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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1430


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (17:16): I appreciate the opportunity to outline Labor's position on the government's Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. While Labor recognises well-regulated gambling has a place in Australian society and, indeed, that many Australians enjoy a responsible punt, the growth of illegal online gambling is of great concern to Labor. We are concerned because times have changed. The growth of digital technology, including smart phones, allows Australians to wager and gamble whenever and wherever they choose. We are in a digital age, an age of rapid change especially in relation to technology. Most of us have handheld devices—smart phones—that allow us to access a range of services, apps and information by simply swiping our screens. With this change in technology has come an increase in the number of offshore operators. We know that this has impacted on problem gamblers.

Labor believes that it is time to do more and to amend this act to prohibit these operators and stop the growth of illegal online gambling. Labor agrees that the government's Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill picks up on some of the concerns around the growth of illegal online gambling. It will also go some way to improving the protections for those who choose to wager within an online environment. The majority of people who bet do enjoy it and gamble in a responsible manner. However, Labor also knows that gambling our community can, in some cases, have devastating consequences—social, financial and emotional consequences. That is why we have always maintained a strong stance on ensuring appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place to protect and assist our community.

Labor broadly supports the bill's main focus, which sets out to bolster the enforcement of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001. What Labor wants to ensure is that these new reforms will be about protecting people and about mitigating the effects of problem gambling more broadly. Currently, illegal offshore providers can target Australian gamblers even though they operate outside the country. Labor recognises that this practice has to stop. We know that this bill will go some way to stopping these operators in the responsible jurisdictions from trading in Australia illegally, but we are not naive: illegal offshore gambling operators will still try to operate in Australia and we should continue to look at innovative ways and means to stop this from happening.

We agree with the reform in this bill that seeks to prohibit click-to-call in-play betting services. We have seen concerns in past years about the links between gambling and sporting incidents and the impact of such links on match outcomes. We also know that this type of click-to-call betting is linked with problem gambling. Placing numerous bets in a short period of time does have the capacity to lead to problem gambling. Evidence to date suggests that young men are particularly vulnerable to this type of wagering and the addiction that can arise from it. From a perspective of harm minimisation, what is proposed is a sensible way forward and we support the prohibition of click-to-call in-play betting.

One area that Labor will continue to watch very closely is the in-play betting in licensed venues and how the government continues to tackle this into the future. To be clear, Labor does not support a proliferation of in-play terminals in venues. We do not support a shift from tethered terminals in venues to electronic mobile services. However, as this is the government's bill and we cannot be certain of how the government will deal with this form of on-premise betting into the future, we are concerned about what this means. Within the explanatory memorandum, a new definition of place-based betting services clarifies that electronic betting terminals can continue to be provided in places where the provider is licensed under a law of a state or territory to provide such services. Labor will be watching very carefully to see if any expansion of these services does occur and what the government response is if this does happen. We assume that the government will act if proliferation of mobile devices in licensed premises does occur.

We know that the O'Farrell review highlighted that Australia's consumer protection was weak and inconsistent. As I have stated, Labor is supportive of harm minimisation and strengthening consumer protection when it comes to problem gambling. We think this bill, however, could be improved in some aspects. We have already acknowledged the gambling can—and in some cases has already has already—have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences for Australians. Problem gambling can and has ruined lives. We know that improving protections for consumers is a good thing.

While we welcome the government's response to the O'Farrell review, which stated it will aim to agree on a consumer protection model within 12 months, we welcome the commitment by the Commonwealth, state and territory ministers in November last year to work together to develop a national consumer protection framework and we are supportive of the establishment of the national consumer protection framework, what we do not want to do is wait for another three years for this important work to be completed. So, while we welcome progress, our message for the government today is that they really need to get on with the work that is required, without delay.

With regard to credit betting: Labor knows that gambling in our community, as I have said, can have devastating impacts. So we are a little surprised that in this bill the government has not included any reform around the banning of credit betting, especially when we consider the coalition's policy on problem gambling, where it flagged the prohibition of credit betting back in 2013. And here we are: it is 2017.

For the past three or four years, the coalition has had a policy position on this banning of credit betting, and yet in its first tranche of reform it does not seem to deal with this very issue. That begs the question: why has the government not dealt with credit betting within the reform of this Interactive Gambling Act? This is particularly so, given that the minister has asserted that he has been very keen to ban this type of betting. To strengthen harm minimisation for problem gamblers, I want to indicate that Labor would certainly support the government taking that direction.

To continue with the theme of protection, I wish to speak on a matter of significant and widespread public concern that has gone hand in hand with the growth of online betting in Australia. Many Australians continue to have concerns around the promotion of betting odds and gambling advertising, especially during live sporting broadcasts. I am sure, Mr Acting Deputy President Whish-Wilson, that you understand exactly what I am referring to. There are existing safeguards to restrict gambling advertising and betting odds on television and radio in Australia. But it is apparent that they do not go far enough to address community concerns.

In early February 2017, Labor moved a second reading amendment designed to protect Australians, including children, and calling for action to ensure that live sporting broadcasts are free from intrusive gambling advertising and betting odds promotion. Now, that motion was narrowly defeated in the House and, despite voting against Labor's motion, the responsible government minister did put it on the public record that the coalition does also share some of these concerns. He said that the Turnbull government 'certainly acknowledged the concerns which many Australians have in relation to gambling advertising.' Further, the Minister for Communications, Minister Fifield, was quoted in a Radio Australia news story recently as saying in a statement:

… the Government was aware of community concern about the issue, but … "Broadcasters have a responsibility under the co-regulatory framework to ensure that their advertising meets community expectations."

What is telling is that some of the insightful and community-minded players are speaking out on this issue themselves. In the same Radio Australia news story that I just referred to, Damian McIver mentioned two concerns that high-profile AFL players have about the prevalence of gambling—particularly gambling advertisements. The Geelong defender Harry Taylor is actually quoted as saying:

I've got three kids at home and when my eldest can name a lot of the ads on TV, that is a bit of a worry.

Indeed. Taylor's comments follow comments from Western Bulldogs defender Easton Wood, who posted his views on Twitter in February this year, saying:

Gambling advertising is out of control and I think it needs to change …

…   …   …

The obvious issue here is the effect this advertising has on children every time they watch us pull on our boots.

I think that sums up the community concern in a very clear and simple sentence.

In an article on the same topic, The Age recently published an article by Jon Pierik, reporting that the AFL commissioner Kim Williams had expressed concern at the level and nature of gambling advertising during match broadcasts, and that he is understood to be putting together a paper about his concerns.

In support of our second reading amendment, my Labor colleagues in the other place made reference to research that was undertaken to explain further this community concern around advertising for gambling during live broadcasts of sport. This research, undertaken by Deakin University, points out a number of very concerning issues with regard to children and gambling advertising on television. I just want to spend a little time this evening going through the findings of the research, because it is another piece of evidence to support Labor's concerns around the possibility of legislation to improve outcomes for Australians with regard to advertising of gambling.

The research from Deakin found that over 90 per cent of children—90 per cent!—can recall having seen an advertisement for sports betting. Three-quarters of children aged eight to 16 years can recall the name of at least one sports-betting brand and approximately a quarter can recall four brands or more. This is absolutely amazing evidence to indicate the impact of advertising on the scale that we are seeing it right now in our country. Seventy-five per cent of children think that gambling is a normal or common part of sport. Parents also conveyed concerns, including that gambling advertising is so prevalent that it is changing the way their kids think about and talk about sport.

This is what the kids communicated to researchers about gambling advertising. I will use their own words, because they are highly instructive. A 15-year-old boy: 'I don't think they're good for kids. They're trying to make it cool. They put them during sport, when kids are watching.' Another boy, 13 years old: 'They shouldn't be allowed during sport, because lots of kids watch it. Ads pull you in—it's bad.' A 15-year-old boy: 'Ads for sports betting tell you to bet with them and make it look like you're going to win. They make it look positive and fun.' And a 10-year-old boy: 'The advertisement convinces you to bet. You can get your money back if you lose by eight points.' Out of the mouths of babes we are getting serious instruction on the need for some serious change with regard to this problem in our community. When we look at these findings, we can understand why parents are worried about their kids being subjected to gambling advertising during live sporting events.

Labor understands that Australians want to keep broadcasts of live sport and gambling as separate things. It is in everyone's interests to ensure that children do not associate betting and gambling as a normal part of watching sport on television. And yet these commercials continue to intrude upon our nation's love of sport, and they cause significant public concern.

Following the leadership of and the intervention by the Labor government in 2013 in this area, the broadcast industry responded to address public concerns and develop rules set to restrict gambling advertising in live sports broadcasting and the promotion of betting odds in particular. While the new code of practice limits the promotion of live odds in particular and restricts gambling ads, it does continue to allow two important elements: firstly, the promotion of betting odds half an hour before play and in the half hour after play by clearly identified gambling representatives; and, secondly, commercials relating to betting or gambling before play has commenced, during scheduled breaks, during unscheduled breaks and after play has concluded. That is to say that the code of practice allows significant windows of opportunity for gambling advertising around the edges of live sports broadcasts.

The time has come for the government to change this reality. The broadcast industry and sporting codes need to accept that gambling advertising before and during live sports broadcasts is indeed contrary to community standards and they need to amend the broadcasting codes of practice accordingly. Current restrictions should be extended to ensure that there is no promotion of betting odds or gambling advertising at all in the 30 minutes before play and that there is no gambling advertising at all during scheduled breaks such as half-time or unscheduled breaks such as weather delays. It goes without saying that current exemptions for horseracing, harness racing and greyhound racing would continue to apply. The Melbourne Cup would not be affected, for example; that is to say that Labor does not propose to prohibit gambling advertising and betting-odds promotion around the broadcast of those forms of entertainment: horseracing, harness racing or greyhound racing.

In calling on the government to work with industry on a transition plan to phase out gambling advertising and betting-odds promotion over time, Labor adopts a pragmatic approach. Labor is conscious of the need to address public interest considerations in a way that does not impose unnecessary financial and administrative burdens on providers of broadcasting services. We are not proposing an immediate blanket ban on gambling advertising or betting-odds promotion in broadcasting. In calling for a transitional approach over time and a targeted approach in respect of live sporting broadcasts, Labor affords industry the time and flexibility needed to alter current business practices and contractual arrangements.

A consultative approach is part and parcel of Labor's approach. Our second reading amendment outlines and continues the conversation that was started with industry in 2013 by the Gillard government, and it supports a continuation of that consultative approach between government, broadcasters and sporting organisations to address community concerns. Labor's approach demonstrates an understanding of and a confidence in the co-regulatory system of broadcast regulation that was enshrined in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Under this system, industry has the opportunity to develop codes of practice to address matters of concern to the community and where a code of practice is not operating to provide appropriate community safeguards the government regulator, the ACMA, may step in and regulate by way of a program standard.

I note that some sectors of the industry disagree that there is a problem with the current level of gambling advertising. In their media release just last week, Free TV stated that Labor's proposals were 'unwarranted' and that 'commercial broadcasters already have the most comprehensive, targeted set of restrictions on the promotion of betting services of any media platform in Australia today' and they declared that 'complaints about betting are low'. Commercial Radio Australia described Labor's proposal as 'unnecessary and counterproductive' and stated that 'any further restrictions cannot be justified'. But Labor regards it as appropriate that the industry has the opportunity to amend their codes of practice to address genuine community concern. On this I note that Labor's proposal does not dictate the terms, the timing or the mechanisms by which the broadcasting industry might phase out gambling and betting promotion during live sports broadcasts.

Labor also regards the system of co-regulation as an effective mechanism for dealing with matters that the industry may find challenging to deal with. Labor understands that betting and gambling advertising represents a significant revenue stream to industry and that it may be challenging for industry to wean itself off such lucrative arrangements in the current media environment. On this matter, it is instructive to note the explanatory memorandum to the Broadcasting Services Act acknowledges:

Areas such as … advertising, are matters of community concern which could conflict with a service provider’s responsibility to its shareholders to maximise profits.

This part—that is, part 9 of the act—that empowers the ACMA to impose direct regulation by way of program standards code, where codes of practice have failed, aims to balance the costs and benefits of the community's regulatory needs with the profit based nature of commercial service providers.

Labor's approach is transitional and targeted and therefore responds to public concern while acknowledging the pressures the broadcasting sector is under. Labor wants to work towards a genuine solution. That is why we are calling on the government and on industry to step up and progress these important consumer safeguards and address this significant issue of community concern.

I move the second reading amendment on sheet 8048 standing in my name:

At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate calls on the Government to work with the broadcasting industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase out the promotion of betting odds and commercials relating to betting or gambling before and during live sporting broadcasts, with a view to their prohibition".

I thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, for time in the chamber to address this important community concern. I hope the government will be able to work to advance a response to those genuine concerns that are held by parents and sporting heroes alike.