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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23696

Ms PANOPOULOS (7:54 PM) —I rise to speak this evening on the issue of gambling. There is no doubt that many people enjoy an innocent flutter, sometimes only on the horses at Melbourne Cup day once a year. But for an increasing minority, the gambling habit is an addiction that hoodwinks people into believing they can win an easy fortune on their next go or on the next race. For people in this latter category, gambling is the means to self-destruction; eventually leading them to devalue their lives and their existence—and, in some situations, to neglect their family members and children. We have slipped into the habit of referring to the unfortunate euphemism of `problem gambling' when we describe gambling addiction. The term `problem gambling' conveys nothing of the horrendous impact on family stability and social order that comes with a gambling addiction.

It was reported that almost $4.4 billion was lost by people gambling in Victoria alone last year. In the last financial year, poker machine losses alone were $26 million in north-east Victoria. In this same period, gambling taxes raked in $1.4 billion for the state government. It is no secret that various state governments, of all political persuasions, have caught the discretionary taxes bug for taxes such as gambling taxes and stamp duties and that there is little incentive to wind back a source of funds that maintain the budget bottom line. To their credit, the Bracks government have doubled funding for problem-gambling initiatives from $7 million to $13.4 million. This is a positive step. But when one considers how much the government are raking in in gambling taxes, it only seems fair that they invest more money to assist people to control their gambling habits, particularly when we look at the significant social costs associated with chronic gambling and the associated costs to the welfare system—which usually end up being a cost to the federal government and to taxpayers.

Gambling can be a normal, enjoyable recreational activity that causes no harm. However, as the gamblers help-line ads on our television screens make abundantly clear, there is a clear downside to gambling addiction—it can destroy individuals and families. The state government, the gambling industry and the community need to rethink their approach to gambling addiction right around Australia, and particularly in Victoria. Perhaps public policy in this area should not be solely focussed on restricting access to poker machines or TAB betting venues. If this is the case, the problem will still exist. We should not single out one form of gambling, such as electronic gambling machines, as the root of all evil. All forms of gambling are causes in this situation. Indeed, different forms of gambling—be it poker machines, horseracing or greyhound racing—often collide to make the situation even worse.

To focus solely on one area of the gambling spectrum does nothing to hinder the basic financial problems at the core of social and financial distress. Instead, the approach should be based on putting more resources into financial counselling and efforts to improve the bottom line of the household budget. There should be more of the $900 million collected from the industry for the community support fund channelled to these aims. Without any additional funds it is very difficult to achieve a balance between accepting the right of people to gamble as they wish and effective measures to protect and minimise the needs of those suffering gambling addiction. It is true that governments cannot do all the heavy lifting on every social ill. There will always be more that the government and the community can do. For the sake of individual security, family stability and, importantly, the welfare of the next generation, state government energies and the efforts of the wider community need to be increasingly directed towards winding back the size of the gambling goliaths in Victoria.