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Thursday, 13 April 2000
Page: 15993


Ms HALL —Today I wish to bring to the attention of the House a desperate problem that is affecting countless families throughout Australia. That problem is gambling and, in particular, gambling on poker machines. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that poker machines are driving the gambling boom. Gambling revenue has grown by 42 per cent in the last three years, with $11 billion being collected in 1997-98.

The expansion of the number of poker machines in hotels and clubs has almost doubled the amount of dollars spent on gambling. Gambling machines now account for $6.4 billion, or 58 per cent of all gambling income, and 2.3 per cent of the adult population loses $4 billion on gambling. Problem gambling leads to dysfunctional families and suicides. Recent figures show that there are at least 400 suicide deaths a year because of gambling and, generally speaking, poker machines or gaming machines—whichever you like to call them—are mainly responsible.

People play these gambling machines for a number of reasons—for example, to escape their problems. Once they are there and once they get hooked on them it is a very difficult to get away from them. While walking along in a shopping centre they may hear some music and see some lights and that can act as a catalyst to their going to a club or pub to start gambling. People from all walks of life become victims of these machines. Honest people become thieves and liars. They lose everything including their house and car, and are even unable to feed their families.

This was brought home to me very clearly when I received a letter from a constituent. She is an average person—a mother with a family. In that family there was one full-time and one part-time income. She had two children under five and a mortgage. Her husband developed a gambling problem. She knew absolutely nothing about it. He was able to access money in their account. He would go along to clubs, draw money from the account, and there would be nothing left in the account. She would go down to Coles or Woolworths to buy some food and could not draw money from the same account. When she went along to the bank they disregarded what she said, saying, `We know this happens but there is not much we can do about it.' That needs to be acted upon, as does the fact that when people suffer from this addiction they cannot get access to Medicare or private health insurance to receive any treatment.

This is such an epidemic within our society that it is time that all governments recognise the extent of it and the damage caused by this form of gambling in our community. Governments raise billions of dollars in revenue from gambling and the least the government can do is to provide the victims of gambling with access to funded treatment—treatment programs through Medicare and private health insurance. (Time expired)