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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 262

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL (Lyons) (13:04): I have no interest in being a member of the 'fun police'. I believe responsible Australian adults have a right to spend their money as they see fit. But there is a reason why we as a society determine that we turn into adults at 18 years of age. We could argue all day about whether adulthood should start earlier—say, at 16—or revert to 21, but we had to draw a line somewhere, and that line right now is 18. It is at 18 that we as a society have determined that people are responsible enough to decide to consume alcohol and commence gambling. Both of them are potentially addictive behaviours. As a society we have determined that people younger than 18 are not deemed responsible enough to gamble. Gambling is an adult endeavour. It is not for children.

It is for this reason that Labor is speaking on the government's Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill. We believe children should be protected. We do not want them, from a young age, making an automatic association between gambling and sport. We are asking the government to work on a transition plan with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations to phase out gambling commercials during live sports programs, with a view to their eventual prohibition.

Those of us with young children know how much they enjoy looking at a screen, whether it is a TV, an iPad or a smartphone, and they suck in what they see like a thirsty man in a desert sucks water from a dirty puddle. Kids are impressionable, and, when they are bombarded with fast-moving graphics and high-volume sales pitches about betting, their young synapses fire up like it is New Year's Eve. When kids hear respected commentators spruiking odds, they listen. When kids see their sports idols advertising for betting companies, urging them to sign up now for the best odds, they get hooked.

The association between sports and betting gets hot-wired into kids' brains. Our kids are effectively trained by the time they are 18 to irrevocably link sports with gambling. They are never really given the chance to make their own decision as adults. They are preprogrammed. A study conducted by Deakin University and released earlier this year found that three-quarters of children can recall at least one sports betting brand. More than one-quarter can identify four or more without prompting. Young teenagers have told researchers disturbing things such as, 'The ads—they make you want to bet.' When young children can recite odds with more certainty than they can recite their times tables we know we have a problem. We need to give our kids a chance to enjoy sport for its own sake. When they are older and when they are adults they can make the decision to take a punt or not.

Labor is asking the government to respond to the legitimate concerns of many parents and families about the significant growth of gambling advertising during G-rated times and sporting events. The figures the gambling industry spends on promotion are staggering: $140 million a year. With that saturation level of advertising our kids do not stand a chance. We are asking the government to protect Australian children. It is time to show leadership. Despite the intervention of the Gillard Labor government in 2013 and the industry response to address public concern about gambling advertising in live sports broadcasting and the spruiking of live odds in particular, gambling ads continue to intrude on our television screens, commercialising our nation's love of sport. They continue to cause significant public concern. At present, gambling ads are permitted to be played during news, current affairs and live sporting events.

Labor is conscious of the need to balance these community concerns with the economic needs of broadcasters, particularly in these parlous days of fractured audiences and the inexorable rise of the internet as a competing broadcaster. We acknowledge the competitive pressures that the commercial free-to-air television industry faces, and we understand that betting and gambling advertising represent a significant revenue stream to industry. But we have been here before. Tobacco advertisers used to be major sponsors and advertisers on our television screens. They have long gone, and our codes and our national health are better for it. Change is possible, and should never be shirked when it is in the community interest. Labor acknowledges that blanket proposals to prohibit betting and gambling advertising overnight would not take account of commercial realities in terms of contracts already in place, nor take account of the co-regulatory system for broadcasting in Australia and the role of industry in addressing community standards. By no means is Labor proposing a blanket ban on gambling advertising. What we are proposing is a transitional approach in relation to advertising that affects children and that encompasses a sensible and responsible way forward.

Labor recognises that well-regulated gambling has a place in Australian society and Australian culture. Australians love a punt. We are amongst the biggest gamblers in the world. The 2015 Review of the impact of illegal offshore wagering report found that in 2014 each of us spent $1,245 a year—around $24 a week—on gambling. We are increasingly betting online. Active online betting accounts in Australia exploded in the 10 years between 2004 and 2014, growing from 200,000 to 800,000. In 2014 the total amount spent in Australia on all forms of interactive gambling was $2.4 billion. This includes both onshore and illegal offshore gambling activities.

There is no doubt that Labor has concerns about the growth of illegal online gambling. Many consumers have moved away from traditional gambling products to betting online using smartphones, tablets and other digital devices. The changes in technology and the way that people access it means Australians can access gambling via the internet whenever and wherever they want, including with illegal offshore operators. The ease of access is a headache for regulators and law enforcement agencies and it is a nightmare for those seeking to combat addictive behaviour. Offshore gambling operators are increasingly targeting Australians, and that is a problem. Offshore companies do not pay any tax, they do not cooperate with our law enforcement agencies, they do not pay fees to local sporting organisations and they have no obligation to consumer protection. When gambling dollars go overseas the positive dividends are lost to our community. It is hard enough for this government to winkle tax dollars from big businesses that operate openly in Australia without having to work out how to hunt down corporations operating illegally offshore.

There is also the risk to the integrity of Australian sport. Unlike licensed counterparts, illegal offshore operators do not share information with law enforcement agencies when it comes to suspicious betting activities. Nor are they required to share any of this information. We do not want to encourage a sports culture in this country of taking a dive or of fixing a race or a match. It will be crushing to not just the individuals and teams involved, but to our sense of self as a proud sporting nation. Where there is organised match fixing you will often find organised crime syndicates. We should do all we can to ensure our sports keep their integrity.

Then there are the serious social implications from illegal offshore gambling. Offshore gambling providers to do not have the same legal or moral obligations around consumer protection and harm minimisation that we impose on our local providers. We have an understanding in Australia that many dividends of domestic gambling are folded back into the community via sports and charities. We task our domestic providers with the requirement to be mindful of problem gambling and to be active participants in minimising social harm. I do not want to overstate the level of what I will loosely call problem gambling, but neither do I want to ignore it. In 2014 the Psychology of Addictive Behaviours journal estimated that 80 per cent of punters were at no risk, 12 per cent were at low risk and six per cent were at moderate risk. Less than one per cent of Australian gamblers are deemed to be problem gamblers, which equates to 0.6 per cent of the Australian adult population. It is not a high percentage, but it is still around 90,000 Australians. And of course, the impacts extend to their families, their workmates and their friends.

There is not enough evidence to suggest a causal link between an increase in problem gambling and online gambling. It could well be the case that online gambling does not create problem gamblers but, because of the ease with which online gambling sites can be accessed, at-risk gamblers are simply more susceptible to its temptations.

Labor does not propose we sit on our hands. It is time to show leadership. Labor believes it is time to act and prohibit these operators and stop the growth of illegal online gambling. Labor does agree that this bill picks up on some of our concerns around the growth of illegal online operators. It will also go some way to improving the protections for those who choose to wager within an online environment.

The majority of people who bet enjoy it and gamble in a responsible manner, whether they try their luck weekly with lotto as I do—I did not win last night, I am very sad to report—or whether they have an occasional flutter on Cup Day. However, Labor knows that gambling in our community can in some cases have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences. That is why we have maintained a strong stance to ensure appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place that protect and assist our community.

It is also why Labor commissioned the Productivity Commission report to update its previous report on gambling industries in Australia when we were last in office. We also rejected recommendations to water down Australia's online gaming laws until harm minimisation strategies were adopted.

Labor acknowledges the concerns that many people have around the growth of online betting. We share the concerns. Even though there is an act in place, it has not been an effective instrument that has stemmed the tide of online illegal gambling services.

Labor accepts that Australians love a punt. We have no interest in being the fun police for responsible Australian adults. But gambling is an adult endeavour, and we should do all we can as legislators to ensure that we allow children to grow up without believing there is an inextricable link between gambling and sport. We must do all we can to stamp out the insidious impacts of illegal online betting.