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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 251


Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (12:11): I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 and to support the amendment moved by the member for Franklin. I would also like to say that I thoroughly agree with the comments that the member for Grey made towards the end of his speech. We have a wonderful thoroughbred industry in this country and a history of thoroughbred racing that is part of an iconic industry that employs a lot of people in my electorate. I represent the seat of Hindmarsh and smack bang in the middle of it is the SAJC Morphettville race track, and I know that there are a large number of people who are involved in that industry who work as trainers, strappers, jockeys and a whole range of things. At last count—the last time we managed to get some figures together—we found that we had over 600 people directly involved through the SAJC at Morphettville in South Australia, in my electorate alone.

I feel very strongly about our responsibility to ensure that, as a society, we do everything in our power to stop gambling from becoming a problem for people. I am no prim when it comes to gambling, but there are people in our society who, for some reason, fall into the trap and it becomes a big problem for them. None of us want to demonise gambling. I enjoy a flutter occasionally at the races. I attend the races with my wife Wendy a few times a year, and we thoroughly enjoy it. But we know that there are people who have different issues and become entrenched in gambling and it becomes a real problem not only for them but also for their families. The majority of people who bet do so in a responsible manner, but we also know that, when gambling becomes a problem, it can have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences for the gambler and people who are around them—family, spouses, children et cetera.

There is no denying that gambling is a big problem in Australia. According to data from H2 Gambling Capital, a London based industry researcher, and as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald on 2 September 2015, Australians lose more money per adult on gambling than every other developed country. Back in 2010, the Productivity Commission estimated that the average loss for each Australian that gambled was $1,500. In addition, research indicates that the actions of one problem gambler can negatively affect the lives of between five and 10 others. This means that there are up to five million Australians that could be affected by problem gambling each and every year, including friends, family, employers and people with a gambling problem. Unfortunately, only around 15 per cent of problem gamblers seek help. This figure is likely to be even lower amongst the most vulnerable in our communities, including migrant communities with the language, cultural barriers and stigmas related to gambling in those communities.

There are many good organisations in my electorate of Hindmarsh, such as the Salvation Army, St Andrew's by the Sea at Glenelg Uniting Church, UnitingCare Australia, and Bower Cottages Community Centre—all of which deal with and try to assist problem gamblers. Recently I had the pleasure of launching Relationships Australia's fantastic PEACE Community Ambassadors Project. Relationships Australia do amazing work in this space of gambling. In this particular initiative, they have trained 19 ambassadors from different countries and backgrounds with different language skills, to help address the stigmatised issue of gambling in different communities, and to advise how best to work with individual communities. Initiatives such as this should be supported, and Relationships Australia deserve our support for the great work that they do. All of these people work tirelessly to help families and communities cope with the problems caused by betting and gambling. I have spoken to all of them, on many occasions, and they have all told me firsthand some of the compelling stories of the devastation that has been caused to families by gambling. This is why we need a very well-regulated gambling industry, and why we need to seriously address the growth of illegal online gambling; something that all of the speakers before me have spoken about. So I support the intent of this bill, because it will go some way to assuring that the appropriate harm minimisation measures are put in place.

For example, the bill will clarify the law regarding illegal offshore gambling. This is an area that needs urgent attention. Interactive gambling in Australia has grown rapidly since 2004. We have seen that traditional forms of gambling are in decline, because betting online is using IT technology; things like smartphones, tablets and other digital devices where it has become so easy and so accessible that you have access at the click of your finger. For example, as we have heard, the O'Farrell report found that the number of active online wagering accounts in Australia grew from 200,000 to 800,000 between 2004 and 2014—in 10 years. That is an enormous jump, and that enormous jump coincides with the new technologies that we have. Online gambling at the touch of a button, anytime, anywhere, makes it extremely difficult for those that are vulnerable. It also makes it difficult for susceptible people to protect themselves from this particular temptation. Even more worrying is the fact that this technology has led to the exceptional growth of illegal offshore operators online. This, in turn, is something that we should be concerned about. It has impacted on problem gamblers as well as on Australian industries such as the thoroughbred industry, hotels et cetera. In an article published in The Advertiser on 28 November, it was reported that poker-machine spending in South Australia has 'hit its lowest level since 2003, amid warnings that punters are moving to online games where there is less oversight'. We have industries that are regulated: our thoroughbred industries and venues such as casinos which provide gambling activity are highly regulated; the danger is that people are moving away onto online interactive gambling, where perhaps there is much less oversight. This is worrying because, while all forms of gambling can pose a danger for problem gamblers, regardless of what form of gambling they engage in, we know that it is very easy to put very large sums of money on online bets with the simple click of a mouse. This is very worrying trend, because it is also putting local businesses and jobs at risk.

The second area of reform in this bill is that it seeks to prohibit the click-to-call in-play betting services—that is, placing numerous bets in a short period of time, which has the capacity to lead to gambling problems. Evidence to date suggests that young men are particularly vulnerable to this type of wagering and to addiction from this particular form of betting. If we look at the example of online gambling, it is at the click of a finger: you can just repeatedly click, click, click, click, and lose a massive amount of money. Looking at other forms of gambling, for example, in the traditional form of racing, there is a race every few minutes, or locally maybe every 30 minutes. You place a bet with a bookmaker, you then go out, you watch that particular race—you may win, you may lose—and then you have a bit of time to think about the next bet: what has taken place, and whether you can afford it or not. With interactive gambling, it is immediate. There is no time to think. It is a very, very dangerous form of gambling, and that is what is called click-to-call in-play betting services. It is placing numerous bets in a short period of time, and it has the capacity to lead to massive problems and, as I have said, all the evidence suggests that young men are the most vulnerable to this form of gambling.

In a report published by Financial Counselling Australia into the impact of uncontrolled sports betting, it was found that some unscrupulous sports-betting companies actively encourage customers to bet by offering them credit. If you have a poker machine venue in South Australia, you are not allowed to offer credit—and there is a good reason why not—whereas the report found that: 'In some cases, the lure is initial "free bets" which familiarise consumers with the game, before inducing them to take further credit.' This is very dangerous. The report also found that some of these companies 'swap customer account data, contrary to privacy legislation.' If this is true, it means that a company can swap their list with another company, who can potentially entice that person to resume gambling when perhaps they have ceased, or backed off, or slowed down a bit. For example, a person can receive a fully functioning account, populated with their private financial data, plus some 'free money' or credit to welcome them. This bill will hopefully help address these concerns by, amongst other things: introducing a civil penalty regime; prohibiting click-to-call in-play betting services; amending the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 to enable ACMA to notify international regulators of information relating to prohibited or regulated interactive gambling services; simplifying and streamlining the complaints and investigations; establishing a register of certain legitimate regulated interactive gambling services to raise awareness amongst consumers of services which should be avoided; and amending the ACMA Act to enable ACMA to notify the Department of Immigration and Border Protection of information relating to prohibited or regulated interactive gambling services.

As I said, I support the amendment moved earlier by my colleague the member for Franklin. Labor has taken a clear stance on this. We believe that Australia's children should be protected. We are calling on the government to work with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase out commercials in relation to betting or gambling during live sports programs with a view to their eventual prohibition. I feel very strongly about stopping the growing prevalence of gambling advertising on television during live sporting events. It is in the public interest to protect children and those who are vulnerable from associating betting and wagering as a normal part of watching sport on television. That is why it is time to show some real leadership on this issue. It is time to get the balance right. We are not proposing a blanket ban on gambling advertising, but we do want the government to put in place a transitional approach that will lead to genuine solutions.

Australians overwhelmingly want to keep the broadcast of live sport and gambling separate. We want parents and families to feel safe while watching television and we need to protect those who are vulnerable and ensure that kids do not grow up desensitised to gambling. I know first-hand that this is an area of great concern to many Australians. Many people have spoken to me about it. All of us enjoy watching footy or cricket on TV. It is a great pastime. I remember watching football games regularly with my kids. I want to be able to watch sporting events on TV with my grandchildren without being bombarded with betting ads. It is slowly becoming part of the game itself and the commentary. Families should not have to choose between watching a sports event and protecting their children from exposure to gambling. Children should be talking about their favourite teams, the skills on the field and their favourite players, not who they should put money on or what the odds are. We are seeing a trend towards that, especially in commentating on sports programs.

We have heard about many studies that have been done. One by Deakin University found that gambling advertising is impacting on teenagers and children as young as eight years of age and that more than one quarter of children can identify four or more betting companies. So kids as young as eight can identify four or more betting companies, and that is frightening. It is high time that we got the balance right because, despite all efforts, live odds and gambling ads continue to appear on our TVs. I understand that we need to balance the concerns that I am hearing in my community with the economic needs of broadcasters who face competitive pressures. At present, gambling ads are permitted to be played during news, current affairs and live sports events. We should work with the broadcast industries on a transition plan to phase out betting odds and betting commercials. I welcome the call to ban the promotion of betting odds, or gambling ads, in the 30 minutes before the commencement of play, during half time and during delays. What we are proposing is a transitional approach that encompasses a sensible and responsible way forward. I support the amendment. I feel very strongly about it.