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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13680


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (11:34): I rise to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012, the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 1) and the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 2). Here we go again—another flawed piece of ill-considered legislation rushed through the parliament without due consultation. It is typical of what we have seen from this government, because this legislation will cause harm while failing to address the mischief it is meant to tackle. This legislation will not do anything to help problem gamblers, but it will add an estimated billion dollars of unnecessary cost to the gaming industry. And where will this money, this billion dollars in extra costs, come from? It will come from local charities and from the pockets of local sporting groups and community organisations.

It is interesting to go through the genesis of the main bill. In order to form government, as we all know, after conning the Australian public on the eve of the last election with that infamous promise, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' this Prime Minister entered into negotiations with the member for Denison—and I acknowledge his presence in the chamber today as well as his concern about helping people who are addicted to gambling.

The result of those negotiations was this written agreement I am holding up, between our Prime Minister and the member for Denison, which is about as solemn and formal a document as you can get in our parliament. It is not surprising that the member for Denison sought to get this in writing, given the Prime Minister's track record on the broken 'no carbon tax' promise.

I have the agreement here. In clause 7, from 7.1 to 7.8, the details are set out of the promises made by the member for Denison and the Prime Minister. At the bottom, it says, 'Signed this day, the second of September 2010,' and then there is the signature of 'the Hon. Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister'. We all know how meaningless this signature is: it is just as meaningless as the Prime Minister's statement that there would be no carbon tax under a government she leads. It is simply worthless, as the good member for Denison was later to find out. Just as the Australian people were completely betrayed by PM over the carbon tax, being punished with the world's largest carbon tax, the PM also betrayed the member for Denison over this written agreement.

I will quote a statement made by the member for Denison on the ABC news on 22 January 2012. Referring to the government's plan—this legislation—the member for Denison said:

It is so different that today I have withdrawn my support from the Gillard government. … The Prime Minister made a deal with me, she signed it, and I think Australians expect her—even if they disagree with the content of that deal—to honour that deal.

Frankly, a deal is a deal. I think that our democracy is too precious to be trashed with broken promises and backroom deals.

Senator Xenophon also made some comments on this in an article published in the Sun Herald on 23 January 2012. In that article, he said:

By betraying Andrew Wilkie, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has shown a written, signed agreement with her is as worthless as her word. Don't be fooled by her pathetic claims that she is adopting any real reform. Her plan is a smokescreen that relies on a future government in 2016 to implement any precommitment. (I think we can safely assume that won't be a government Julia Gillard leads.)

Labor has been so obsessed with internal party politics that it forgot about the people it was meant to be protecting. It is a sad but all too familiar pattern of mendacious conduct by this Prime Minister and this government, which will do anything to cling to power.

Moving on to the details of this bill, firstly this bill will require new electronic gaming machines manufactured or imported from the end of next year to be capable of supporting precommitment. Further, all gambling machines will be part of a state-wide precommitment and will be required to display electronic warnings by 2016, with a slightly longer implementation timeline for small venues only. There will be a $250-a-day ATM withdrawal limit for gaming venues other than casinos, which are exempt. It will also create a new government bureaucracy—something that this government is highly skilled at—a federal gaming regulator. This bill also provides that that regulator may charge fees for services and establish two new levies to support measures in this package. Effectively, this legislation is an opportunity for the government to create a new tax on our gaming industry.

Then there is the complete nonsense of the ACT trial. Why have a trial if you have already legislated that gaming machines must have certain new technology? It is like a factory starting production of a good before they have even built or tested a prototype. With this bill, the trial becomes a complete nonsense. And it is absolutely pointless to have a trial here in the ACT when someone can simply jump in their car, drive across the border in 10 to 15 minutes to Queanbeyan, where the trial will not apply; where the precommitment will not apply. The trial in the ACT is a complete and utter nonsense.

The other problem with this is the unrealistic time frame that this bill imposes. That runs completely contrary to the expert advice from the Productivity Commission, which stated:

Realistically, most State and Territory governments could not quickly implement a genuinely binding pre-commitment system. Full-scale implementation and advanced interfaces with the gambler would also require all machines to have card readers (or other player identification devices) and software upgrades—a costly measure if required to be done quickly.

The time line that this bill imposes is a reckless rejection of the advice of the Productivity Commission.

Furthermore, the government is ignoring the technical evidence received by suppliers of gaming technology such as the Gaming Technologies Association, which suggested that the timelines for implementation could not be achieved, not least because the term 'precommitment' is not even clearly defined. It is important to note that the Gaming Technologies Association, which is the sole body with expertise in this area, categorically stated that the implementation timelines cannot be met. In a letter dated 22 November—only last week—from the Gaming Technologies Association addressed to Minister Jenny Macklin, they said:

GTA has repeatedly put on the public record the processes necessary to make changes of such significance at a national level. Once the Regulations, definitions, functional specifications and technical standards are in place, then GTA's members will require at least 12 months development time for changes at the machine level …

The 12 months development time above does not take into account the time needed for changes to the plethora of state-wide monitoring systems, casino management systems and venue loyalty systems. In addition, it does not take into account the complexity and potential delays which might arise at the State and Territory regulatory level …

And it goes on. GTA called on the government to amend the bill. This government simply cannot ignore this evidence. With this government ignoring important evidence from technical experts, is it any wonder that it is known for its reverse Midas touch, where everything it touches completely turns to mush?

This bad policy will cost the clubs billions of dollars to implement. Rather than them updating their gambling machines every 10 years or so, this legislation will force them to upgrade all their machines in just a few years time. And of course this has a cost. Who is going to pay for it? It will simply come from the pockets of local sporting groups and local charities.

This year, Club Central Menai, which is located in my electorate of Hughes, gave a donation of $400,000 to the Sylvanvale Foundation and a further donation of $1 million to Calvary Health Care—a total of $1.4 million to provide respite care for children with disabilities. Donations of this kind are at risk because clubs will be forced to divert money that they are giving for this type donation to upgrade their machines to something that is completely useless.

Then there is the list of other, smaller grants going to so many local sporting groups in my area, which will all be at risk because of this ill-considered generation. I will go through some of the groups whose donations and money that ClubGRANTS distributes is at risk. Sporting groups such as the Barden Ridgebacks Football Club, the Barden Ridgebacks Netball Club, the Bangor Barden Ridge Comets Cricket Club, the Bangor Football Club, the Menai District Junior Rugby League, the Menai Dragons Basketball Club, the Menai Hawks Football Club, the Menai Illawong Physical Culture Club, the Menai Swim Club, the Menai Volleyball Association, St Patricks Soccer Club, the Comets Baseball Club, Illawong Softball Club et cetera. Then there are the community groups and charities that are at risk of losing their donation because of this legislation. They include—and this is just from Club Central Menai in my electorate: Autism Spectrum Australia, Alzheimer's Australia, Australian Red Cross, Cure For Life Foundation, Enough is Enough Anti Violence Movement, the Lions Club of Menai, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Starlight Children's Foundation, the Children's Hospital at Westmead, the Wesley Mission, the Salvation Army, the Prostate Cancer Institute, the Rotary Club of Engadine, the Rotary Club of Menai—the list goes on. All of these organisations will be at risk because the clubs will be forced to divert money that goes to these associations to bring in this new technology that is being rushed through.

What is it for? To bring in mandatory precommitment—an idea for which there is no evidence that it even works. The reason this will not work is that a player can set any limit that they want. Someone who is a problem gambler can set a $1,000 or $2,000 limit—any limit they want, well above what they can afford to spend. If someone feels they cannot control the urge to put an unlimited amount of money down the throat of a poker machine, the solution is simple—they take a limited amount of cash with them to their club or their pub and they leave their cash card at home.

This does nothing for internet gambling. Today you can sit in the comfort of your home and you can play on the internet exactly what looks and feels like a poker machine. In fact, here it is, Mr Deputy Speaker Murphy—I have logged straight on to the internet. You can sit there and press the button and you can play a gambling machine that looks exactly like a poker machine from the comfort of your home. Of course, when you do that there are none of the counselling services available that our clubs and pubs provide. No tax is paid to the Australian government. There is no support service. The money simply goes straight overseas.

We have seen this failed idea happen in exactly the same way with the alcopops tax. We saw where the government thought, 'We normally have a problem here with people drinking pre-mixed spirits, so we will increase the tax on alcopops.' But what happened? Consumers simply moved and bought a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of Coke and they mixed it themselves. The risk is of the same thing happening here, where people will move to online gambling.

I believe that there is a better way. I genuinely admit that there is a major problem with gambling for some Australians, but we must also acknowledge that many Australians do love a punt, because ultimately gambling is a form of entertainment. The best way to tackle this is with informational remedies. A person playing a poker machine today has no idea what the rate of return is that they are playing. They can be playing two identical machines, side by side, which can be set at different rates of return without the player knowing. If we bring in these informational remedies they will cost an absolute fraction of what these costs are; it has been shown that the best way to cure addictions is through informational remedies and counselling. That is a better way. We bring these informational remedies in, we bring in price mechanisms into the club, and that would be a better way to tackle problem gambling. Time expired.