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Thursday, 27 September 2001
Page: 31778

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (10:04 AM) —The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2001 amends the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 to allow regulations to be made under the act to provide that certain advertisements are not interactive gambling service amendments and therefore are not prohibited under part 7A of the act. The government's policy in introducing the amendment is to allow the exemption from the ban of interactive gambling advertisements, advertisements that, while primarily advertising a non-interactive gambling service, may also by association advertise a lawful interactive gambling service—for example, a service provided from within Australia to people outside Australia. This would occur where a particular trade name for a non-interactive gambling service was synonymous with a lawful interactive gambling service.

While unobjectionable in itself, this bill only serves to further highlight the unworkability and hypocrisy of the government's approach to interactive gambling. Contrary to the repeated assertions by the government, this is not a debate about who in this chamber cares more about the problems posed or caused by gambling.

Others have spoken during debate on the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 and in debate on the Internet Gambling Moratorium Act 2001 on the problems that gambling causes to individuals, their families and friends, and the wider Australian community. I do not intend to repeat those concerns that I am sure are shared by everyone in this chamber. The real issue is whether the approach undertaken by the government will be the most effective in addressing the social ill we all wish to address. The opposition regrets that it is not.

The problems caused by gambling, and how to deal with them where that gambling is provided over the Internet, have been discussed extensively in recent times at the Commonwealth level. The Productivity Commission, for example, considered the issue in its report on gambling. The National Office for the Information Economy has twice considered the issue, and Senate committees have considered it on three separate occasions. The result of all that deliberation is that the overwhelming weight of expert evidence is that the government's approach—imposing an alleged ban—is not the most effective means of tackling this problem.

The government has repeatedly and disingenuously claimed that the opposition will put a casino in every Australian lounge room. Yet the practical effect of the government's act has only been to ensure that the lounge room casino is foreign owned and operated, with possible links to organised crime and with potentially no appropriate protections for problem gamblers or consumers. The government's legislation is, as I have described, hypocritical and unworkable, and this amendment shows itself, as I said in the second reading debate on the act itself, to be a dog's breakfast. Amendments to the act, such as the one we are considering today, only serve to reinforce that conclusion.

This bill is not opposed, but that does not alter the fundamental problems with the government's approach to this vexed issue of public policy. It proves that there are no easy lines to draw on the online world and that the simplistic approach adopted by the government fails to reflect that. By contrast, the opposition has consistently proposed a comprehensive, effective and strong regulatory approach to interactive gambling, an approach we have spelt out in detail both in our second reading amendments to this bill in the Senate and during debate on the act.

I urge the government to reconsider its approach, even at this late stage, and to support a response to interactive gambling that is widely recognised as being a better response to the social ills caused by gambling, whatever its form. Consistent with those remarks, I would like to formally move a second reading amendment which has been circulated in my name. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House;

(a) condemns the Government for its unworkable, hypocritical and inconsistent approach to interactive gambling which will not reduce the social harm arising from interactive gambling and;

(b) calls on the Government to show national leadership on this issue by putting in place a comprehensive, effective and strong regulatory regime in co-operation with the States and Territories and the international community as proposed by Labor”.

As indicated earlier, we do not oppose this bill in the Senate. In the other place earlier this week we allowed this bill to be passed in a non-controversial fashion, to ease and facilitate the government's legislative program. In that place we also put on the record our second reading amendment, and, whilst you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would remember more than most that on some occasions in this place I have caused divisions to occur, I would not be proposing on this occasion to cause that to be effected either here or in the other place.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Sercombe —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.