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Thursday, 28 June 2001
Page: 28991


Mr ENTSCH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources) (12:35 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Through the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001, the government is taking strong and decisive action to protect Australian families from the further spread of problem gambling and the social and economic hardship that it brings to hundreds of thousands of Australians.

The bill responds to serious community concern about the availability and accessibility of gambling in Australia. The Productivity Commission has found that around 290,000 Australians are problem gamblers and account for over $3 billion in losses annually. It found that problem gamblers comprise 15 per cent of regular gamblers and they account for one-third of all gambling expenditure annually. As the Prime Minister indicated at the time of the commission's final report, this is disastrous not only for those problem gamblers but also for the estimated 1.5 million people they directly affect as a result of bankruptcy, divorce, suicide and lost time at work.

The commission also found that 70 per cent of Australians believe that gambling does more harm than good.

The government is concerned that the increased accessibility of gambling services via communications technologies such as the Internet has the potential to significantly exacerbate problem gambling among Australians.

The Productivity Commission found that new interactive technologies represent a quantum leap in accessibility to gambling. This is made more alarming by the associated finding that the prevalence of problem gambling is related to the degree of accessibility of gambling. The government acknowledge these possibilities in very clear terms: we do not want a poker machine in every lounge room.

Australians do not want more gambling opportunities. There are already countless ways to lose your money in this country. A recent survey by the Department of Family and Community Services found that more than two-thirds of Australians support a ban on Internet gambling, and the Productivity Commission found that 92 per cent of Australians surveyed did not want to see any further expansion of poker machines.

The government is particularly concerned that the alluring interactive nature of these services could attract a new and younger market of gamblers, particularly amongst the `Internet generation'. Recent reports from the United States suggest that online gambling revenue there will triple by 2004, to over $6 billion. Concerns have already been expressed by the American Psychiatric Association about young people with access to credit cards being targeted by Internet gambling operators, and 10 to 15 per cent of young people have reported significant gambling problems as a result of the Internet. Today's young Australians are accustomed to spending significant amounts of time playing computer games and using the Internet and other new technologies and this makes them particularly susceptible to these new forms of gambling. Alarmingly, many online video and board game sites that target children and teenagers include links and banner advertisements for online gambling services.

Australians have every right to be concerned about these developments and the government is simply not prepared to sit back and wait for Australia to inherit a whole new gambling problem brought about by new online and interactive gambling services.

The Interactive Gambling Bill 2001 will place restrictions on gambling services that are accessible to Australians through telecommunications services such as the Internet, and broadcasting services or datacasting services.

In doing so, the bill balances the protection of Australians with a sensible, enforceable approach.

It has three main elements.

Firstly, it will be an offence to provide an interactive gambling service to a person physically located in Australia. A maximum fine of $1.1 million per day will apply to bodies corporate and $220,000 per day to natural persons if they continue to contravene the offence provisions after the legislation comes into effect.

An interactive gambling service is defined to include the forms of gambling that are the most repetitive and addictive, such as Internet casinos and Internet poker machines, online ball-by-ball wagering on sporting events, and online scratch lotteries.

In addition, it will be an offence to provide Australian based interactive gambling services to customers in designated countries.

Secondly, the bill will establish a complaints scheme. The scheme will allow Australians to make complaints about interactive gambling services on the Internet. If the content is not hosted in Australia, regulatory authorities will notify the content to Internet service providers so that the providers can deal with the content in accordance with procedures specified in an industry code or standard.

Any site that is subject to a complaint can also be referred by regulatory authorities to the police if it is thought to merit investigation in relation to the offence provisions, or for other reasons.

Thirdly, the bill will ban the advertising of interactive gambling in Australia. The ban will apply to broadcasting, datacasting, billboards, print media and the Internet.

It is important to note that the legislation does not mandate an Internet content blocking technology to be used by Internet service providers. This would place too great a regulatory burden on the Internet services industry.

Because the interactive gambling industry is still in its infancy, it is practical and appropriate that the Commonwealth take action now. In another year or two, the industry may have grown too big and established for any government to take action. Research indicates that the number of interactive gambling sites on the Internet has doubled in the last year from about 700 to perhaps 1,400.

This is exactly the situation that state and territory colleagues have found themselves in with poker machines. I am sure that there are a number of state and territory law-makers who regret earlier decisions to allow poker machine numbers to expand so dramatically. The Commonwealth is determined not to repeat this mistake with interactive gambling.

An approach of better regulation of interactive gambling is not feasible. The regulatory approach provides, in effect, a stimulus to the growth of this form of gambling which is quite irresponsible. Efforts by states and territories to reach agreement on new national standards for regulating Internet gambling have not succeeded despite the Prime Minister's announcement of the Commonwealth's concerns in December 1999. There is no reason to think they can restrict the growth of new forms of gambling any more than they have been able to do with poker machines.

There have been suggestions that this bill will protect off-line gambling interests. This is quite incorrect. Nearly all gambling industry interests, comprising both online and off-line gaming and wagering operators, have consistently opposed the government's initiatives in this area, including the current moratorium. Measures to deal with problem gambling in the off-line world have been agreed by the Council of Australian Governments and are being monitored by the Ministerial Council on Gambling. I present the explanatory memorandum for this bill.

Leave granted for debate to continue forthwith.