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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1436


Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (17:36): I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. The bill contains proposed amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act, the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act and the regulations made under the Interactive Gambling Act. The bill contains a number of proposed amendments which seek to clarify legislation regarding illegal offshore gambling and seeks to strengthen the enforcement provisions under the Interactive Gambling Act.

The Interactive Gambling Act was introduced by the government following the findings of the Senate Select Committee on Information Technology's report into online gambling and the Productivity Commission report of 1999 into gambling industries and in response to concerns about the effects that online gambling has on Australians. The Productivity Commission report of 1999 found that problem gamblers comprise 15 per cent of regular, non-lottery gamblers and account for about $3.5 billion in expenditure annually. That is about one-third of the gambling industry's total market. They lose on average $12,000 per year, compared with just under $650 for other gamblers. That prevalence of problem gambling is related to the degree of accessibility of problem gambling.

Since the legislation was enacted, it has done little to prevent the spread of online gambling. The legislation is now 16 years old and has been outdated and outpaced by the rapid increase in online gambling and aggressive practices of the online gambling providers to entice customers. The proposed bill seeks to clarify that it is illegal for overseas gambling companies to offer gambling products to Australians unless they hold a licence issued by a state or territory. It will introduce a new civil penalty infringement notice regime to be administered by ACMA. The bill will also prohibit click-to-call in-play betting services by tightening the definition of a 'telephone betting service', with the effect that it will no longer be possible for a customer to place a bet during a sporting event without ever speaking to an operator. Instead, the bill would require dealings with customers to be entirely by way of spoken conversations between the customer and an operator.

The bill amends the complaint-handling process by providing that ACMA is responsible for all stages of the complaint-handling process, with the removal of current mandatory requirements for ACMA to refer matters to the AFP. It will also enable the minister to determine by way of legislative instrument for the purposes of the act whether a specific thing is or is not a sporting event. The bill will require ACMA to maintain a register of eligible, regulated interactive gambling services in an effort to raise awareness amongst customers about which services to avoid because of their exclusion from that register. It will introduce measures relating to illegal offshore gambling activity. These would allow ACMA to disclose information obtained through its powers under the IGA to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and to foreign regulators. The bill will enable ACMA to notify the Department of Immigration and Border Protection of information relating to names of directors or principals of offending gambling services so that their names are placed on the movement alert list.

Finally, the bill will remove the requirement for a report on contraventions of part 7A of the act to be prepared and tabled in parliament each calendar year. The explanatory memorandum advises that this information will now be included in ACMA's annual report, which will be tabled in parliament. However, the amendments proposed in the bill represent only the first stage of the government's process to implement the recommendations of the 2015 Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, led by the Hon. Barry O'Farrell.

The Nick Xenophon Team supports the bill. I want to make that clear. However, we remain concerned that the bill does not go far enough to keep pace with the explosion of online gambling and, in particular, online sports betting. Online gambling has grown to the point that the industry now outpaces other forms of gambling. People bet online using smartphones, tablets and other digital devices. Online gambling at the touch of a button anytime, anywhere poses risks to those battling gambling addictions and those who are vulnerable to developing gambling addiction. In 2014 $2.4 billion dollars was spent on online gambling by Australians. This is double the amount of 10 years earlier. The 2015 O'Farrell review found that the number of active online wagering accounts in Australia grew from 200,000 in 2010 to 800,000 in 2014.

The minister has foreshadowed there will be further bills which will seek to put in place some protection for gamblers. The government announced in April 2016 that it would implement 18 of the 19 recommendations in the 2015 O'Farrell review in a three-stage process. Whilst this news is welcome to the Nick Xenophon Team, we believe the government has missed an opportunity to debate a more comprehensive and more effective bill now. This is why my colleague Senator Xenophon will be moving amendments that incorporate many aspects of his private senator's bill, the Interactive Gambling Amendment (Sports Betting Reform) Bill 2015.

These amendments tackle many issues not addressed in the government's bill, including prohibitions on microbetting, prohibitions on offering credit and banning the broadcasting of sports betting ads during sports games and G-rated programs when children are watching. Importantly, these amendments also establish a National Self-Exclusion Register, which was recommended in the O'Farrell Review, as well as the establishment of an interactive gambling regulator.

The Nick Xenophon Team's position on gambling reform and curtailing predatory gambling is well known. We continue to push for reform in this area. I have seen firsthand the devastation that gambling addiction causes families though my work in Senator Xenophon's office and now in my own. Over many years I dealt with countless desperate constituents whose families have suffered emotionally and financially because of gambling addictions. It was the families' stories that propelled me to stand for the Senate as part of the Nick Xenophon Team.

In my first speech I spoke about the call that provided me with the impetus to drive change through policy as a senator. I had taken a call from a woman whose husband was addicted to online sports betting. She had just discovered they had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and in the coming weeks they would also lose their home. She was desperate and she did not know where else to go for help. I stayed on the phone with her while she cried. I would meet her and her husband in person soon after, and with Nick we worked to do what we could to help them try to rebuild their lives. This call was one of many I answered about the devastating effects of online gambling.

The impact of gambling addiction is far reaching. It has devastating effects responsible for the loss of livelihoods, family homes and inheritances and for the destruction of families. Some gambling addictions are so fierce and the consequences so great that for some the burden is too heavy and results in the tragic loss of life. The Nick Xenophon Team's resolve on tackling predatory gambling is unwavering. We are committed to Australian communities. As long as gambling companies continue to prey on Australians, we will continue to push for much-needed sensible gambling reform.

There is no doubt that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 is a step in the right direction, and I commend the government for these measures. For too long the Interactive Gambling Act has been weak when it came to dealing with overseas online gambling organisations providing services within Australia. These organisations operated freely within our borders and caused immeasurable harm to Australian citizens. However, I remain concerned as to how the government will be able to enforce penalties against these companies, who may continue to disregard the measures in this bill and which operate in overseas jurisdictions.

The Nick Xenophon Team wants to see a requirement on internet service providers to block access to websites operated by those who continue to operate within Australian borders without permission to do so. During the committee stage of this debate, Senator Xenophon will be moving such an amendment to prevent access to illegal offshore operators. We believe this bill must go further to protect vulnerable Australian families from predatory gambling organisations. Senator Xenophon and I will be moving amendments to do just that.

Specifically, I will move an amendment during the committee stage that restricts the government's proposed meaning of 'electronic equipment'. The Nick Xenophon Team is very concerned about the loophole in the legislation that, if allowed to remain as currently drafted, would allow in-play betting from venue-provided smart devices in retail place betting venues, pubs and clubs. Section 8BA of the proposed bill provides for venues to loan customers electronic equipment for gambling use. The Nick Xenophon Team is deeply concerned that this bill appears to allow for place-based electronic betting through the introduction or expansion of electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones which provide for in-play betting, and circumvent the need to deal with a person or use a fixed betting terminal.

The definition of 'electronic equipment' referred to in the bill includes 'an electronic apparatus' or 'electronic device'. The bill's explanatory memorandum provides no guidance or explanation as to what these terms mean. This definition currently includes venue kiosks but is not restricted to such services. During the Senate inquiry into the bill, submitters raised concerns that these terms allow for the expansion of the use of electronic devices, including tablets and smartphones with an in-play betting function, within licensed betting venues.

In response to our question on notice regarding concerns about continued availability of in-play betting, the department responded:

The 'place-based betting service' exemption in proposed Section 8BA is intended to permit betting services, including potentially in-play betting services, to be provided on electronic equipment (which may include easy betting terminals and/or tablets) made available to customers in places such as TABs, casinos and clubs.

The department admitted, when I questioned them, that they had not done any modelling on whether this provision would lead to an uptake in betting services in venues due to increased availability of these electronic devices. The Nick Xenophon Team is concerned that this provision will expand the opportunities for in-play betting without addressing any of the concerns highlighted in the inquiry that this may increase opportunities for gambling and create faster, more instantaneous betting options.

If the government's aim is to reduce in-play betting, I fail to see how this bill helps. In-play betting is only supposed to be performed in person or over the phone. These measures will allow gambling operators to potentially expand their operations within licensed venues. This loophole goes against the intention of this bill.

I will be moving an amendment that narrows the definition and makes it clear that 'electronic equipment' will instead be defined as an 'electronic betting terminal' which is installed on a permanent or fixed basis at a place where gambling services are provided under supervision. It will be unable to connect to the internet and will be available for use only by customers using cash or a card issued by the provider. This definition will limit in-play betting to electronic betting terminals to ensure that gambling operators do not seek to expand their operations by allowing people to place in-play bets using tablets or smartphones provided by the venue at the bar. These terminals are permanent installations located in a specific area set aside for gambling and are unable to connect to the internet. This is the sort of protective measure we need.

In my opinion, the bill as it is currently drafted will increase the opportunities for in-play betting without addressing the very serious concern that this could increase opportunities for gambling. In-play betting is especially dangerous, as it gives a person an immediate opportunity to win their money back, which also heightens the potential for bigger losses. These are spur-of-the-moment decisions people make when they are swayed by emotions and possibly under the influence of alcohol.

If the government are going to introduce legislation on gambling reform, they must also consider the issue of harm minimisation. I fear that the current harm minimisation tactics used within bars and gambling venues are inadequate. During the Senate inquiry into this bill, I questioned the department as to whether they thought the current harm minimisation strategies were working. Their response was that harm minimisation was a matter for the states. But harm minimisation and problem gambling affects all Australians, and I want to see the federal government take more responsibility for this area and work more closely with the states to improve harm minimisation.

Given that this bill will see an increase in betting devices within licensed venues, it cannot be argued that the expansion of the gambling market would not result in harm. The Nick Xenophon Team will continue to hold the government to account and keep the pressure on to ensure that harm minimisation strategies are considered and implemented as we continue the fight against predatory gambling. Thank you.