in this industry.

I recall living as a young girl on Targo Road in Western Sydney, not very far from the Pendle Hill Catholic Club, where there was a wonderful woman I was very proud to know—one of those adoptive aunts. Her name was Gwen Carroll. She was a great nurse. She came from Toowoomba. She moved to Sydney and worked at Crown Street. She delivered thousands of babies, had a great social conscience, married a lovely Irishman and became a part of our family.

Aunty Gwen worked at the Pendle Hill Catholic club, and one evening we went to pick her up and bring her home. She had plates of food she was carrying out, and instead of getting into the car she gave the plates of food to a man who put them into his car. It was leftover food from the club. When she got into the car for us to give her a lift home, I asked her what was going on. I was a very impressionable eight-year-old at the time. She said, 'Well, that man hasn't got enough money left to feed his family,' because he'd gambled it away on poker machines in that club. To this day I applaud her social conscience and her practical action to deal with the issue for that family, but it's a few years since I was eight, and here we are discussing this matter still. Gambling is a significant social problem for far too many Australians.

Now, as a mother of 20-somethings, I know that the culture amongst many young Australians at this time is one in which rabid social advertising is drawing them more and more into the world of gambling, to the point where addiction to gambling is absolutely increasing. Just this week, there was an amazing article, in my view, which was related to the royal commission. You might say, 'Well, what's that got to do with harmful and predatory gambling?' But I will take the part of the MPI about 'a stronger and more active direct role in the regulation'. We need to think about where people are getting money and free access to money. The story that I want to cite was written by consumer affairs reporter Sarah Farnsworth and the ABC Specialist Reporting Team's Naomi Selvaratnam. It was uploaded two days ago, and it's in the public domain. The caption under the photo of a young man is:

By the time he was 20, Mitchell Spiteri was placing daily bets on gambling websites.

The article goes on to note:

    But it also indicates that this young man, despite his full profile of spending being available to his bank, was still approved for a $25,000 loan when he was at the peak of his addiction.

    So we have a long, long way to go in creating a context for a punt—and let's face it: Australians really make the best of that, particularly on Melbourne Cup Day, and the whole of the racing industry, to a degree, really relies on the entertainment value of horseracing and the dogs et cetera, and there are many other forms of betting that people do manage in moderation. But the context in which we live right now is one that Labor acknowledges is very concerning from the point of view that the growth in gambling advertising and online betting, including sports betting, is just rampant.

    We recognise, as a party, that well-regulated gambling absolutely has a place in Australian society. I've only got five minutes, so I won't tell you about the wonderful times I had going to Royal Randwick with my family, including my father, seeing and enjoying the races. People there were having a great day. But we are concerned because times have changed and the growth of digital technology, including smartphones, allows Australians to wager and gamble whenever and wherever they choose, so social protections that once might have existed no longer exist. We're in a digital age. We can't change that. It's an age of rapid change with regard to technology. Pretty well all of us have at least one handheld device; many of us have multiple devices. Smartphones allow us to do remarkable things, including going to the MoneySmart website, and I'm sure the MoneySmart website from ASIC would have some good guidance for young people who want to think about managing their money. It's not the technology that is flawed but what we're allowing to happen with it and within it. It's important that we acknowledge that the new technological realities have increased the likelihood of problem gambling. We simply cannot deny that that's the reality.

    Labor also believes that the advertising of legitimate sports bets can and should be well regulated, with appropriate harm-minimisation measures in place to protect children against problem gambling. This is because, as I started to recount in my opening remarks, we know that gambling in our community can in some cases have devastating consequences not just for the individual but for their family—social consequences, financial consequences and emotional consequences that don't remain with the individual whose choice it is but are transferred by their connection to others, to entire families, and can race through entire communities in small regional areas.

    Research undertaken by Deakin University gives us this vital information in very digestible form and points out that there are a number of very concerning issues with regard to children in particular and gambling advertising on television. Deakin found that over 90 per cent of children can recall having seen an advertisement for sports betting. That's pretty much market saturation of a youth market. Three-quarters of children aged eight to 16 years can recall the name of at least one sports betting brand and approximately one-quarter can recall four brands or more. So when 75 per cent of children think gambling is normal, to the point that it's part of something that they can just name off the top of their head, it shows you the level of exposure that our entire community is being subjected to. Parents who participated in that survey and study from Deakin University also conveyed their concerns, including that gambling advertising is so prevalent that it's changing the way kids think about sport and talk about sport.

    All the language that we use arrives into our world in a context—and this is not a context that exists in every country around the world but it is certainly the reality that we confront right now. That's why Labor has continued to maintain a very strong stance to ensure that appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place and that we protect and assist our community. It was Labor, when in government, that commissioned the Productivity Commission report to update its previous report on the gambling industry in Australia. And it was Labor that rejected recommendations to water down Australia's online gaming laws until harm minimisation strategies were adopted. It is a while since we were in government—sadly. We've been watching the demise of so many important parts of the fabric of our society. When we were in government we understood this was an issue, and we led the introduction of new rules to limit the promotion of betting odds and gambling advertising during live sports broadcasts on both television and radio because we know that what kids hear and see has an impact on them. We are listening to the concerns people in our community have around gambling.

    I go back to that memory of a single conversation as an eight-year-old in a car park at Pendle Hill. The context that you grow up in, the kinds of words and stories that people tell you and the way you understand how the world works will have an impact on your behaviour. I have to say that I became very cautious about what gambling might do. It doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed the odd bet from time to time but, I'm very glad to say, gambling addiction has never come close. But this is a reality that needs to be considered and the government needs to take some responsibility for the context in which gambling addiction is on the rise.

    4:48 pm

    Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

    Predatory gambling has always been a key issue for former Senator Nick Xenophon and the Nick Xenophon Team, and we are proud to have made a number of positive inroads that help protect consumers. We most recently secured gambling ad bans during televised sports matches and bans on credit betting. But that is just the start. Problem gambling is a huge blight on our society and we will never stop pushing for reforms to tackle predatory gambling and the deep harm it causes.

    Pokies are, of course, the biggest culprit when it comes to problem gambling. It is an industry that preys on the vulnerable and is a major driver of household debt and family and personal dysfunction. We need to progressively reduce their numbers and we need to urgently remove their addictive features. This is why we have backed the Productivity Commission's recommendations for a $1 maximum bet per spin to try and cap losses at $120 an hour. This is an urgent issue because poker machine players in South Australia alone can currently lose up to $5 per spin every 2.8 seconds or so and can easily lose $1,000 an hour. We also need to get ATMs and EFTPOS machines out of pokie venues.

    But this is not the end game. We need to wean state governments off their $5-billion-a-year gambling taxes, and this is where the Commonwealth can very much play a part. We have been pleased to work constructively with this government to achieve some significant reforms, such as a siren-to-siren ban on betting advertising during televised sports matches. We also secured a ban on credit betting, which takes effect from this Saturday.

    However, defeating this manipulative industry can feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole. As an example, I'd like to draw senators' attention to a particularly deceptive gambling product known as Lottoland. Despite its misleading name, Lottoland is not a lottery. It's a glorified bookmaker that bets on lottery outcomes. Lottoland is registered in Gibraltar and pays no income tax on the money it earns overseas. It also avoids paying any local taxes—such as, for instance, Tatts pays.

    The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 made it illegal for overseas gambling companies to offer gambling products to Australians unless they hold a licence issued by a state or territory. Lottoland has secured its licence through the Northern Territory, allowing it to reach most Australians. Thankfully, it has been banned in my home state of South Australia.

    What is galling is seeing this gambling product advertised on morning television, when mums and dads are getting their kids ready for school. Many of us would have a talk show blaring in the background in the mornings, particularly to distract one from the noise of young children. But those who tune in to Sunrise will be hit with promotions for Lottoland and a new product, Kenoland, before the weather is even presented. It's gambling in another guise, and we think it deserves to be looked at more closely.

    We've banned sporting ads during G-rated programs. We obviously need to take this one step further and ban all gambling advertising while children are watching. When it comes to predatory gambling, NXT will never tire in its efforts to fight against the damage this industry causes to so many people and their families.

    4:52 pm

    Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Consistency and integrity have never been a strong suit of the Greens. When you have a look at this matter of public importance, you can see where the Australian Greens are coming from—

    Senator McKim interjecting

    And right on cue, the Australian Greens cannot help but interject. Senator Bartlett introduced the MPI and, I understand, made some comments about the donations received by political parties as though that might somehow influence the particular stance or view on matters. I do not ask rhetorically—and I stress this—whether the Leader of the Australian Greens has actually approached major gambling organisations for donations. Not a squeak out of the Australian Greens! So it seems that it's appropriate for the Australian Greens to seek donations from major gambling organisations but then condemn those who may receive support from various sectors.

    Indeed, in my home state of Tasmania at the moment there is a state election, and the Australian Labor Party have adopted Australian Greens policy, as is always their wont. If you want to know what Labor policy is going to be in about five years time, have a look at what the Australian Greens policy is today. What we have seen in Tasmania is Labor and the Greens seeking to ban poker machines from pubs and clubs. This policy has been widely lauded by the Tasmanian racing industry. I wonder why? It is because they see an opportunity. If you cut out one part of the market, people will transfer to another part of the market.

    I agree that gambling is a problem within our community. So is alcoholism. But it would be a bit like saying, 'Alcoholism is a problem in our community so we will ban beer, but not wine or spirits or alcopops; we will just ban one particular product,' and then saying: 'Aren't we good? This somehow cures the problem.' Of course it doesn't.

    Who are the greatest champions of the Green-Labor policy in Tasmania? None other than the racing industry and a person who is, in fact, seeking to establish another casino in Tasmania and who has made substantial wealth through gambling. The person involved has made all his money courtesy of other people losing theirs. And, of course, how does the racing industry continue? By people losing money on their gambling. So it is hardly with clean hands that the Greens approach this issue and assert that somehow, if you get rid of one sector of the gambling product, you will overcome the problems.

    The Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, in 2016, estimated that some $400 million worth of betting was undertaken in 2014. This is expected to grow to $910 million by 2020. The review found that the rate of problem gambling for online gamblers is three times higher than the rate of problem gambling elsewhere. So, let's keep in mind where some of the real problems are. You can, today, lose your home through gambling without even leaving your home, because the online gambling facilities are there.

    We as a federal government have been seeking to deal with these matters in a manner that is consistent and has some degree of policy integrity about it. The amazing thing is that in this debate you hear about the vulnerable people—and there are vulnerable people, I accept that—but when you seek to protect vulnerable people from their own actions, such as through the cashless welfare card, the Australian Labor Party and the Greens vote against it.

    Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

    The Greens, of course, express their faux exasperation, but can I simply remind the Australian Greens that where the cashless welfare card has been introduced there has been a 48 per cent reduction in gambling. If you honestly believe that gambling is a problem, why would you not say: well, here is one way of protecting vulnerable people from themselves? At the end of the day, whilst government has a role in this area, the individual does as well. Individual responsibility is a matter of concern where, within the community, I think we have to invite people to start taking more responsibility for their own actions rather than saying: here's a problem; the government's got to do something about it.

    What we're saying in relation to the issue of gambling is that it is widespread within the community and, in the Tasmanian context, just seeking to get rid of one form of gambling will not overcome the sorts of problems that people have had in losing money, be it on the horses, on the dogs, on the card tables or, indeed, in personal gambling, where people play cards and lose their week's wages or their fortnight's wages. As a former lawyer, I've dealt with people that, unfortunately, lost a lot of money and got themselves into problems in circumstances where they were never near a poker machine, so this attempt to pick on poker machines is hardly going to resolve the issues that we, as a country, face today.

    I commend to my colleagues the speech by Senator Colbeck, who gave some very interesting insights in this discussion before I did. Whilst the Productivity Commission was referred to, I think, by Senator Griff in relation to $1 bets, the Productivity Commission also noted that pre-commitment is 'the most'—I want to underline the word 'most'—'targeted and potentially effective measure'. But, as soon as you start talking about things like pre-commitment, people taking responsibility and realising that they have to do something about it, you cannot see Labor and the Greens for dust, because they always want to have government banning something, government stopping something, government controlling something, rather than saying, 'How can we deal with this situation?' I remember the former member for Hume, Alby Schultz—rest his soul—taking me to a club in New South Wales where there were technologies in place to protect their membership. I believe that that is a way that local clubs and individual clubs can, in fact, take responsibility in these areas.

    As part of the broader media reform, we as a government have announced restrictions on the level of gambling advertising and seeking to control those areas that are appropriate. The sort of sledgehammer approach on just one area of gambling by the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party in Tasmania is a policy that clearly will not work.

    Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    Singing for your supper again! How much did they pay you for this speech?

    Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    And, what's more, it is designed to ensure that the people in Tasmania who might be concerned—and there are many genuine people who are concerned about poker machines—will support them. I simply remind them: if there were a minority Labor-Green government elected on 3 March, the human misery of unemployment would be there for all to see. The dysfunction would enter our prisons, hospitals and schools yet again. And what's more, we would be lumbered with a Safe Schools program. So I simply say to people: do not be distracted by the Labor-Greens campaign in this area. (Time expired)

    5:02 pm

    Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I am very pleased to participate in this MPI on the issue of whether or not there is a need for the federal government to take a stronger, more active and direct role in the regulation of harmful and predatory gambling. I just want to talk from a personal perspective in commencing my remarks in this debate to indicate that, whilst I understand the theoretical argument in Senator Abetz's contribution that individuals should take responsibility for their own behaviour, the issue of children now being involved in online gambling is, I think, a matter that we all, as parents, need to be concerned about.

    Labor's position is that we understand that there are community concerns about the growth of gambling advertising and online betting, including sports betting. I know that one of the problems that we see is that young people, particularly teenagers, are looking at the growth of gambling advertising, particularly around sporting events, and this then becomes an entree into the world of gambling. I must say, from my own personal concerns, I have seen friends of my own children being involved in online gambling. There have been some concerns expressed to me by my children about the impact that this is having on their friends to the extent where you see young people, with their access to smartphones, having the opportunity around the clock to participate in gambling activities.

    I'm not aware of the specific gambling sites that young people are accessing, but I do know the impact that gambling is having on some young people. It impacts on their studies. It impacts on the activities they do in the real world and their opportunity to participate in sporting activities. It can get to the stage where young people spend a great deal of their time online and involved in this type of addictive behaviour. This is a concern to me personally as a parent. I think it behoves all of us to look at that aspect of this issue.

    I want to talk a little bit more a little later on about Labor's position, particularly with respect to the interactive gambling bill that was considered by this parliament a couple of years ago. As I said, we believe that advertising of legitimate sports betting can and should be well-regulated so that we don't see the levels of addiction to gambling arising that I talked about. As I said, we believe that a well-regulated gambling industry must be underpinned by harm minimisation measures. My personal view is that children should be protected from this addiction.

    We know that gambling in our community can have, and in some cases has had, devastating social, financial and emotional consequences. That's why we on this side of the chamber maintain a strong stance to ensure that appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place that protect and assist our community. In fact, when we were last in office we commissioned the Productivity Commission to update its previous reports on the gambling industry in Australia. We rejected recommendations to water down Australia's online-gaming laws until harm minimisation strategies were adopted. In fact, it was Labor that led the way with gambling advertising reform in 2013, when we were in government, by limiting the promotion of betting odds and limiting gambling advertising during live sports broadcasts on television and radio.

    I acknowledge the work that Mr Stephen Jones, the member for Throsby, did to drive those reforms at that time. The bill that was introduced then was designed to limit those gambling ads. Mr Jones was a member of the parliament's Joint Select Gambling Reform Committee and had the intention of rallying support amongst his Labor colleagues to back his private member's bill at the time. It's interesting to note though that, from the other side of the chamber, Mr Frydenberg, the Victorian Liberal, who sat on the gambling reform committee, told the AFL witness at a hearing in March:

    … I just think you have not got the balance right. Personally I think there is too much advertising and promotion. I think it is invidious to the sport and I think it is affecting younger people who are exposed to it.

    Those are interesting comments. Hopefully, at some point in time there will be bipartisan support for looking more closely at this issue of children being protected from the impacts of online gambling.

    We know that there are these harmful and predatory aspects of the gambling industry, but we also need to understand that there is responsible gambling—when people do it in a manner where there is no harm involved—and that there are benefits to communities across the country from revenue raised through gambling, from the horseracing industry to pokies or pub poker nights. I want to stress, though, that that needs to happen in a responsible way. I acknowledge that there is always the potential for individuals to be caught up in gambling and for there to be devastating consequences. I'm not seeking to make light of that. I understand that, and that is something that we all need to be cognisant of. But responsible gambling can also have some benefits for the community. In my home state of Queensland, the Gambling Community Benefit Fund provides grants to community organisations of between $500 and $35,000, and there are examples across communities of various grants being given to very worthwhile organisations—the Animal Welfare League Queensland, for example. Parents and citizens associations and men's sheds are organisations that are beneficiaries of this particular initiative.

    But I want to stress, again, that I'm not making light of gambling. I understand that there are some devastating examples of where individuals are caught up in it and it has significant impacts on the families of individuals. I'm particularly concerned about, as I say, the impact on young people. We also have the country horserace meetings in Queensland which, it's been said, are the lifeblood of many Queensland towns. Queensland has a long history of gaming regulation going back to the 1840s, when we first had it.

    So a balanced approach on this particular issue is absolutely essential. We have an approach, on this side of the chamber, of being balanced and productive in these matters. In contrast, we've seen the government having a piecemeal approach, which is typical of their side of politics.

    5:10 pm

    Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    I rise to contribute to this important discussion today. This matter of public importance is calling for stronger and more effective action from the federal government in relation to the scourge that is gambling and gambling addiction across the country. I want to focus most of my contribution today on the harmful effects of poker machines, particularly in my home state of South Australia.

    But I just want to pick up on one point first, and that is in relation to the disappointing loopholes that remain in the government's legislation that is meant to be banning gambling during live sport on television. We know, now that we've seen that legislation, that there are carve-outs and exemptions, and it allows for gambling advertising to continue. It allows for gambling advertising to continue on pay TV, where a lot of sport is shown, and it allows gambling advertising to continue until five minutes before the game starts. So you can have all the prematch entertainment going, with kids sitting in front of it and watching, and they'll be bombarded with gambling ads. We need to close those loopholes, and the Greens will be moving amendments to do so, because this type of gambling and predatory advertising of gambling is damaging to viewers, it's damaging to Australian families, and we know how bad it is to have it rammed down our throats and the throats of our children.

    We know the enormous, harmful effects that poker machines have caused to Australians right across the country. In my home state of South Australia, we have more poker machines than ever before. It is disgusting to hear the arguments and the squeals from the industry that they can't possibly have a phase-out of poker machines and that it would damage the bank balances of the hotels and the pubs. If you need to rely on people's addiction—on families not being able to afford their rent, their kids' lunchbox meals or their kids' uniforms, because you're sucking and hoovering up money from families through your poker machines—I'd suggest you've got a bad business model. It's one that's corrupt; it's one that's morally bankrupt; and it's a scourge on our community.

    Of course, in South Australia we did have a politician once upon a time, Nick Xenophon, who said that this was his No. 1 priority. We're in the middle of a state election right now, and one of the Nick Xenophon Team's own candidates, Paul Brown, reckons it's unrealistic to ban pokies. He said, 'You just can't remove them from every hotel and every pub.' Well, why not? If they're a scourge on the community, then they should be phased out, which is why the Greens in South Australia, through our MLC Tammy Franks, have a very strong policy to phase out pokies in hotels and pubs over five years. She is standing up for the vulnerable South Australian community. She is standing up against the wickedness of the gambling industry. It is the Greens that are leading the way in South Australia. We should phase out the pokie machines. We should get rid of them. They are a scourge on the community. They suck people's livelihoods, their incomes, and it's time that they went.

    5:16 pm

    Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Thank you to Senator Hanson-Young for ceding the floor to the Liberal Democrats in this debate on gambling. I don't really gamble. The money I'd waste on gambling is no more than the cost of an occasional Lotto ticket. Gambling is not something I find entertaining or worthwhile, but that doesn't mean that I look down on those who consider gambling to be entertaining and worthwhile. Each to their own.

    Unfortunately, some people think that whatever they do others should do, and whatever they reject others should reject. Such people seem not to have learned what most babies learn in their first months: that they are different from other people. These people want to ban gambling or severely restrict it, not because they feel empathy for others. They want to do this because they cannot come to terms with other people having a view different from their own.

    People with this mindset—and it really is a mind set in clay—don't just apply it to gambling. They apply it to their views on soft drinks, alcohol, smoking and drug taking. They apply it to their views about the shooting community, about supporters of the traditional definition of marriage and about men who flirt with women. They don't like it, and they think that no-one else should be allowed to like it either. This is an infantile mindset, and it is the mindset of an authoritarian.

    My party, the Liberal Democrats, is based on libertarian values. We share the view of John Stuart Mill:

    That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.

    It is not the purpose of the government to restrict everyone from going about their business in a hopeful attempt to protect a small number of people from harming themselves and their families. We regularly hear of the small numbers of people who gamble unwisely, and figures are tossed around claiming to show how much this problem gambling costs, but we never hear of how the majority of gamblers are not problem gamblers. And no-one ever bothers to estimate the benefits generated from gambling, including the value of the pleasure to those who enjoy it.

    Focusing restrictions on problem gamblers while letting the majority of gamblers do what they want is the caring position. It is the grown-up position, and it is the position of those who believe in freedom rather than authoritarianism. But, for the alternative view, let's resume normal programming in the Senate as I cede the floor back to my esteemed colleagues in the Greens.

    5:19 pm

    Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    It's less than three weeks until the Tasmanian election, and the merchants of misery in the pokies sector are trying hard and spending hard to protect the money they are leeching from Tasmanian families, Tasmanian communities and Tasmanian small businesses. Here's a bit of Tasmanian history: since the Labor Party allowed the Federal Group to build the Wrest Point Casino in Tasmania and later handed them a monopoly licence for the state's poker machines in pubs and clubs, we have seen this mutually beneficial relationship deliver the Federal Group and the Farrell family hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, in return, they funded Labor's election campaigns with tens of thousands of dollars in political donations. If you want a definition of 'corruption' you don't have to look much further.

    While Labor has finally and belatedly called time on their relationship with the Federal Group, there are signs going up in the pokies bars around Tasmania right now that basically declare how the Federal Group has bought the Liberal Party lock, stock and barrel. Make no mistake: under the pokies policy the Liberal Party are taking to the Tasmanian election, the Federal Group stand to reap an incredible $75 million windfall—money sucked off the tables of gambling addicts, away from the school levies, away from the power bills, away from the food on the tables, and into the pockets of one of Australia's richest families.

    The Federal Group also have questions to answer about their relationship with Michael Kent, the Jacqui Lambie Network candidate, probably one of the most transactional politicians ever seen in Tasmania—believe me, that is really, really saying something. Mr Kent is a strong supporter of poker machines and recently defied reality by denying the existence of pokies addiction in regional Tasmania. The people of Lyons should know that a vote for Michael Kent is a vote for the Federal Group, it's actually a vote for the Liberal Party and it's a vote to lock in pokies harm and misery in Tasmania.

    The question is: how much money are the Liberal Party going to get in dodgy donations from the Federal Group in compensation to encourage them to hand over this $75 million windfall? The tragic answer, of course, is that we just don't know. We don't know how much Senator Abetz was paid for getting up in here recently and singing for his supper, as he did earlier in this debate. We don't know how much the Tasmanian Liberals are getting paid—

    Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Order! Senator McKim, Senator Abetz is not here to defend himself, but I must uphold some form of dignity as the Chair. I think at this stage that's seemingly a rather wild accusation, and I'd ask you to carefully choose your words. What I probably would encourage from you, Senator McKim, is that you just withdraw that comment.

    Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    If I might, Chair, what I actually said, if you review the Hansard, was that we do not know how much in donations Senator Abetz has received from the Federal Group. That's a fact, because Tasmania does not have state based political donations disclosure laws.

    Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    A point of order, Senator Gallacher?

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

    I clearly heard the imputation that Senator Abetz had 'sung for his supper' and how much he was being paid. I think that is highly disorderly, even though it's very unusual of me to leap to the defence of the other side of the chamber.

    Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Thank you, Senator Gallacher. I would remind Senator McKim, on that point of order, under standing order 193, it is not appropriate to—what is the word, Clerk?—impute. Senator McKim, I would ask, under those circumstances, for you to please withdraw that comment.

    Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    If it's of assistance to you, Acting Deputy President, I withdraw the assertion that he sung for his supper, but I maintain that we don't know what political donations have been given by the Federal Group to Senator Abetz or any other member of the Tasmanian Liberal Party. We just don't know, and that is not good enough. Who pays the price? The Tasmanian people pay the price. The Tasmanian people are the ones that are losing out, have lost out for decades—

    Senator Williams interjecting

    and will keep losing out, Senator Williams, if the Liberals get into government after the next election. It's crucial for the Tasmanian people—the voters of Tasmania—to understand that the only election result that's going to allow this leeching of food off the table of Tasmanians, this sucking of money out of Tasmanian small businesses, is a Liberal majority government. Any other outcome and the pokies are gone out of pubs and clubs—and so they should be. The Labor Party should never have given that monopoly deal to Federal Hotels in 2002. They had no mandate to do so. They received massive donations in return for it. And now, thankfully, the Labor Party has recovered itself, via the Greens, and the acid is now on the Liberals.

    Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Order! The time for the discussion has expired.