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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 315

Mr DICK (Oxley) (16:32): I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. This is an important issue for many of us in the parliament, particularly those who have worked closely with community outreach groups who are dealing with the addiction of gambling. I pay tribute to many of the frontline workers, who do an outstanding job day and night dealing with this insidious problem in our community. Every year, two in every three adult Australians will place a bet in one form or another. I am one of them and I enjoy the occasional bet on the Melbourne Cup. It might be that you are interested in scratching numbers at a newsagency or taking office sweeps, but it also might be acknowledging the fact that in Australia as Australians we spent nearly $2 billion in 2013 and $2.2 billion in 2014, and, of more concern, these figures included illegal offshore interactive gambling, with up to 20 per cent of expenditure going to offshore providers. That is just over $1,200 per adult. What is concerning most about that statistic is that the amount of money we spend on gambling is rising year on year even as the number of people who gamble is falling at the same time. So it is not that more people are gambling; it is that fewer people are gambling much, much more. It is concerning because the average hides the actual reality for many people who are caught in a hole they cannot gamble their way out of.

We have always agreed and Labor has always agreed the gambling industry has a place in Australian society. I know that in my own community we have fantastic community clubs, RSLs and hubs. In particular, I work closely with the Goodna RSL and Inala Blue Fin Fishing Club, one of the largest fishing clubs in Australia—incidentally, it is nowhere near water, but there is another story to that that I will tell another time. Both of these clubs are great social areas where people come, join and share fellowship, and the other great thing about these service organisations and service clubs is that they provide a lot of community benefit. They provide support through grants through community organisations. I pay tribute to the volunteers and the workers in those organisations.

But we should not be so naive as to pretend that gambling is like any other industry. It is an industry predicated on risk and reward. It is risky to gamble. It is risky because you do not often get that $5, $10 or $100 back. It is risky because it is pretty easy to try. And it is risky because there is nothing harder to chase than a loss. But, so long as participants are mindful of the risk and the reward and can balance those two interests against each other, there is no reason why gambling cannot remain an ongoing part of the Aussie way of life.

The problem for many Australians is that the ability to strike that balance may have gone and an addiction is inherently irrational. It is why it is not enough to tell smokers that maybe they should not smoke because of cancer, because you know it is hurting them or you know it is hurting their close family and friends. You know all of this but you do not want to stop and you cannot stop.

I do not believe that the government should be in the business of telling people how they can and cannot have fun, so before I get any lectures about the nanny state I want to be very clear that I do not want to see fun becoming an addition that you cannot break free from. That is when we need to think in this place about how we can help We must act to minimise the potential for harm for this vulnerable group of Australians.

The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 amends the Interactive Gambling Act and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act. The purpose of the act is to protect Australians against illegal online gambling services and it regulates against the provision and advertising of prohibited interactive gambling services to persons in Australia. The second act this amendment seeks to amend is to empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority to better serve as the Interactive Gambling Act's enforcement mechanism.

These amendments, I acknowledge, have been a long time coming. We on this side of the House are acutely aware of the shortcomings of the Interactive Gambling Act in its current form. I acknowledge the shadow minister, the member for Franklin, the work that she has done in this space and her contribution—and those of all other speakers—earlier today. That is why Labor conducted a review of this legislation when we were last in government. The final report, which I was able to have a look at, was damning in its assessment. To speak plainly, the Interactive Gambling Act is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is not fulfilling its role of keeping Australians protected from the risks of illegal online gambling services. As a result, I know that both sides of this House find themselves in agreement on this issue, and I believe that we do so because this bill goes some way to dealing with this issue. That is why it has bipartisan support.

Critically, as we have heard in the debate earlier today, this bill will prohibit 'click to call' in-play betting services. As we are aware, these services allowed consumers to place high volumes of bets in a short space of time. There is no cooling off period and no opportunity to pause and consider risk and reward, yet they were available through a loophole in the act. The fact that these in-play betting services can remain available, despite their clear capacity to present a risk to problem gamblers and despite its inconsistency with the aim and purpose of the Interactive Gambling Act, presents a clear regulatory issue that we in this place must confront.

Also important to this amendment are its measures to increase enforcement of Australian law and to tackle online illegal gambling. It will do so by clarifying the laws around online gambling. It will strengthen a number of enforcement measures around noncompliance and will better serve to regulate what for too long has been an under-regulated sector of a highly regulated industry. As the O'Farrell Review has demonstrated, there have been no prosecutions under the IGA since it was introduced in 2001—not a single prosecution, not because there have been no complaints but because the act is no longer fit for purpose.

However, while this bill demonstrates some way forward, it does not tackle the issue of gambling advertising, especially during live games. I acknowledge this issue was not included in the terms of reference of the O'Farrell review commissioned by the government, and I want to quote from the report:

While not referred to in the Terms of Reference … Advertising, while providing operators with the opportunity to inform potential customers about their services, has also been identified as a potential driver of at-risk gambling behaviour. In addition, there is concern that advertising risks normalising gambling within sport, particularly amongst children.

The report noted further:

A broad range of industry and non-industry stakeholders indicated that the existing levels of advertising are excessive and often viewed by children.

Therefore I will be supporting the amendment, and I want to thank the member for Franklin for moving it. On this side of the House, we believe that the government must work with the broadcast television industry and national sporting organisations. We know that there has to be a transition plan. We know that it has to be done in a thoughtful and constructive way to phase out commercials that encourage betting or gambling during live sports programs, with a view to their eventual prohibition.

Back in 2013, the Australian Psychological Society's submission to the review by the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform noted that viewers watching a live sport game were exposed to an average of 341 minutes of gambling advertising. The Sunday Age reported last month that during the tennis William Hill had 114 advertising spots in New South Wales, 77 in Victoria and 90 in my home state of Queensland. Also, research by Associate Professor Samantha Thomas found that up to 75 per cent of kids in research conducted thought gambling was normal or just a part of sport. ACMA's community research paper entitled Betting odds and advertising for betting agencies during sports broadcasts, published in 2013, indicates:

Two-thirds … of respondents reported that presentation of betting odds during live sport broadcasts was unacceptable.

Up to 80 per cent of respondents support restrictions on gambling advertising during live sporting broadcasts, the strongest respondent groups being parents with children.

I am not certainly not arguing for a blanket ban on all gambling advertising. The approach we want to see is holistic reform, and I hope that the government will show leadership on this issue. This will build, open and extend some of the safeguards introduced into broadcast industry codes of practice by the former Labor government. I support the view that broadcasting of live sport and gambling should be separate. The rules need to go further for this bill to represent a genuine and holistic approach to reform in this space.

Labor supports this bill because Labor believes that, for the gambling industry to survive in a modern Australia, we need to modernise the way it is regulated. We know that we are a country of early adopters, of technological first movers. We are innovative and we are at the cutting edge of a whole range of technological advances, and I believe our regulations need to be the same. Right now, offshore gambling operators are illegal in name only, and it is about time this changed. We have protections in place that offshore operators simply do not honour, because to them harm minimisation is an optional extra. I know from talking to a number of parents in my own community that they are lovers of sport but are sick and tired of watching sport and seeing advertising, time and time again, that says, 'Make sure you gamble; make sure you have a bet.' It is becoming the norm. As I said in my earlier remarks, I have no problems with people having a bet. I have no problems with people coming together, sharing a beer and perhaps having a laugh and placing a bet together. But we need to ensure that kids are protected. We need to make sure that the excesses that we have seen in some areas do not continue.

I am really pleased that this bill has been put forward and I am particularly pleased that the shadow minister, the member for Franklin, has moved this amendment. I wholeheartedly support it. We want to make sure, and I certainly want to make sure, that the gambling industry's long-term plan is sustainable, but also that we have a long-term plan to end problem gambling in Australia. I support this amendment and I look forward to further reforms in this area.