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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1442


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (18:01): I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. This is a small step toward the goal of getting rid of the corrosive, corrupting influence of gambling in sport—a very small step. It clarifies the fact that wagering websites, services and products are illegal. It goes on to put some restrictions around in-play betting. It also strengthens the power of ACMA.

So it does some positive things, but there is also a huge catch. The government has decided through this legislation to include a special carve out for its big gambling mates who donate so handsomely to both of the major parties during election campaigns. The special exemption they have created would effectively allow online in-play sports betting from a tablet on the counter of every pub and club in Australia. Live in-play betting is hugely problematic. It is also known as in-the-run betting. It is an activity that makes gambling much more seductive. It is more likely for people involved in watching a game of footy to continue to bet, to double up, to chase their losses and ultimately to lose more than they would have otherwise lost. Because of this exemption there is going to be a massive expansion of in-play betting at a moment when the government is rightly saying, at least quietly, that we should be outlawing similar services provided online.

Why restrict in-play betting to services provided online and at the same time give this exemption that allows basically every pub and club in Australia to continue to do it? One has to ask oneself: why has the government decided to go down that path? The Tatts Group, whose subsidiary UBET is going to exploit this loophole, donated $139,000 to the two old parties, Labor and Liberal, in the last three years. So one has to ask oneself whether this is a loophole created by the government for its big gambling mates. We know, whether or not that is true, the perception that that might be true should be enough to give the government pause for thought. What we have is a problem with policy in this country being made on the back of big donations that come from big money interests. We Greens are going to be supporting amendments that close this outrageous little sweetheart deal for the Tatts Group and the big gambling mates of the old parties.

Despite the loophole, on balance I think the bill does deserve support. It does implement recommendations 18 and 19 of last year's O'Farrell Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering. The former New South Wales Premier's report made it crystal clear that online games and wagering are the fastest growing segments of the global gambling market. They are exploding in terms of market share. Products are being marketed largely to young men. They are causing a range of harms. We know and speak a lot about the harms associated with poker machines. We know and speak a lot about the harms associated with poker machines, and we are now learning in more detail about the harms that excessive gambling online causes to individuals, families and communities. Often these are young men who are isolated or living in regional communities, and they are losing big.

The Interactive Gambling Act is the main source of prohibition regulation that will attach to online gambling. We do acknowledge that it is a very difficult regulatory environment. This is a tough environment because you have a lot of this activity being conducted offshore. Whilst this act makes it illegal to offer online gambling products from offshore locations, we know that that prohibition is very difficult to enforce, so we are doing a balancing act between the prohibition and being able to enforce it. It is in everyone's interest to bring those offshore operators here onshore and to make sure that they are captured by the Australian regulatory environment. That is the balancing act.

Of course, the gambling lobby has a very powerful argument against what it calls over-regulation. It says the regulations are too restrictive and there is no incentive for operators to come here onshore. Surprise, surprise: big business does not like regulation that might restrict its profits. Ultimately, this is about finding the best way to reduce the huge harm that these predatory pushers of online gambling products do cause our communities. We just do not have the balance right at the moment. We have not got the balance right. You just need to sit down and watch a major sporting event with young kids to see what it is like. Every time you sit down with a kid to watch the footy, the cricket or the tennis, they are being bombard with odds, websites and famous faces pushing online gambling down their throats. The marketing of these products, as Senator Chisholm said previously, is relentless. It is having a significant impact on young kids and creating the problem gamblers of tomorrow.

When I sat down with my kids to watch the cricket over the summer, as I occasionally do, I was dumbstruck by one freeze frame. There was a fielder sliding along the grass towards the boundary rope. The rope was clad with the URL of a major online gambling website. The fence behind the rope also displayed the same website. And then running across the bottom of the screen was a paid banner ad for—yes, you guess it—the same online gambling website. It has become absolutely relentless. This stuff is everywhere. You cannot escape it. There is an irony here when you see some young sportsman having to confess to having gambled illegally and consider that they are bathed in it. They are surrounded by it. They are wearing this stuff on their jumpers. The sponsors are everywhere. The ground is covered in it. TV is shoving this stuff down people's throats. Is it any wonder that some people make bad decisions? It is damaging the brand and integrity of many of the sporting codes that we love. It is so insidious now. Just listen to young kids talk about their favourite sporting code. They might talk about a game of AFL footy. In the old days they would be swapping footy cards. Now it is a discussion about what are the odds of Cyril Rioli kicking the next goal, or of David Warner making a tonne in the cricket. Their experience of the game is no longer an experience shaped around the game itself; it is an experience where gambling is enmeshed in the sport. For young people, the line between gambling and sport is not a clear one. They have become one and the same. These are very clever marketing tactics by the gambling industry. I am really concerned about what this will do to those young children in the future. Are we creating another generation of problem gamblers?

So, of course we welcome any effort to try to curb the pernicious influence of online betting and gambling, but that does not mean the activity should be illegal. People should be able to gamble if they want to, but we need some restrictions around what is appropriate, and we absolutely need to ensure that there are restrictions around the way this stuff is marketed and promoted. It is why we are going to vote in favour of some of the amendments on the table that will close the loophole which I talked about earlier. I would like to think that we could also vote to support a bill like my Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sports Betting) Bill 2013. What that bill would do is ban radio and TV licence holders from broadcasting any ads or information about sports betting or odds. If people want to gamble that is their right, but just don't shove it down our throats. Let a young child watch a sporting broadcast, without having to be bombarded with betting advertising. I do hope that there will be an appetite to return to that bill at some stage in the near future.

I do, however, know that we will be facing an uphill battle if we are to get some restriction on sports advertising. The influence of the gambling lobby on the old parties, as I said, does not just extend to donations. There is now a revolving door between the gambling industry and political office. I want to say a few words here about the role that the Labor Party has played in ensuring that the gambling industry has the contacts and the networks it needs to be able to scuttle any legislation when it comes to restrictions on gambling. Senator Conroy could not wait to leave the Senate to join Responsible Wagering Australia. You would think that that was an organisation whose focus was on ensuring that people wager responsibly—no, how wrong you are. That Orwellian sounding title is the name of an organisation that represents the big gambling industry. It is not just Senator Conroy; it seems to be that the Right of the Labor Party has this revolving door between itself and the gambling industry. We saw this with former Senator Mark Arbib. He could not wait to leave the Senate so that he could become part of the Packer gambling empire. Indeed, the former National Secretary of the Labor Party Karl Bitar is another graduate of the Labor Right moving into the gambling industry. They are hired guns who are used by the industry because they have the contacts and networks necessary to be able to scuttle reform. They are working for an industry that preys on some of the most vulnerable people in the country. No wonder people have had a gutful of politics. When they see people in senior positions leave this place and, within the blink of an eye, stand up and start spruiking for an industry that they once had responsibility for regulating, it does more than just raise a few eyebrows. It means that people whose faith in their democratic institutions is already at an all-time low say, 'What is the point?' The time is long overdue for us to put a code of conduct in place that prevents that activity from taking place into the future.

Let me go to some of the detail of what this bill does. As I said earlier, it clarifies that offshore wagering websites, services and products are made illegal. It clarifies that Australian operators can no longer operate click-to-call services like the ones they currently operate, which allow betters to place in-play bets over their mobile phones and tablets, without even needing to speak to an operator. These are important developments. It also strengthens the power of the Australian Communications and Media Authority and creates a civil penalty regime which targets, in particular, operators of offshore wagering websites and services. However, the government has failed in this bill to commit to one of the essential recommendations of the O'Farrell report, and that is that, until a national framework is established and operating, consideration of additional in-play betting products should be deferred and legislative steps taken to respect the original intent of the Interactive Gambling Act. In this bill the government have ignored that recommendation. Instead of considering additional in-play betting products only at the point at which legislative steps have been taken, they have decided to carve out in-play betting for what are euphemistically called 'place-based betting services', defined in clause 8B(a) as involving electronic equipment.

In other words, what the bill does is exempts the practice already engaged in by some clubs and pubs of offering tethered online electronic betting terminals. So you can do in-play betting—when the whole point of this is to restrict it—providing that you are in a pub or club and you are using one of their tethered online electronic betting terminals.

What this exemption would do is dramatically expand the scope of in-play betting. That is in direct contradiction to the O'Farrell recommendation. I will get to it in a moment, as to how that would happen. The Uniting Church, Responsible Wagering Australia and other Australian providers agree that this is a sweetheart deal which hands over, to operators like the Tatts Group, access to physical premises like pubs and clubs.

As I said earlier, former senator Stephen Conroy has become a spruiker for the gambling industry. Not even his factional clout and political connections could compete with the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are flowing into the ALP coffers from the gambling industry. On this occasion, it seemed that they were at odds—and I use that pun intentionally.

Experts warn that this sweetheart exemption could lead to pubs and clubs offering in-play sports betting via tethered tablets, which are more attractive than the large cumbersome machines that are in use.

Let us look at what Tatts Group's UBET said recently. They intend to offer a digital in-play sports betting solution that will allow punters to bet through a customised app on a tablet service. In other words, they are getting ready for in-play betting to occur through their tablets, and they are hoping that one day they will have a monopoly on in-play betting, through their customised app on their tablet devices.

There are some amendments to this legislation which would help close this little sweetheart loophole, and I am talking specifically about Senator Xenophon's amendments. We the Greens will be supporting those amendments. The amendments will tighten up the definition of 'placed-based betting service' to more accurately reflect the reality of current practice and prevent the expansion of in-play sports betting that I have just described. For those reasons, we will support them. They would also strengthen the principal act by introducing an interactive gambling regulator and a national self-exclusion register. We also support those amendments. The amendments would also strengthen the act by banning wagering services from offering credit, or microbetting; by allowing gamblers to set personal betting limits; and by strengthening regulatory powers. We support that amendment too.

There is one aspect of the circulated amendments that we do not support. That is the provision that would require the minister to regulate to require internet service providers to block access to illegal overseas gambling websites. We do not think that is an effective solution, and so we will not support that specific amendment.

I conclude by saying this bill does go some small way in the direction that we need to go, and it is just insane that this glaring loophole has been left open for a particular segment of the industry. If we do not address this issue, we are looking at creating another generation of problem gamblers. This is an industry that has shown itself as wanting to prey on some of the most vulnerable people in our community, and it is governments that have been complicit with the industry every step of the way. Regulation of the industry is absolutely critical, not just in terms of in-play betting but also in terms of the promotion, advertising and sponsorship of gambling products. If we do not deal with this issue now, we risk repeating the mistakes that we made when it comes to poker machines. We risk making the same mistakes within the online betting environment, and that is a cost that is far too high for our society to bear.