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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13693


Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (12:33): It is a privilege to follow the member for Scullin in this debate. He is a decent man who gave what I consider to be a passionate speech. However, in this place, while we sometimes make speeches which are based in our hearts, we also give speeches which are based in our heads. I stand here as somebody who is concerned about problem gambling. I do not like the prevalence of pokies in our clubs, in our pubs and in our casinos—and I never will.

The Productivity Commission has found that 600,000 Australians play the pokies on a weekly basis and that 15 per cent of these Australians—some 90,000—are problem gamblers. These figures are too high. Also, there are 200,000 electronic gaming machines across the country, which is a significant number.

In this place we need to advocate for good policy which is efficient and effective and which produces good outcomes, not policy which merely makes us feel good or which we make on the basis of political weakness or some grand political bargain. I have no doubt that the member for Denison passionately believes in his cause. Senator Xenophon in the Senate, along with the member for Denison—and many others like them—are only pursuing the eradication of problem gambling, which they consider to be a vital issue.

I am asked to speak and to vote on the legislation before this House, and it is not good legislation. In fact, it is rushed legislation. It might surprise people listening to his broadcast to know that only one week was allowed for consultation on this bill—only one week was allotted to the presentation of submissions on it. There needs to be a proper inquiry.

We need to allow the states, whose powers are to be usurped by this bill, the opportunity to properly consider its implications. That is what COAG is about—it is a body that brings the Commonwealth and the states and territories together to consider legislation such as this. It does not surprise me that Senator Xenophon, who is so passionate about the issue of problem gambling, said that he is voting against this bill.

We need to trace the origins of the legislation before us. It all started after the election, on 21 August 2010, when the now Prime Minister of this country did not have the numbers on the floor of this House to form a government. So what did she do? She reached out to the Independents to get their vote, and the member for Denison responded in kind. He put in requests for hundreds of millions of dollars of government money—of taxpayers' money—for his electorate. And he struck a deal—what he considered to be a deal—with the Prime Minister, in which he was promised her government's commitment to mandatory precommitment. It is there in paragraph 7.5 of a document agreed to by the Prime Minister of Australia—an agreement which says that this government will commit to implementing in full a mandatory precommitment policy. And then, after no consideration and no consultation, it was presented to the Australian people as a fait accompli.

I am a member of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform that was asked to look at this mandatory precommitment idea. And so we did. We heard from expert witnesses like Professor Alexander Blaszczynski, Director of the University of Sydney's Gambling Treatment Clinic and Research Unit, who warned that the 'unintended consequence of introducing precommitment devices is the development of a black market in player cards, whereby player cards can be sold or hired to players who have exceeded their personal limits'. Another submission highlighted, 'Nova Scotia in Canada discovered that 37 per cent of players shared their player pre-commitment cards for periods up to one week.'

So there we have it: the Prime Minister of Australia agreeing in writing to a mandatory precommitment scheme in order to win the vote of the member for Denison—a scheme which has been criticised and critiqued by leading professors. It would only be with an Orwellian Big Brother biometric identifier that we would be able to put in place some effective precommitment system. Despite all these legitimate concerns by experts in the field, the Prime Minister proceeded with this mandatory precommitment idea.

Then things started to get rough—the waters started to get rough. The political climate started to turn and the Prime Minister had members on her own side, like the member for Eden-Monaro, coming out and criticising this mandatory precommitment idea. The member for Eden-Monaro said that he had 97 clubs in his electorate—a bellwether seat for the Labor Party and for this parliament—and that we need a solution that will not 'kill' our clubs. Suddenly you had members from the other side, like deer or rabbits in the headlights, going out to public forums in their electorates where thousands of people expressed their concerns with these mandatory precommitment ideas. And so then we had the successor to the carbon tax backflip and the border protection backflip—the mandatory precommitment backflip. Our Prime Minister changed her tune. She suddenly went out and said:

The circumstances in this Parliament are clear … there is not the support in the House of Representatives for the Andrew Wilkie plan …

Hang on! You agreed to Andrew Wilkie's plan. You signed an agreement on Andrew Wilkie's plan—a contract with him. But when the political waters started to get rough, you backed out. Jenny Macklin, minister for families, said, 'We have to work with the parliament that we have'. Come on! You made a deal! You led the Australian people into believing the deal that you were going to deliver mandatory precommitment. Then Mr Wilkie, the member for Denison, came out and said:

… I regard the Prime Minister to be in breach of the written agreement she signed, leaving me no option but to honour my word and end my current relationship with her Government.

Therefore, Mr Wilkie is a man of his word, but the Prime Minister is not.

I am going to leave you with the daddy of them all—with what Senator Xenophon, a man who is passionate about this issue, said. He said:

… Julia Gillard has shown a written, signed agreement with her is as worthless as her word.

In fact, you have to wonder how the remaining independents can trust any assurances they receive from the Prime Minister.

Ms Gillard, it seems, reserves the right to back out of anything if it suits her immediate political interest.

Senator Xenophon continued:

Don't be fooled by her pathetic claims that she is adopting any real reform.

There we have it: the Prime Minister saying that suddenly the mood in the parliament has changed, and Andrew Wilkie backing out of that deal because the Prime Minister did so first. And there we have it: Senator Xenophon saying, 'Don't be fooled by her pathetic claims that she is adopting any real reform.'

No wonder the Prime Minister propped up the member for Fisher, the then Speaker, Peter Slipper. No wonder the Prime Minister propped up Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell. It was all about getting the numbers to roll Andrew Wilkie. That is what those opposite are about: political expediency. They do not care about problem gamblers.

We have before this House legislation which will do three things: it will require that new machines required or imported from the end of 2013 be capable of supporting precommitment; it will require that all gaming machines are part of a state-wide precommitment system and display electronic warnings by 2016, with longer implementation timelines for smaller venues; and it will require a $250-a-day ATM withdrawal limit for gaming venues other than casinos.

We have concerns with this legislation. As I said at the start, when we come into this parliament, our job is not to support feel-good policies; it is to support good policies—policies that produce real outcomes for the Australian people. What we have in this legislation before this House are bills that provide insufficient time for consultation or review. They will have an impact on employment in the hospitality sector, and that impact will be particularly acute in regional and rural areas. There is a lack of time for implementation of these new measures, and those measures will come with a major cost burden. There are going to have to be significant hardware and software upgrades. We heard concerns from constitutional experts that, while gambling should fall under the jurisdiction of the states, this legislation is firmly placing it under the jurisdiction of the federal parliament. We have yet to see a demonstration of direct causality between ATMs and problem gambling. The Gaming Technologies Association, the expert peak body for this industry, said categorically that the time lines in this bill cannot be met.

As I said at the start, I am concerned about problem gambling—90,000 problem gamblers, as reported by the Productivity Commission, is too many. We heard from people whose lives have been ruined by gambling. But we are asked to think about how we can best improve the lives of problem gamblers and the answer to that was never going to be the mandatory precommitment policy which was first agreed between the Prime Minister and the member for Denison. We heard expert testimony to that effect. It was never going to work. That does not, however, excuse the Prime Minister and the Labor government for ratting on that deal simply because it did not suit their political purposes.

We need more harm minimisation measures. I am all for that. In fact, one-on-one counselling for people in need is so important. But we also need to breed greater responsibility on a personal level in our community and we need to get help for those people who cannot help themselves. But the legislation before us is a top-down solution to a bottom-up problem. My fear is that, since we have seen so many backflips, about-turns and costly mistakes by this government, the Australian people no longer trust them to deliver good policy in the national interest. We do need to help problem gamblers. We need to find a better way. But that does not mean we support bad legislation.