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Thursday, 28 June 2001
Page: 28993

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (12:39 AM) —I will quickly outline the procedure that the opposition proposes to adopt so far as the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001 is concerned. In the normal course of events, given the contentious nature of this bill, we have an exhaustive debate. We divide on the second reading amendment, which I will move at the conclusion of my remarks, we divide on the second reading and we divide on the third reading. But, given the state of the hour and the desire of all members to get through the business as quickly as possible, I think it will suffice for us to put our position on the record. I will move a second reading debate, and we will divide on the third reading—that will be the only division we will call.

Mr SPEAKER —I genuinely do not wish to interrupt the member for Perth. He will move a second reading amendment. The word he used was not `amendment', so I just wanted to clarify that he was talking about an amendment. If the member for Perth checks the Hansard, he will find he said `second reading debate', and that is why I wanted the clarification.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —Our approach on this bill is well known. It has been put on the record in the Senate and in this House on previous occasions in debate on the Interactive Gambling (Moratorium) Bill 2000. It has been put on the record in detail by Labor senators in two Senate committee reports, and it has been put on the record in detail in the Senate in recent days and hours. There are three fundamental deficiencies in the government's legislation in terms of its approach. Firstly, the government's approach is based on hypocrisy and the pretence that the attempted banning by the government of online gambling will actually solve the problem. The hypocrisy is that, as this government does on so many issues, it says one thing but another thing will happen. It will not solve the problem, and the government in its heart of hearts knows it. Secondly, its framework is essentially unworkable. It is fundamentally and fatally flawed and it will be ineffective. And, thirdly, with the amendments that we have seen the government move in the Senate and accept from minor parties, we now have a dog's breakfast. We have a hypocritical, unworkable dog's breakfast. That is the outcome of the government's decision in this matter. The government's pretence that a ban on online gambling will work is incorrect: it will not and it cannot work. The only sensible approach in this matter is to adopt a sensible regulatory regime. That way you can provide Australian consumers with the best protection you can give and you can provide the best mitigation of the adverse consequences of social gambling.

Senator Alston and the Prime Minister have been saying that, if we do not proceed down the government's path, we will have a casino in every lounge room. Yes, there will be a casino in every lounge room; the problem is that it will be a foreign casino in every lounge room. Australians will be able to gamble on foreign online gambling sites and, despite the pretence that the government puts up, despite the amendments that it has moved in the Senate or has accepted from minor parties, any attempt to effectively ban that will be unworkable, and it will not work. Look, for example, at some of the commentary on the government's bill. On Thursday, 21 June the Sydney Morning Herald had an editorial entitled `Lost in cyberspace', which read:

... it is a ban in name only. Australians will still be able to do the things Mr Howard railed against when instituting a 12-month moratorium on cyberspace wagering in May last year.

It then goes on to make the point that the government's backflip will now permit Australians to place bets on horseracing, sporting contests, lotteries and casino games on the Internet. It says:

Australians remain free to play offshore cyberspace casino games. Banishing Internet casinos offshore may look good politically, but it is a flawed move.

These comments are echoed in the Australian's editorial of the same day, `Howard's net gambling ban born to lose', which refers to the government's `flawed online gambling ban'. It goes on to say:

The premise is mindless, the Government's defence of it is repetitive and flimsy ...

And it goes on with comparable and similar comments. The government amendments announced last week to allow wagering, lotteries, television games and linked jackpots simply compound the hypocrisy. Those who remember the Productivity Commission report will know that it said that the cause of the second most significant difficulty to do with gambling was wagering, and yet here we have the government doing a backflip at the last minute to allow it.

The government has also instituted an ad ban. It will ban advertisements about online casinos but not about off-line casinos. In any event, it will be ineffective: you cannot regulate adverts on offshore online sites, and the ban does not apply to search engines. So, if people want to find an online gambling site, they are going to use a search engine and the government's ad ban will not do anything about it.

The prosecution of offshore providers is based on the US wire wage act. That act has been so successful that we have seen the biggest online gambling industry formed in sites close to the United States—Bermuda, et cetera. That offshore protection is the basis on which these amendments are modelled and which the government touts as being so effective. We have seen one successful prosecution in the United States since 1960—one successful prosecution in 40 years. That is entirely ineffective. I notice today, online on Digital Media Web, it says:

Interactive gambling is a sure bet:

New research ...

American consumers have rapidly adopted to this new form of gambling and the US is the biggest market. Despite legal uncertainties regarding the legality of gambling, its 1.9 million online gamblers are currently earning this business an estimated $US4.2 billion in revenues.

Then there is this comment:

“Despite adverse conditions due to legal restrictions, the online gambling market is thriving,” ...

That is a reflection of the US wire wage act, on which the amendment that the government has moved and adopted in the Senate is based, insofar as prosecution of offshore punters is concerned. It is completely ineffective. The minor party amendments just add to the dog's breakfast.

That is a snapshot of the opposition's position on this matter. Our position has been substantially reflected in debate in recent days and hours in the Senate. The substance of that is reflected by the second reading amendment, which has been circulated in my name. It is a lengthy amendment. I will not read it; I will summarise it. The second reading amendment condemns the government for introducing an unworkable, internally inconsistent and hypocritical bill. It calls on the government to show leadership on this issue by proceeding down the road of sensible regulation, which is the only way in which you can provide Australians with proper and necessary protections—insofar as they are concerned as consumers—and which might actually do something constructive and reasonable to mitigate the adverse consequences of gambling. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) condemns the Government for introducing an unworkable, internally inconsistent and hypocritical bill which:

(a) does not provide strong regulation of interactive gambling as the most practical and effective way of reducing social harm arising from gambling;

(b) may exacerbate problem gambling in Australia by barring access to regulated on-line gambling services with in-built safeguards but which in practice will allow access to unregulated offshore on-line gambling sites that do not offer consumer protection or probity;

(c) does not extend current regulatory and consumer protection requirements applying to off-line and land-based casinos, clubs or wagering venues to on-line casinos and on-line wagering facilities;

(d) damages Australia's international reputation for effective consumer protection laws and strong, workable gambling regulations;

(e) singles out one form of gambling in an attempt to create the impression of placating community concern about the adverse social consequences of gambling but does not address more prevalent forms of gambling in Australian society; and

(f) is not technology neutral or technically feasible;

(2) calls on the Government to show national leadership on this issue by:

(a) addressing harm minimisation and consumer protection as well as criminal issues that may arise from on-line gambling;

(b) ensuring a quality gambling product through financial probity checks on providers and their staff;

(c) maintaining the integrity of games and the proper working of gaming equipment;

(d) providing mechanisms to exclude those not eligible to gamble under Australian law;

(e) implementing problem gambling controls, such as exclusion from facilities, expenditure thresholds, no credit betting, and the regular provision of transaction records;

(f) introducing measures to minimise any criminal activity linked to interactive gambling;

(g) providing effective privacy protection for on-line gamblers;

(h) containing social costs by ensuring that adequate ongoing funds are available to assist those with gambling problems;

(i) establishing consistent standards for all interactive gambling operators;

(j) examining international protocols with the aim of achieving multilateral agreements on sports betting and other forms of interactive gambling;

(k) investigating mechanisms to ensure that some of the benefits of on-line gambling accrue more directly to the local community;

(l) working with State and Territory governments to ensure that on-line and interactive gambling operators meet the highest standards of probity and auditing through licensing agreements;

(m) seeking co-regulation of interactive gambling by establishing a national regulatory framework that provides consumer safeguards and industry Codes of Practice; and

(n) coordinating the development of a co-regulatory regime through the Ministerial Council comprising of relevant State and Federal Ministers”.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Sciacca —I second the amendment.