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Monday, 3 March 1997
Page: 1070

Senator BISHOP —My question is directed to the Minister for Communications and the Arts. I refer to the Prime Minister's concern about the adverse impact of gambling in our community. I ask: doesn't the government have to bear a large portion of the blame for this situation by turning a blind eye to the proliferation of irresponsible and grossly inaccurate gambling advertisements? Given the Prime Minister's concern, which I believe is widely shared in the community, will the minister investigate either drawing up an enforceable code of conduct governing such advertising or banning it all together?

Senator ALSTON —I would have thought you are the last ones who ought to be preaching to us on these subjects. The fact is that the primary and constitutional responsibility for gambling matters lies with the state governments. Indeed, as the state premiers have been keen to point out, there are only a limited number of areas in which they do have growth taxes and certainly gambling has been one of them.

What the Prime Minister was very rightly pointing to was the social implications that flow and the need, I would have thought, in a number of situations to ameliorate any problems that arise. Whether that is the responsibility of the casinos themselves, whether it is the responsibility of welfare organisations in conjunction with government, at the end of the day I think you have to accept that there are some very unhelpful social consequences that flow. But that is not to say that we should be out there banning gambling any more than we should be banning alcohol.

Senator Sherry —What about cigarette advertising?

Senator ALSTON —I would have thought in this day and age you would understand that cigarettes are inherently dangerous. They are unhealthy per se. I do not think gambling is in that category. The problem with gambling is that some people who cannot control themselves—

Senator Carr —It is your responsibility.

Senator ALSTON —Look, if it was advertising everyone would be hooked, wouldn't they? It clearly is not advertising that causes these things. The fact is that some people in various forms of desperation or weakness find themselves attracted to gambling and develop problems, but they are a very small proportion of the total. So rather than blaming it all on gambling, blaming it on the state, blaming it on the system, blaming it on the Liberal coalition government, why don't you understand that there is a very significant difference?

Senator Robert Ray —There's a phone call for you from John Howard.

Senator Faulkner —Wrong number!

Senator Sherry —It's the TAB line.

Senator ALSTON —I would have thought Senator Ray would be keeping fairly quiet today after the ringing non-endorsement you got from him at the weekend when he said in terms of fixing up the leadership we got it right for the most part. Quite clearly, he has very real concerns about the outcome. I think you would have to say that he knows a lot more about what goes on in the Senate than the House of Representatives. As we know, he has always been a great supporter of Gareth Evans. So clearly, it is pretty obvious who he is pointing the finger at. Make the most of it while you can, son. You may not have all that much longer to run. With friends like that I am surprised you don't just get back to policy because clearly you are not doing terribly well on the politics. I do not think I can add any more than I already have.