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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9560


Mr IRONS (8:22 PM) —I would like to thank the member for Wakefield for bringing this motion before the House and giving members the opportunity to reflect on gambling within our communities. The topic is of particular interest to my electorate of Swan, which contains the Burswood casino, one of the largest casinos and gambling centres in WA. I also have in my electorate two horseracing tracks, Belmont Park and Ascot, and the Cannington Greyhounds. I guess you could call it the gambling electorate of Western Australia.

I will try to bring a Western Australian perspective to today’s debate—obviously, following up on the member for Cowan’s contribution. Statistics show that Western Australia has the lowest gambling rate in Australia. In 2006-07 the average Australian adult spend $1,131 on gambling. However, in Western Australia the average per adult expenditure on gambling was $630, by far the lowest in all states and territories. In terms of gambling turnover, Western Australians contributed just 2.9 per cent of all gambling turnover across Australia. With just 10 per cent of the population, that is a remarkable figure. The 10 per cent figure also reminds me of the remarkable figure of the enormous amounts of exports from our great state—close to 40 per cent of all Australian exports. And at times Western Australia is considered a cowboy state, although we do have a really low gambling rate!

Gaming policy has traditionally been a responsibility of the states, and part of the reason for our low gambling rates has been WA’s long-term gambling licensing legislation. WA has placed restrictions on gaming ever since 1892, when the Western Australian Police Act made gambling illegal. Many Western Australians will remember the illegal gambling places in Northbridge that went under the policy radar until about the mid-eighties. Very few obeyed the laws and, over time, legislation was introduced to carefully manage gambling and ensure that the proceeds benefited the community. For example, the 1932 Lotteries Control Act led to permits for lotteries and in 1972 the Lotteries Commission granted bingo permits for religious or charitable organisations. Perhaps crucially, though, a report of the Royal Commission into gambling in 1974 strongly recommended against the introduction of poker machines. Successive governments have maintained this policy.

This was a contentious decision and in the ensuing years many argued passionately for and against the ban. Luckily, those against have prevailed. However, introduction of the Casino (Burswood Island Agreement) Act in 1995 represented a compromise. WA legalised slot machines in only one place—Burswood. As a result of the semi-ban Western Australia today has just 523 pokies, compared with 45,000 in Queensland. Members will be well aware of the evidence linking pokies and problem gamblers, and I think it is fair to draw a correlation between the two. I support a continuation of the pokies ban in WA, even though the WA government is foregoing tax revenues in excess of $300 million by maintaining the ban.

We have to strike a balance between defending individual rights to gamble and protecting individuals and communities from the problems that gambling causes. I think in WA we have got that balance right, but we can do better. Having said this, there remain serious examples of problem gambling in WA, and I am aware of people in my electorate who have suffered. I have two family members who have fallen victim to gambling addictions in Victoria.

The member for Wakefield has gone into the problems associated with gambling in detail, and I do not need to repeat them here. He addressed these issues with a compassion which I applaud. The Productivity Commission estimate that problem gamblers lose around $3.5 billion annually, or an average of $12,000 each, and that there are around 1,600 gambling related divorces annually and between 35 and 60 suicides.

In WA I know the state government runs free counselling services to help address this problem. As members of parliament, we must continue to support these programs. At the same time, it is important to continue to ensure WA’s tradition of investing gambling proceeds back into communities. Burswood Casino does contribute to worthwhile community projects. I recognise its contribution to St Vincent de Paul’s winter appeal and its $500,000 contribution towards the Victorian bushfire victims, helping these families and communities rebuild their lives. A levy on the pokies has led to $15 million of much needed investment in the Swan River.

In conclusion, the Western Australian experience shows that electronic gambling machines can be used in a way that recognises community needs and benefits local communities. If we contain the use of the machines, the temptation is reduced for problem gamblers and the machines are less accessible than those that exist in sporting clubs or other venues on the east coast. At the end of the day, I understand personal responsibility but the primary issue here is to minimise the gambling environment, support those who have fallen under its spell and help them recover from the damage gambling addictions cause to families in our communities. At a federal level, we also have a responsibility to oversee this industry. I acknowledge the good work done by previous parliaments, particularly in passing the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001. (Time expired)