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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13683

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (11:50): This parliament presents an historic opportunity for poker machine reform, and it is vitally important that we seize this opportunity and that we put our support behind the government's package of reforms in the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012, the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 1) 2012 and National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 2) 2012 before us now. Yes, the reforms on the table now are much less than what might have been—much less than the one-dollar maximum bets recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2010 and which I tried to secure immediately following the election, also in 2010. Yes, they are much less than the rollout of mandatory precommitment also recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2010 in which the Prime Minister agreed to personally but then walked away from in January this year. Despite all that, I believe these bills have merit and are worth supporting. They are worth supporting not because voluntary precommitment is much use, but rather because the bills make explicit in section 33 of the principal bill that the precommitment to be rolled out must be capable of disallowing unregistered play. In other words, it must be capable of mandatory precommitment at the flick of a switch—as the expression goes. This is very important, because all it would take in the future is for a federal, state or territory government of good heart to flick that switch and in doing so finally provide one of the most effective harm-minimisation measures available.

These bills are also worth supporting because they will finally establish the precedent of federal intervention in poker machine regulation. That is important because all of the states and territories, with the exception of Western Australia, have shown that they simply cannot be trusted when it comes to regulating their poker machine industries, or when it comes to implementing meaningful reforms to protect gamblers from the scourge of problem gambling. It seems the rivers of fool's gold in poker machine taxation revenue are just too attractive for the states and territories, even though quality research out of Tasmania this year has shown that the cost to the community of problem gambling is as much as twice the tax collected.

I understand that the numbers are tight for these bills, in part because many of the members and parties in this place are every bit as conflicted as their state and territory colleagues. For instance, the opposition opposes the bills for political reasons, even though voluntary precommitment is in fact their policy. Any number of members throughout this place do not like these bills, and many members will indeed vote against them, because those members are effectively on the payroll of the pokies industry on account of the fat donations they have received already or have been promised. In my opinion, that is corruption—not, of course, in the criminal sense, but it is every bit as dodgy as bags full of cash changing hands in some corrupt developing country.

Of course, politicians on the take are just a part of this story, because the real villains are the greedy poker machine barons who lie and bully to get their way, determined to do almost whatever it takes to fleece the unfortunate and to protect their profits. Make no mistake: we are not talking here about harmless recreation or quaint little businesses. No, we are often talking about big business, as illustrated by the fact the Productivity Commission found that in 2008-09 some $11.9 billion was lost on the pokies in this country.

Mr Ciobo: A point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have reflected on the comments made by the member for Denison and I believe they are offensive to me. He is implying that I am involved in, to use his word, 'corruption'. I ask that he withdraw it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): The member for Denison?

Mr WILKIE: I have been very careful not to level that accusation at any member. I was very careful to say corruption not in the criminal sense but every bit as 'dodgy'—that was the word I carefully chose—as the way cash changes hands in a developing country.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member for Denison.

Mr WILKIE: So we are often talking about big business, as illustrated by the fact the Productivity Commission found that in 2008-09 some $11.9 billion was lost on the pokies in this country. How much of this was lost by problem gamblers, I ask? Some $5 billion. Yes, that is right—some $5,000 million was lost by problem gamblers in just one year. Yet the industry says that spending just a fraction of one year's loss, spread across a number of years, is unacceptable. That is unadulterated hogwash. What about the people involved, I ask the industry? What about the 95,000 Australians with a poker machine gambling problem? What about the five to 10 people affected by each one of those problem gamblers who push the number knocked around by poker machines into a million plus? What about the mums and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters? What about the bosses, colleagues and friends?

To the parties and members in this place who will oppose these bills, I ask: how on earth can you put money ahead of people? I also ask: what do you say to the constituent who has spent eight years in jail on account of poker machine related crime, or to the taxpayers who paid for it, or to the hospital patients who went without timely treatment because the money that might have gone into health care went into the prison service instead? Or will the pokies industry donation to your next election campaign make it all worthwhile? What do you say to the constituent who has been spending the housekeeping money on her pokies addiction and keeping it secret from her partner and who has now run up a $6,000 Aurora power bill and finally, after repeated warnings and four failed payment plans, had the power cut off? What will you say to the children if child protection takes them from their parents? Or, again, are you okay with all that because the pokies industry election donation will take the edge off your sadness?

To those who would vote against these bills, I also ask: what do you say to the constituent whose employee had been stealing from the till for so long that their business failed and they were bankrupted? How do you reckon they felt when they lost their house—or do you actually have no idea or interest, the more pressing issue for you being the concern that your local pokies venues learn quickly of your loyalty this week and donate handsomely to your re-election account?

Finally, what do you say to the man who emailed me last year to tell me about his brother, who lost the lot at Crown Casino, again, and who then went upstairs to his free room—supplied because he was a 'good customer'—only to kill himself because he could not handle the misery of his terrible pokies addiction any longer? Would you say it was his own fault for not being responsible for his actions? Perhaps you would look concerned, wring your hands theatrically and mutter something about Crown being a responsibly run venue employing a great many people. Maybe you are already a beneficiary of Crown's largesse, or maybe you are not and are hoping like hell the casino empire notices your loyalty this week. But just watch out, because you may well go to hell.

In any case, don't turn around and say the pokies industry is doing a better job than it is given credit for and that it is committed to reform, because frankly that would be crap. For a moment at least, spare a thought for the witness who appeared before the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform this year who recounted how she had frequented almost daily one of three pokies venues in South Australia during more than a decade of poker machine problem gambling and who was never once approached by a staff member about her gambling problem. In other words, all they ever cared about was her money—bastards. And, for the record, that was the New York Bar and Grill, the Flagstaff Hotel and the Tonsley Hotel.

These are venues run by the same sorts of characters who run Clubs New South Wales and Clubs Australia and who threatened to sue me last year and who are yet to withdraw that threat. I say to the poker machine industry: well may you continue to try and silence your opponents, but eventually the reformers will win. In fact, they are winning. Mark my words: those who fight for change will win and the pages of history will justly condemn those who have stood in their way.

Mind you, Deputy Speaker, there are already plenty of books full of stories about poker machines and the case against the current pokies industry—like the benchmark 2010 Productivity Commission report, which has been central to the political and public debate raging over poker machine reform these last two years. There are also the four reports which have now been brought down by the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform—and again I thank the committee secretariat and, in particular, Committee Secretary Lyn Beverley for their assistance progressing the issue of gambling reform in often controversial and difficult circumstances.

Notable also are the recent study out of Victoria which found problem gambling to be the second most prevalent cause of crime after drugs and the 2008 study commissioned by the Tasmanian government which found that employment in pubs actually fell after the introduction of poker machines, making a mockery of all the recent nonsense about poker machine reform being a job killer. Frankly, there are not many jobs in emptying machines of cash and turning the lights out for four hours or so a day, which is what is done in many pokies venues. Or maybe it is the unpleasant job of cleaning the carpet and stools of the urine left by the problem gamblers desperate to stay at their machines where all these jobs the industry keeps talking about are to be found.

I will not go on, because by now I reckon everyone knows where I land on the need for poker machine reform and the fact that I will support the government's bills. But I would add that I will not support any significant further watering down of the reforms, and in particular I will not support any attempt to remove the crucial section 33, where the requirement is detailed that the precommitment to be rolled out must be mandatory-ready. Those two paragraphs, just nine lines, are the heart of this reform and must be preserved.

It is obviously now up to the parliament to decide this matter. I can only hope there are enough men and women of genuine goodwill to see these bills proceed. If not, if these bills are voted down, then this parliament should stand condemned for failing the Australian community and failing it very badly. But I do not think that will happen. I think instead that, despite the shortcomings of these reforms, we are actually about to see a moment this parliament can be proud of.

In closing, I recognise the Reverend Tim Costello, who joined us here in the gallery for a short while, who leads the Churches Gambling Taskforce and has been a very strong voice for gambling reform. Thank you, Tim, for being here today and thank you for what you do to help some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the country.