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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 265


Mr WILKIE (Denison) (13:17): I also see merit in the government's bill and I will support it. I think the government is to be applauded, at least as far as this bill goes, for finally moving on the reform of online gambling and, with this bill in particular, for starting to address the problems caused by offshore online gambling sites.

We have already heard from a number of speakers about a number of the issues that are relevant to this debate and to this bill—for example, the prevalence of offshore sites, measured in the thousands, and the way they offer games or forms of gambling which are illegal in Australia. In other words, they are not allowed to be offered by Australian gambling service providers. We have heard about the way these offshore sites rig games or make it difficult or impossible for people to collect their winnings and so on. It is beyond time for this reform. I applaud the government for moving with this particular reform.

There is, however, one significant deficiency in the bill and it is a deficiency which I understand the member for Mayo will seek to address—I will have my own amendment as well that seeks to address it—and that is the way this bill would, in fact, allow the liberalisation of in-venue in-play gambling, because of the way it would allow venues like casinos and TABs to depart from the current practice of hardwired kiosks and start to offer wireless technologies within those venues.

My concern here is that it would be the start of a very slippery slope. If people could, for example, go into a casino and pick up an iPad or some other mobile device, or perhaps download an app to put on their own mobile device, it would be a slippery slope. Before we know it people would be saying, 'If we can do that inside the casino or the TAB, why can't we do it at the front door when we go outside for a cigarette?' And if we can do it outside the front door of the casino or the TAB or whatever, why don't we just let people engage in in-play sports betting from home?

My concern here is the way the bill, by being silent on the definition of what sort of devices can in future be allowed for in-play betting while in venue—by failing to define the type of technology that will continue to be allowed for in-play betting—it effectively puts in place a foundation stone for the liberalisation of that sort of gambling. I will be moving am amendment, in the third reading, seeking to bring clarity to what sort of technology would be allowed within venues.

There is also the much bigger issue. I have to give credit again to the government and to the minister, Minister Tudge. He has foreshadowed there will be another government bill, I assume this year, which will seek to put in place some protection for gamblers, and that is good. But we are always talking about that next bill. I think it is a missed opportunity today that today we are not debating a more comprehensive bill and one that addresses a number of other very important issues.

I was listening to the member for Lyons talking about the problem with gambling advertising, and he is quite right. In fact, if you were to go out into the community and ask people, 'What is the single most annoying and problematic aspect about online gambling?' I think the majority would say, 'It's the advertising.' So, while there is merit in all these other reforms and protections, we are ignoring the biggest single problem. The member for Lyons is quite right: there is an abundance of research showing that children are being bombarded with gambling advertising and it is affecting their behaviour. That, quite simply, is because gambling advertising is actually forbidden in all and any G-rated television times, but there is an exemption for sporting events. Why on earth do we allow an exemption during that time of the day when in fact many, if not most, children are watching the telly? I do not think they are watching the telly; they are enthralled by a game of sport and are watching their sporting heroes. So when they are at their most vulnerable government regulation allows gambling advertising to occur. I lament the fact that we are missing this opportunity in this place this week to address that issue. I applaud the opposition for moving their own amendment, which I will support, seeking at least to start to address the issue of gambling advertising.

There are also a number of other issues, some of which I understand the member for Mayo is tackling. Again, they are a missed opportunity that we could be addressing today. For example, the way that some Australian service providers do have somewhat effective self-exclusion arrangements is good and commendable, but the problem is that if someone who has an app for one gambling house and has excluded themselves is desperate for a punt they can swipe to another app and start gambling with another service provider. What is needed, and what I am told by the industry is technically achievable, is a national self-exclusion database for online gambling—in other words, for all gambling service providers effectively to be talking to each other electronically. So when someone reaches a self-imposed limit with one service provider or if someone has excluded themselves from one service provider that information would be shared in real time with other service providers so people could be confident that the limits they had placed on themselves would in fact be in place with all Australian online gambling companies. I think that would be a really effective harm minimisation measure. Yes, there will be another bill which will look at protection of gamblers, but we have to stop talking about this. We could have done it all in one go at this point in time.

Another issue which I am very mindful of and which the government—or, I think, the opposition either—have not shown any interest in is a genuine crackdown on the provision of credit for gambling, in particular the provision of credit for online gambling. Yes, we are talking about service providers not being allowed to offer credit, but of course people are gambling using their credit card. In other words, just about every person who is engaged in online gambling is enjoying the use of credit. I will not mention any particular service provider, but what is the point of saying to a service provider: 'You can't offer a couple of hundred dollars or $500 or $1,000 of credit,' but we will allow the gambler to use their credit card, perhaps with a $50,000 line of credit? I am quite influenced in what I am saying here by people who work in the financial services and banking industries, who tell me that it is actually technically quite achievable and that, in fact, there is already at least one Australian bank that prohibits the use of their credit cards for online gambling. So it would be possible. It would be quite easily achieved to insist that in future people could only use some sort of debit facility when engaging in online gambling. They are things for the future and things for us to keep focusing on and to look for areas of reform.

What the interactive gambling act completely ignores, what this debate today completely ignores, what all of our applauding each other for making some reform possible ignores—what it all ignores—is the other half of the problem. Yes, online gambling is a big industry. It is growing rapidly and it is reasonable to assume that with that growth will come an increasing number of gambling addicts. But what about the other half of the equation? What about the 200,000 poker machines in this country, on which some 100,000 or so Australian gambling addicts are losing each year $4,000 million or $5,000 million? We know that over $10 billion is lost on the pokies each year, and that 40 per cent of that is lost by gambling addicts. So we know that $4 billion or $5 billion a year is being lost by people who cannot afford to lose it. Yet the government remains completely unwilling to introduce further reform in that area. The opposition is silent on the matter. I lament the fact that although the Gillard federal government did introduce some modest poker machine reform the Abbott government overturned those reforms and in fact overturned them with the support of the Labor Party in the Senate.

It is more than a shame—it is a tragedy, actually—that the current Prime Minister before he became Prime Minister put on the record his concern about poker machine gambling addiction. He said things suggesting that he would be a reformist should he ever have the opportunity in the future. But like any number of other things—like marriage equality, climate change—here is a case where the Prime Minister has let us down terribly. We had a wonderful opportunity in this parliament with an apparently reformist minded Prime Minister to finally do something about poker machine gambling addiction. Imagine if this parliament, the 45th Parliament, was the parliament that not only introduced effective reform of online gambling but was also the parliament that finally introduced effective reform on poker machines and introduced effective harm minimisation measures for people who gamble on poker machines. Unfortunately, I do not hold out any hope that this parliament will be the parliament to move on poker machines. That is a shame.

I am pleased to say, though, that some in the industry are trying. I was delighted to see that Wesfarmers and Coles is hoping to introduce $1 maximum bets on the 3,000 or so machines that it owns and operates through its string of hotels. I was appalled that they could not find a single Australian poker machine manufacturer who will retrofit or manufacture new machines for the implementation of that policy. What does that say about the industry? So when it comes to pokies, not only does the Liberal Party not care and not only does the Labor Party not care, but the industry does not care. All the while, there are some hundred thousand or so Australians out there who are suffering at the hands of gambling addiction from poker machines. They are mums and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, work colleagues, friends, people who often lose their job or their house, people who cannot afford to buy their kids breakfast. We need to keep moving on that.

I will end my speech now, because I can see we are almost out of time, even though I am a couple of minutes short of my allocated time. I will support the bill. I will also support the amendments of the Labor Party and of the member for Mayo.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): Order! I thank the member for his contribution. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.