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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13729


Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (12:23): Licensed clubs pay a vibrant part in the fabric of Australian communities and my electorate of Bradfield is no exception. One of the key clubs in my electorate is the Asquith Leagues Club. This is an important local institution. It has approximately 7,000 members and employs 70 staff. The club provides many facilities for its community, events, activities and entertainment as well as food and beverages. It also provides valuable support for community events and organisations. Indeed, I have been pleased to hold several of my own community meetings at the club.

As in similar clubs and pubs around Australia, poker machines are one form of the entertainment options provided by the Asquith Leagues Club. This is an activity that the government's proposed mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines seeks to curtail. This is a move that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Australia's recreational gamblers strongly oppose.

Members of the Asquith Leagues Club have lent their voice to this chorus of concern by way of a petition that was recently presented to me at the club opposing the reform. It is a petition with approximately 460 signatures. It notes that ordinary Australians who want to gamble responsibly should not be treated as problem gamblers. I endorse the sentiments of these members of the Asquith Leagues Club and others who have signed this petition. There is a balancing act in this debate. There are of course, let us acknowledge, problem gamblers in Australia, and there should be appropriate measures to protect their interests. According to the Productivity Commission, less than one per cent of Australians are problem gamblers. A further 1.7 per cent of the population are at moderate risk from gambling. On the other hand, Australians should be able to participate in activities they find enjoyable sources of recreation, including gambling, without undue interference by the state. So the goal should be for responsible policymakers to balance the need to appropriately protect and support those who have a problem against the freedom that adult citizens should have to gamble responsibly if they choose to do so.

I am sorry to say that the government's proposal for precommitment in order to play poker machines does not strike the right balance. Effective policy should target those who are specifically impacted rather than all poker machine players. What the government proposes will require registration, the issuing of a card and the need for a player to set their betting limit. This will be a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Further, this proposed reform concerns one form of gambling only. The likelihood is that this regulatory measure will simply involve problem punters moving to other forms of gambling, such as online gambling, wagering and non-poker casino games. This is a measure which would deliver a very slight and incremental benefit when compared to its administrative complexity and cost. As we know, it is a piecemeal proposal which stems from a political fix, namely, a Faustian pact between Julia Gillard and the member for Denison to secure numbers for a minority government.

The coalition believes that a more holistic approach is needed. To that end, in November 2011 we released a policy discussion paper on gambling reform. That discussion paper covered all types of gambling, including the fast growing area of online gambling. The paper presents a number of policy options on which we seek community and industry comment. Amongst the options in the paper are: a national voluntary precommitment program, more and better targeted counselling and support services, prohibiting betting firms offering credit to gamblers, and prohibiting the promotion of live odds during the live broadcast of a sporting event. The coalition will consider a better way forward than the limited and politically motivated approach of the government and we will do so bearing in mind the concerns of members of the Asquith Leagues Club and clubs around the country.