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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9558

Mr SIMPKINS (8:11 PM) —Electronic gambling is a scourge, as all gambling is a scourge that is bad for families and takes advantage of human frailty. I therefore welcome the motion brought forward by the member for Wakefield, which addresses the issue of problem gambling, the proliferation of electronic gaming machines in communities and the way these machines are designed. The motion also raises the inadequate legislation and regulation of these electronic gaming machines and the inadequate treatment services available, as well as calling upon state governments and the gambling industry to work together to limit the harm caused to problem gamblers by these electronic gaming machines.

Gambling is the best example of the genie being let out of the bottle. It is like the Ebola virus, with serious financial mortality for those who are afflicted with gambling addiction. The great thing for my state of Western Australia is that successive state governments have rejected the proliferation of gaming machines beyond Burswood casino. Consequently the state of Western Australia has never relied on the revenue generated by gambling machines in licensed clubs across the state, and long may that be the case. I am certain that under the Barnett Liberal government there will not be any change to that policy.

With regard to electronic gaming machines—which I think of as, as we used to call them, poker machines—there are, sadly, a lot of people in this country who make an all too regular pilgrimage to put money into the machines in many places around the country, including the casino in Perth. They primarily do so in the many licensed clubs in the other states around the country. In response to this criticism, licensed clubs talk about how much money they have put back into the community, and there is no doubt that junior sport has benefited from the money that has flowed. But I ask: at what cost? Junior sport in the eastern states should not be built on the financial wreckage of the families brought down by gambling and human weakness.

A telling statistic comes from the 1999 productivity study into gambling, which suggests that 43 per cent of the revenue from gambling comes from problem gamblers. I recall that many years ago, on a visit to the Wrest Point casino in Hobart, I put $20 on the chocolate wheel and promptly lost it. I felt bad, and I will recall that incident for the rest of my life. I therefore have never gambled again, and clearly I am not an addicted gambler, but many are. It also seems to be the case that so many of these people cannot afford to lose their money. I put this down to two things: an addiction to gambling coupled with the so often misplaced belief in luck. More people in this country should come to the stark realisation that there is no such thing as luck. Achievement is based on hard work and the taking of opportunities. No benefit is going to fall in one’s lap as a result of luck; benefits come about only because of the specific action taken by the individual. In considering this motion I am torn between my fundamental belief in the principle of personal responsibility and the need for government action to take away the risk posed by these electronic gambling machines.

That brings me to what must be done. It does not look like any of the state governments are going to take action on this issue, but there are some things that could be done. Firstly, they could withdraw the licences for all gaming machines outside casinos. If not, they could take ATMs out of casinos, licensed premises and clubs. They could also remove EFTPOS and credit card machines out of anywhere apart from the restaurant facilities in these places. With that, they could make sure that none of the electronic gaming machines accept banknotes. These measures are about harm elimination, not harm reduction. But these are the harder measures, whereas some form of tax imposed on the industry or treatment programs and other reactions to the outcomes of problem gambling just deal with the symptoms, not the underlying issue.

So far I have talked about the actions available to state governments, but I return to the responsibility of individuals. Never having been addicted to anything, I just do not understand it. Perhaps it is easy for someone like me to just say: walk away and turn your back on that path of self-destruction—that is, gambling. Yes, it takes strength of character, but action should not come down to government alone. Acceptance of responsibility is important for individual problem gamblers. Gambling causes financial cost and loss of employment, and sometimes it turns a person towards crime. It can even cost a person their family. These are the costs that await problem gamblers. Gambling is a national problem that affects families. Money is being made and government revenue is being generated, but it is the families of problem gamblers who are without doubt the big losers. They are suffering because their family members are gambling. The gambler should firstly look in a mirror and confront their own responsibilities, but governments should not make it so easy for these people to be parted from their money either.