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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13547

Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (20:40): I rise tonight to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012. Can I say that, from the outset, the coalition acknowledges that gambling is a major problem for some Australians, and that is why we on this side of the House support measures that will effectively tackle problem gambling and help to address and prevent gambling addiction. But any response to gambling problems must recognise that many Australians gamble responsibly. Indeed, the majority of Australians who have a gamble—whether they gamble on the poker machines or go to a casino or a club or have a wager at the races—gamble responsibly. In addition to that, many Australians also rely on the sector for their jobs.

Let me make it entirely clear that the coalition supports voluntary precommitment, as do all the states in Australia. Labor's approach depends on who they have done a political deal with and, it seems like, on the day of the week. The government's proposed legislative package has a sordid history. It had its origins in the political deal the Prime Minister did with the member for Denison to keep the keys to the Lodge; then there was the betrayal of the member for Denison and now the usual capitulation by the once-proud Labor Party to the Greens. We have seen it all before and, unfortunately for the Australian people, we are seeing it again tonight.

The coalition is deeply concerned about the lack of time the government has permitted for proper consultation and review of this legislation. We are concerned because we have seen before the damage that is caused by rushed legislation, the messes left in the wake of ramming bills through the parliament and the inevitable need to go back and fix the problems the government itself created.

Above all else, we add our voice to the calls of many others that legislation of such alleged significance for addressing gambling problems in our communities deserves much greater scrutiny and community consultation. That is why we believe that a more thorough inquiry should have been undertaken, and that is why we have tried in the other place, in the Senate, to have this bill referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration.

The reality is that despite all of the complexity, and despite the clear fact that the states and territories will be compelled to play a key role in this new duplication of regulation, the government has steamrolled ahead with no consultation with the other sectors of government. Of even more concern is the fact that the government has wilfully ignored all the warnings from the agencies and organisations who are the experts in this area.

As to the industry itself, the thousands of business owners and clubs involved in the hospitality sector have not only been ignored; they have been entirely locked out. There can be no clearer example of just what lengths this government will go to in order to cling to political survival and their Green lifeline.

These bills would see a further extension of Commonwealth influence over state and territory jurisdictions. Gambling within Australia, for the past century, has always constitutionally been within state responsibilities. We truly believe that merely creating regulatory duplication and legislating in an area that falls within state responsibilities will do nothing to help problem gamblers.

The government has also sought to gloss over what will be a significant impost on clubs and pubs throughout Australia—that is, the cost of the implementation of this legislation. For the smaller venues in rural and regional Australia—areas the Labor government would know nothing about, given that they do not seem to represent any of them—these new laws will have a direct impact on financial viability and, in turn, on employment in many parts of Australia. Manufacturers and operators of machines have also warned of the dangers of widespread noncompliance and about the fact that the government's own time frames are quite simply unachievable.

To give an example of this, we have had promises and indications that there would be a trial in the ACT. From the very outset, the trial in the ACT has been problematic. Why? First of all, it was because the clubs in the ACT had not signed up to the trial. They had not signed up to the trial because the government had not come to the party in terms of actually providing the detail about what that trial would involve.

Mr Pyne interjecting

Mr ANDREWS: In addition to that—and I appreciate the member for Hindmarsh—

Mr Pyne: Member for Sturt!

Mr ANDREWS: Sorry, the member for Sturt. I appreciate his rapt attention to my remarks tonight. Regarding the trial in the ACT, if I can come back to the subject, the ACT industry has been warning for months that this was simply unachievable in the time frame that was being proposed by the government. Not only had the compensation arrangements not been determined by the government, the scope of the trial in terms of whether or not clubs just over the border from the ACT—in Queanbeyan—were going to be involved in the trial or not had not been determined. None of that had been determined, yet the government was blithely pushing ahead with the view that this trial could occur in the time frame proposed.

Yet the industry, the people who were the manufacturers and the people who were responsible for modifying the gambling machines in order for a trial to take place, had been saying to us from at least February of this year that the time frame was totally unrealistic and totally unachievable. This is a government that said, 'We are going to do this.' But in fact the reality is that the implementation was certainly unachievable. That has been the so-called mandatory precommitment trial in the ACT. It has been a case of wishful thinking at best on the part of the government and something that has simply been unable to be delivered.

Over the past year, I have travelled around Australia; I have visited some of the many thousands of clubs around our great nation. I have visited clubs that form local hubs and community hubs and that are run for the benefit of the community. Whether they are a sporting club, a local community club or a surf lifesaving club, they fund important programs, important activities, local sports and youth events. They fund community initiatives and they provide critical philanthropic support to causes that we know all too well.

So my message to the Labor Party is to stop fighting the ideological battles of the Greens and to stop attacking the grassroots organisations that actually do good in our community. Where are these organisations? Many of these organisations and clubs can be found in the western suburbs of Sydney, traditional areas of Labor support. They can be found on the North Coast, the mid-coast and the South Coast of New South Wales, which are traditional areas of Labor support. They can be found in the outer suburban areas and the regional areas of Queensland, which are traditional areas of Labor support. Yet this is a party so driven by the Greens that they are implementing legislation that the Greens want, rather than respecting the wishes, the desires and the contributions of their local communities that have traditionally been supporters of the Labor Party throughout Australia.

Labor's obsession with mandatory precommitment means that, if given the opportunity, they could flick the switch and turn it on when this bill is meant to be about voluntary precommitment. You have to ask the question: why is the Commonwealth parliament introducing a bill for voluntary precommitment in the states and territories of Australia? A number of questions come to mind. Firstly, isn't this an area of state and territory regulation? Don't the states and the territories license clubs and poker machines in Australia? Does the Constitution provide, in section 51, for the Commonwealth regulation of this area? The answer is a resounding no. If there is any area that is clearly a state and territory responsibility it is this. So why is the Commonwealth interfering in this area?

But, then, you should ask the question every time, 'Is legislation necessary?' The states and the territories are all moving towards implementing schemes of voluntary precommitment. The industry itself is committed to voluntary precommitment. The very object of this bill, the very purpose of this legislation—namely, to introduce voluntary precommitment—is already the subject of the proposals and the movement in the states, the territories and the industry itself. So why do we need the Commonwealth, in an area which is not its legislative responsibility and is not its constitutional domain, to move into voluntary precommitment when the states, the territories and industry are doing it? It is a good question.

If legislation is being proposed, there should be this threshold test: why do we need this legislation? I can understand the argument from a Commonwealth perspective that we should introduce legislation if the states are failing to do it, but this is not the case. The states are doing it and the industry is doing it. So why do we need this? The answer is quite obvious: this is a political deal with the Greens in order to continue to prop up a minority government that has always relied, from day one, on a number of members sitting over there on the crossbench. It relied on Andrew Wilkie, the member for Denison, who did a deal with this government, with the Prime Minister who stands at this dispatch box every day, in order to prop up her place in the Lodge after the last election. As soon as she thought she did not need Andrew Wilkie, the member for Denison, to prop up that arrangement she cut him loose. I have to say to the member for Denison: where is the honour? Where is the purpose in what you are supporting here when she cut you loose, and now what are you doing? Scrambling to make a position that even the Prime Minister herself does not believe.

The reality is that tackling gambling requires a measured response that does not just look at poker machines, like this legislation, but tackles the underlying problem of gambling addiction throughout this nation. Fundamentally, problem gambling can only be tackled by providing problem gamblers with counselling and support services. The coalition is committed to addressing problem gambling, but Labor seems to be obsessed with fighting ideological battles on behalf of the Greens, who continue to prop them up in government. Duplicating regulation and legislating within state and territory responsibilities does nothing to help problem gamblers, and that is why the coalition will oppose this bill.