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Thursday, 28 June 2001
Page: 29001


Mr NEVILLE (1:13 AM) —The purpose of the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001 is to prohibit Australian based interactive gambling services being provided to customers in Australia and to limit the ability of Australian customers to access Internet gambling sites located overseas. There will be some exemptions from this; for example, wagering and sports betting, by which people who can already have access by way of telephone will be able to have it by way of the Internet.

However, micro-event, blow-by-blow and ball-by-ball betting will remain prohibited, and so it should. Lotto and lotteries will be exempted, in recognition of the fact that, like sports betting and wagering, they do not have a repetitive and addictive characteristic about them. There have been some concerns that online lottery sales may affect newsagents, but there is nothing from the overseas experience that would indicate that this would be the case. Take Finland, for example: lottery tickets have been sold on the Internet there since 1996, and the sales are less than three per cent. In Sweden, sales are less than one-third of one per cent.

This ban on Internet gambling has really exposed a divide in Australian politics and illustrates the real difference between those opposite and the government. Those opposite profess compassion for the Australian people—and we have heard that bleated out today by the member for Lilley, who was talking about all sorts of vague concepts of how dreadful Centrelink has been to people—but it is we on the conservative side that are taking action to protect Australian families.

Does the Leader of the Opposition want a poker machine in every lounge room—a move that would tear more Australian families apart? The National Party want to keep families strong and together. National Party policy—and I will forgive those opposite if they are not familiar with that word `policy'—have the family as the fundamental unit from which our society is nurtured and thrives. Our policy says specifically that government policies should preserve and promote the family, and the Nationals in government have delivered on this.

By contrast, a quick look at the Labor Party web site shows that they have no family policies at all; yet they come into the House tonight and preach to us. The member for the Northern Territory says that, because people will be able to gamble overseas on a web site, somehow that is all right. But just think about that: if you want to gamble overseas on the web site, what guarantee have you got that you are going to be paid? We do not have any sort of bilateral arrangement with countries in relation to gambling. If you have a big win one night from your lounge room on some overseas web site and you win half a million dollars or a $1 million, what guarantee have you got that you are going to be paid? Of course, the government does have the ultimate sanction that, when those people come to Australia and want to do some other form of business in this country, they can be liable to Australian laws.

It is interesting that the National Office for the Information Economy conducted an inquiry that, based on economic modelling, suggested a ban may have modest or small economic benefits for Australia in restricting access to a harmful activity and possible aggregate benefits for state and territory taxation revenue. It found that the growth of interactive gambling had the potential for negative social consequences in Australia because of increased accessibility of gambling services.

The Productivity Commission report on gambling revealed the following staggering and sobering facts. Over 80 per cent of Australians gambled in the last year, spending $11 billion—not million but billion—with 40 per cent of them gambling regularly. Gambling is a big and rapidly growing business in Australia, with the industries currently accounting for 1.5 per cent of GDP and employing over 100,000 people in more than 7,000 businesses throughout the country. However, the net gains in jobs and economic activity are small when account is taken of the impact on other industries of the diversion of consumer spending to gambling, and that is the key thing. If you divert consumer spending from other legitimate activities to gambling, it has a negative effect

Around 130,000 Australians—about one per cent of the population—are estimated to have severe problems with their gambling and a further 160,000 adults are estimated to have moderate problems, which may not require treatment but warrant policy concern. Taken together, problem gamblers represent just over 290,000 people or over two per cent of Australian adults. Problem gamblers comprise 15 per cent of regular non-lottery gamblers and account for about $3.5 billion in expenditure annually—about one-third of the gambling industries' market. They lose on average $12,000 per year, compared with just under $650 for other gamblers.

We have heard debates in this House over recent weeks on the dreadful effects of the government changing this or that measure in the social security agenda. But these particular gambling measures would have a profound effect on income, on government revenue, on a whole range of issues. Perhaps the most damning finding in terms of opposition to the bill is that the prevalence of problem gambling is related to the degree of accessibility to gambling, especially gaming machines. You can imagine someone sitting in their lounge room late at night, perhaps lonely, dialling up the Internet. They have the stubbie in one hand and the fingers of the other hand on the keyboard, and they are gambling as if they are sitting in front of a poker machine. That is bad. That is what we are banning.

The second thing we are banning is virtual scratchies. If you want to go into a newsagent and buy a few scratchies, take them home or out to the little counter outside and have a bit of a scratch, a bit of fun, you have to make a conscious decision. You have to go into the place, you have to put your money across the counter, you have to take the scratchie, you have to scratch the thing off, and say, `Oh damn, I missed that one,' and probably go home. But if you have that access in your home and the interactivity fills the whole computer screen, and if you move the cursor or the mouse and it virtually scratches the screen, if you lose then you will say, `Oh, we will have another one—and another one—and another one.' And you can do that right through the night if you want to if you are prepared to permit virtual scratchies on screen.

To go another step, you then come to keno. That has not been defined specifically in the bill and it will be a question for ministers in future to decide whether keno should be treated as a casino game, in which case it would be banned, or whether it should be treated as a lottery game, in which case it could be approved. This will be a bit of a dilemma. If you want to bet on keno, in normal circumstances you go into a casino, a club or a pub and you pick up a card and consciously mark what squares you want to make the bet on. You put that across the counter and you pay your money for the number of games you might require: you make a conscious decision to bet. But what are you going to do if you can just bring it up on your computer screen, perhaps have some device by which you can put in your credit card, and, as the computer game scrolls over about every five minutes, you can constantly keep betting, again perhaps with the stubbie in one hand and the other hand on the keyboard? To me, that is a very dangerous form of gambling and comes very close to interactivity.

Finally we come to lotteries. I have no problems with lotteries themselves. If you want to order a ticket in the RSL homes or the Mater homes or the Endeavour Foundation homes, and you want to put in an application by way of the Internet, I have no hang-ups with that. That is a conscious decision that you take at the time based on that form of activity. It is no different, I suppose, from sending in a letter requesting a ticket or five tickets or whatever it might be. Lotto itself is on the margin, I must admit. Depending on the state you live in, lotto might be on four or five nights a week, but there is only one game. If you want to bet through your computer I suppose it is no great shakes. Where I would come to variance with that would be if the casinos, having taken control of that sort of activity, wanted to scroll through a lotto game every one, two or three hours. That would concern me. So there are many dimensions to this matter, and it requires a bit of clear thinking. The idea that because it is on the Internet, because it is on a computer, somehow you cannot control it is absolute nonsense.

I repeat: the member for the Northern Territory said that, because these services will be offered by overseas providers, that somehow makes them legitimate, and that is wrong. As I said before, if the activity is not permitted in Australia, what recourse to law would you have in Australia if, having won a major prize, the overseas organisation would not pay? We have sanctions under law if those providing illegal services to Australian citizens want to come to this country. They would then face the consequences in our courts.

The government has done a very good job on this. I flag again my concerns about keno and lotto going beyond a nightly game. Beyond that, I think it is a very sensible measure that will control a very difficult area of human activity. At the end of the day, what are we on about? All today we have had the opposition bleating about minor matters of social security. Yet in this bill we have the potential to save this country not a few million, not tens of millions, not hundreds of millions but literally billions of dollars.


Mr Snowdon —This is drivel, brother.


Mr NEVILLE —It is not drivel. You do not want to face the facts, do you? You think because you give it laissez-faire treatment that somehow it will all come good in the end, like you did with the analog phones—and you left half of Australia without a decent phone system. If you are going to allow this sort of rubbish, it shows that you have a very poor regard for Australian families. I commend the government for the bill and most assiduously oppose the opposition's—


Mr Snowdon —Well thought out amendments.


Mr NEVILLE —Well thought out amendments? Good God!