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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13557


Mr CRAIG THOMSON ( Dobell ) ( 21:24 ): Madam Deputy Speaker O'Neill, you and I both come from a region where we have a lot of clubs that do a great deal for the community. In fact, there are about 300,000 people who live on the Central Coast and there are about 340,000 people who are members of clubs in the region. So, obviously, there are quite a few of us who are members of more than one club. That shows that on the Central Coast we have the highest per capita membership of clubs in Australia. Clubs are part of our community. They play a role in sport, in education and in helping out in the community, and they have done so for some time. Unfortunately, they also facilitate and, to a great extent, rely on gambling.

The difficult issue that we have before this parliament is how we deal with the people who find it difficult to deal with their addiction to gambling. Over the last couple of years, there has been a great deal of debate in this parliament about what is appropriate, how we should be dealing with it and what measures need to be adopted. In terms of the contributions so far, and I imagine as they continue, there is some right on both sides about this. I agree with some of the coalition members that this is an issue that should be correctly dealt with by state governments, and that is where this naturally falls. But that in itself does not mean that we should not do anything, and there are competing things that need to be done.

My personal view is that we need to be looking at what measures we can take so that clubs and hotels that rely on gambling for their revenue have the time and opportunity to change their business models. It is going to take some time for them to move away from that. Ideally, the best way to do that would be to start reducing the number of poker machines, which is something that is entirely within the purview of state governments. We do not have the power in this parliament to deal with those matters. So, we have to look at how we do deal with this issue and how we deal with people who have a gambling problem.

This legislation looks at voluntary precommitment by people who identify themselves as having a gambling problem. There are clearly some issues with that, and the most obvious one is—at what stage will someone decide that their problem is serious enough that they will put themselves forward and voluntarily admit that they have a gambling problem. The experience of the industry and people I know personally is that, unfortunately, usually by the time they are prepared to voluntarily say that they have a problem, they have already lost the house, they have already displayed the problems of gambling addition to their children, and there is not much left. It is usually when someone has reached rock bottom that they get to the stage of asking for help. We need to look at whether voluntary precommitment is an appropriate measure to deal with these issues.

I was talking to Paul Barnett last week. He is the CEO of the largest club on the Central Coast, the Mingara Recreation Club. They have some 45,000 members and look after over 200 sporting, health and education and welfare groups to whom they contribute over $2 million. While I was quick to praise the work that Mingara does in the community, I also pointed out to Paul that in 10 or 15 years time we cannot have this same conversation about his club doing good work but relying largely on gambling for money; something needs to be done. Mingara is one of those clubs that is prepared to do more than many other institutions that look at gambling. For example, they are already doing an intervention trial at the club with the Salvation Army who are there full-time. It is being monitored and they are seeing how the intervention works. They already have voluntary precommitment on their machines, so they have taken some steps. We then started to talk about some other clubs that have more difficulty, because this is always going to be an issue of weighing up the merits of the potential impact on the club by imposing a form of regulation, as opposed to doing nothing and the cost that that may have for the community. We were able to talk about the Norah Head Bowling Club, which is a small club in my electorate that is having trouble raising the money for resurfacing the bowling green. They have made an application to council for $100,000 which is the cost of that resurfacing. They have estimated that the precommitment technology will cost them five or six times that amount, and they are saying, 'We cannot afford to do our bowling green, which is what we are about; how are we going to be able to do that?' Those are legitimate issues that clubs should be, and are, raising. At the end of the day they have to be balanced against the alternative of, 'Is there a greater good in making sure that there is some intervention there?'

For those reasons I was looking at moving amendments in relation to the timing of these issues. I understand that the member for New England, who is in the chamber, is going to move such an amendment and it is an amendment that I would support in that it gives a little extra time to make sure that these clubs can balance their expenditure and the costs of bringing this in, and that they are prepared to do that. That is an amendment that I understand the member for New England will be moving and, if he does, it is one that I will support.

I also have some concerns in relation to the timelines for the changeover of the technology for the ATMs. I have seen the government's amendments in relation to that and they certainly meet the concerns I have. They are looking at a one-year period of that coming in as well.

Another concern that I was looking at moving an amendment to involved the cap on the supervisory levy. I am happy to see that the government will be moving amendments in relation to that as well. They are sensible amendments. It is important that the cap be part of the legislation and shown as that, rather than purely being left for the regulations. That is a good move and it is something that I will support.

These are difficult issues to balance. We all have stories and know about the dangers, the costs and the way in which gambling can rip families and communities apart. The choice that we have in this legislation, particularly in this parliament, is whether we are ever going to be able to get something through that does something to set us on a path for making sure that there is some assistance for this, or whether we are going to continue to argue, disagree, try to make this a political issue of pointscoring and make it an issue that is beyond resolution. I hold the view that we are better to get something, which is why the amendments that I have indicated that the member for New England is going to be putting and the government is going to be putting are amendments that I will be supporting. If I had been able to get support there were more amendments that I think should have been put but, quite simply, I cannot get that support from the crossbenchers or either of the major parties.

We are left with some legislation that is designed to help and assist people who have such a serious problem that governments should intervene to be part of that solution. At the end of having a long think about how and what I should do about this I decided that every member should say that the conclusion that they can reach is that we are better off doing a small amount of good, even if it is not ideal, than to leave this totally alone. I imagine that there are many members like my crossbench colleague in front of me, who would much prefer that a very different approach had been taken. I think we owe it to the Australian community to say that we are putting down a marker here. We are making some changes. They are important changes and they indicate that there is something that this parliament is prepared to do to assist problem gamblers.

For those reasons I will be supporting the amendments to be moved by the member for New England and the amendments that the government has. If I had been able to get more support there would be other amendments. In the absence of that, I will be supporting the legislation, hopefully, as amended by the very sensible amendments that have been put forward so far.

Debate adjourned.

Leave granted for second reading debate to resume at a later hour this period.