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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 254

Ms HENDERSON (Corangamite) (12:27): It is my great pleasure to rise and speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. I want to commend those opposite who have joined with the government in supporting this very important bill before the House today.

On 7 September 2015, the government commissioned a review to examine the impacts of illegal offshore wagering in Australia. The bill implements key parts of the government response to the review. It was led by the Honourable Barry O'Farrell. I have to say that he has done a superb job. I commend Barry O'Farrell for the very comprehensive work he has done in this space. While we have bipartisanship on this particular bill before the parliament, it should be noted that we did not see this sort of action from members opposite when they were last in power. As with many other issues, we are very proud to lead the way on this important social reform.

On 28 April 2016, the government released its response to the review and agreed to 18 of the 19 recommendations, including measures to clarify the legality of services and strengthen the enforcement provisions under the Interactive Gambling Act. In responding to the review, the Australian government said it would do four things: crack down on illegal offshore gambling providers, which, as we know, is becoming more and more an issue with their insidious activities which are largely unregulated; clarify the law by prohibiting click-to-call in-play wagering services to respect the original intent of the Interactive Gambling Act; not expand the online betting market in Australia by legalising in-play betting; and establish a strong national consumer protection framework. The bill is the first stage of implementing the government's response to the review, addressing the first two parts that I mentioned. Part 3 does not require any further action, of course. Very proudly, we have announced that a national consumer protection framework was agreed to by state and territory gambling ministers on 20 November last year, led by the Minister for Human Services.

Looking at some of the headlines from my local papers—this is from The Geelong Advertiser on 1 August 2016—you can see that $2.2 billion was gambled in Geelong. Pokies take $50 billion in Victoria, and my wonderful region—the City of Greater Geelong—was fourth on the list of municipalities, losing the most behind Monash, Brimbank and Greater Dandenong. This is a considerable issue in my electorate of Corangamite where, even in Colac, poker machine losses have swollen to $7.7 million in the last year. We understand and we know that gambling is an addiction which affects so many families. Gambling is a social curse for many families where it runs rampant and causes enormous issues with family breakdown and with financial hardship. We have all heard so many stories about families losing their homes, losing their livelihoods, getting caught up in illegal activity trying to repay their gambling debts and, of course, causing enormous damage to the family unit.

While online wagering is only a small part of the overall gambling market, it is Australia's fastest-growing segment. The review found that the number of active online wagering accounts in Australia has grown four-fold from 200,000 to 800,000 during the period 2004 to 2014; many people have more than one account. Legal online wagering is growing due to increases in mobile devices and changes in consumer behaviour, and we heard from the previous speaker the concern about television advertising, which I do think is a legitimate point. With mobile devices in our lap while watching TV and the prevalence of more and more television advertising, it is all too easy for a person to click or to push on a particular app and to make a decision that may end in trauma or absolute hardship for them and for their family.

The market is highly competitive. It largely consists of internationally-owned companies licensed and operating in Australia. The review found that estimated gambling expenditure by Australians on illegal offshore sites is between $64 million and $400 million per annum. Today I am very proud that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill will crack down on illegal offshore gambling. It will amend the Interactive Gambling Act to introduce a range of measures, including amending the law to make it clear that it is illegal for overseas gambling companies to offer gambling products to Australians unless the person or company holds a licence under the law of an Australian state or territory. It empowers the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, with new civil penalties, complementing the existing criminal penalties powers held by the Australian Federal Police, and it allows ACMA to be responsible for the entire complaint-handling process from receipt through to enforcement.

It introduces other disruption measures to curb illegal offshore gambling activity, such as placing company directors or principals of offending gambling companies on the movement alert list so that any travel to Australia can be disrupted. It empowers ACMA to notify international regulators of operators providing illegal or unlicensed interactive gambling services. It creates a register of eligible regulated interactive gambling services in order to raise awareness among Australian customers of interactive gambling services that should be avoided, as evidenced by their non-inclusion on the register. Currently the Interactive Gambling Act prohibits online in-play betting on a sporting event, such as Aussie Rules—and let's not forget to mention the wonderful Geelong footy team—football, rugby league, cricket or tennis, but it allows in-play betting wholly by way of voice calls made using a standard telephone service. Some gambling providers have contravened the original intention of the act by using click-to-call technology, allowing individuals to place in-play bets by selecting their bet online either through an app or the website and confirming the bet by placing a call through to the gambling provider.

The bill before the House today clarifies the law by prohibiting click-to-call in-play betting services, to respect the original intent of the Interactive Gambling Act. The government does not intend to further expand the online betting market in Australia by legalising online in-play betting. As I mentioned at the beginning of my contribution, we are also moving very, very strongly towards putting stronger consumer protections in place. This is not dealt with in relation to this bill, but it is a key element of the government's response. I do commend the Minister for Human Services, Minister Tudge, for his work in leading the way to make sure that consumers of gambling products are properly protected—that gambling providers are put on notice to ensure they are giving the appropriate warnings. We know how much of an issue this is for our children.

Following on from the bill, the government's next step is to implement the recommendations in the review to work with the states and territories to establish a strong national consumer protection framework, which was reached in principle on 25 November 2016. This is yet another example of how the Turnbull government is supporting families. The reaction to the bill has been extremely positive. As I have mentioned, we have seen very strong bipartisanship across the chamber today on this important measure, but it is disappointing that it took a Liberal-National government to implement these important reforms. In so many respects we have seen in this parliament that we are fixing up Labor's mess, and it is regrettable that this has not been dealt with earlier. But let's not dwell on Labor's failures in this respect; let's be positive and reflect on the fact that we are seeing strong bipartisanship.

We take our responsibilities in this space very, very seriously. Our work on e-safety for children on the internet is incredibly important. Our eSafety commissioner commenced on 1 July 2015. We have a very effective complaints system backed by legislation to get harmful material targeted at Australian children down as fast as possible from large social media sites.

Again, when it comes to the safety of our children—who, more and more at a younger and younger age, are using the internet, going on websites, accessing apps through their phones, their tablets—we take it extremely seriously. They are more and more vulnerable to being exploited online, and we are very proud of the work that we have done in relation to the work of the eSafety Commissioner and the legislation that surrounds that.

It is well known that the Interactive Gambling Act to date has been a key reason why many illegal offshore operators have been providing services into Australia. This bill sends a clear message to overseas operators and to regulators that Australia is serious about compliance with its online gambling laws. It is serious about ensuring that we will not let international companies come into Australia and to exploit children and families illegally and, as you can see, from the breadth of this bill and what is encompassed in it, there are many ways in which we are tackling the seriousness with which we take these particular amendments.

Australia has, unfortunately, been a grey market when it comes to gambling laws. A number of major offshore gambling operators have made the most of this but, when I reflect on the sorts of amendments that we are putting to the House today, such a putting some of these directors of companies on the movement alert list, they now know that they are not able to come into this country when they are operating illegally. So we are now seeing a number of major offshore gambling operators who have indicated that they will cease their services. Some have stopped already providing those services and some will withdraw their services once this bill has passed the House.

I urge members on the other side to, obviously, move as quickly as possible to pass this bill in the House of Representatives and then of course in the Senate so we can get on with providing good government and ensuring that, when it comes to it, families and children are properly protected and that the laws in our great country are complied with. I commend this bill to the House.