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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13690


Mr JENKINS (Scullin) (11:54): Emotions seem to have bubbled up in this debate. That is very interesting. Who has moral supremacy? Who is sanctimonious? It gets a bit rude when it is done in such an unctuous way. I have to return to my electorate where problem gambling is front and centre, and I have to be judged by my actions. Those opposite suddenly think that this is all about the parliament suddenly becoming anti an industry—clubs and hotels—and that we have painted them with devil tails and horns. I know that people I represent work in that industry, and I hold nothing against that industry. In fact, I am of an age to understand that that industry has been pretty flexible and has always been profitable. I suggest, Deputy Speaker, that you may also be of an age that understands that hotels were profitable before they were allowed to have poker machines.

I am not standing here asking that the poker machines be ripped out. I remember that, as a young exchange student in the US state of Maryland, I was taken to a dining institution because the crabs of Chesapeake Bay were supposed to be a great cultural experience for me. As I went into the great hall, where the crabs were piled up and you were given a bib and got the shells all over you, we passed through the gaming room. The old one-armed bandits were in the gaming room. But for every one-armed bandit there were two spots where there had been one-armed bandits. Now, without divulging my age at the time, this was the late sixties. So these debates have been going on for ages. With all due respect to the member for Denison, in this place the debates did not start when he arrived.

In its present iteration and in the previous contributions to this debate the Productivity Commission's inquiry was mentioned, but we must remember that that was the Labor government as formed in the last parliament which instituted that. Certainly, the member for Denison, as a great catalyst, focused more attention on what we could do to mitigate the issue of problem gambling, The one thing that the member for Denison said, which I agree with totally, was that no matter what we think of this piece of legislation, no matter if we think it is inadequate, it is the first time we have seen the intervention of the national parliament to address this problem.

To the member for Moncrieff: of course there is no silver bullet. There is no silver bullet for most problems we confront. But all we are saying is that this is an example of where we are willing to say, as a national government and as a national parliament, that (a) we think this is a problem and (b) we want to start on a journey to see if we can do something to lessen the effects of problem gambling, not only on the problem gamblers themselves but, even more importantly, on their families and the communities in which those people live.

The part where there is the flexibility, the part where we can be sure that things will survive, is the broader umbrella of the industry. But it is not the hotel and clubs industry that this is confronting. This is confronting poker machines. And why should we confront that? At least we do not have the nonsense so far in this debate that this is in some way nanny state legislation, because that was one of the things on which in my previous role in this place I decided I could not be silent on on a piece of public policy. There were two reasons for this. There was the argument that all of this was nanny state—that we were telling people what they could do with their own lives—and, secondly, that from a Commonwealth point of view it is best if we just encourage the communities themselves to make a solution.

Let's get this straight: this becomes a problem because the state, whether it is the Commonwealth government or state and territory governments, creates legal gambling—in this case, legal gambling through electronic machines. So it is the business of government to be concerned about what that initiative creates.

The second thing is the assumption that all is really happy out in the world because we have people who know of these problems and they are tapping people on the shoulder and saying, 'Do you realise what you are doing to yourself?' For a decade in the City of Whittlesea, one of the municipalities in my electorate, there has been a responsible gaming forum, underpinned by a document called the Responsible Gaming Strategy. This group had representatives from gaming venues throughout the municipality, from non-government organisations that dealt with the problems that arose out of people's misuse of machines and from the local government authority itself. In the early days it appeared that slowly but surely some things were occurring. But it did not last long. Sadly, in the last month we have seen the non-government organisations walk away from the group because they do not believe that the venue operators will sit down with them and tackle in an appropriate way the issues that need to be discussed.

It is not about trying to destroy something. It is about saying something. In the last contribution I heard talk of irresponsible gaming venues. I agree that there are probably very few of those, but what worries me is that even the most responsible of venues, working as they are under the regulations they have to work within and under the laws, cannot be standing alongside everybody as they interact with these machines. That is a nonsense.

We have to acknowledge that there is great evidence of the scourge of problem gambling, and it is something that happens at a cost not only to the individuals and their families but also at a cost to the community and to government, both of which have to pick up the pieces. Even if you take the most economic rationalist view to this, or if you are a bean counter in east block or west block or wherever Finance is, you have to start to realise that there is a public benefit to tackling this problem.

And then there are the doomsayers talking about the loss of jobs. Please step back and think about what you are saying. There is the argument about the machines. I must admit that it is a long time since I have been in a gaming venue. I was very worried when smoking was banned from venues, because that was one of the reasons that I never bothered with it—I could not put up with the smoke—and I was a bit worried that I would start to go back, but I have not. But every time you would go to one of them there would be some different animal, beast, sphinx or something that was supposed to attract you with the flashing colours and the music—the whole palaver. Some would say it is the entertainment value. So there is the issue of the flexibility of the way people produce machines and the turnover of machines that already occurs. We have not gone into the fact that there is a lot of tie-up between a very few because of control of the machines. If we had a true debate about the whole industry there are plenty of things we could do on behalf of those who actually operate the venues. Because of the way that any market works, there is not the degree of fair trade that we would like to see.

But I digress a little. The main reason I support this bill is that four hotels in my electorate are among the top 10 hotels for electronic gambling machine turnover in Victoria. When you look at the top venues, you find that their gambling machine turnover is—surprise, surprise!—statistically tied to the socioeconomic disadvantage of the community in which the venues are located. I find it a little bit galling that community damage from problem gambling is most likely to occur in communities that can least afford to be damaged. We should sit down and calmly look at damage to communities from problem gambling and decide whether we: (a) acknowledge the problem; and (b) are willing to do something about it.

There is unlikely to be a book about my time in this place even though people might be very interested in a chapter about the period from late 2011 to the end of my parliamentary career. If people say that this period might be relevant to why we are standing here today debating this bill, I say to them: the book is not going to be produced, so you will never know. Problem gambling is an issue on which it is appropriate for this place to have a view. We should not run around like Henny Penny and say, 'This is the end of clubs in New South Wales and Queensland.' Rather, we should calmly look at what we are going to do about problem gambling, which is acknowledged to be a scourge of individuals and families. Plenty of examples of this scourge have been given in the debate on this bill, and we all know somebody who has fallen foul of being able to get over the urge to see some sort of golden nirvana which they hope will come to them overnight by some great stroke of fortune. If that is entertainment, it is not in accord with any definition of the word I know.

A lot of things in this bill will enable us to test the effectiveness of various measures which people now contest, to see the degree to which various measures can be effective and to impose—without having to worry about the cooperation of venue operators—a limit on ATM withdrawals in venues. A limit to such withdrawals was simply requested, without any dialogue being entered into, at the City of Whittlesea responsible gambling forum, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back there. On balance, I would like to see more done than is envisaged in this bill; but, on the basis that the bill puts us as a federal parliament in the game and we can build on it, I am in full support of it. I, like the member for Denison, hope that we do not see too much tinkering along the way as we produce the final bill. (Time expired)