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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13705


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (13:30): I rise to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and related bills. These bills seek to introduce a range of new measures for gaming machines. This involves requiring a raft of new technology for gaming machines. Precommitment technology, the ability to set loss limits, new on-screen warnings, and ATM withdrawal limits, are all part of these changes. The new electronic features will be required on all new machines from the end of 2013 and on all gaming machines by 2016, with a longer time frame for smaller venues. Two Productivity Commission inquiries will also be undertaken, one in relation to a trial of mandatory precommitment systems and another into the progress being made by premises and manufacturers towards compliance with the new systems.

Additionally, a new bureaucracy—hello? Another level of red tape?—a gambling regulator, will be required to provide for the monitoring of compliance with the new regulations that are set out in the legislation. This will include administering the civil penalty orders, infringement notices, injunctions, enforceable undertakings and compliance notices that have been outlined—as well as, most probably, a lot of visits to popular spots for on-site inspections, probably with free meals! Finally, the bills allow for the new regulator to charge fees for its services and establish two levies to support the new procedures. This achieves the one-two punch that this Labor government loves—red tape and taxes—that is already hurting small businesses in Townsville and all over the country.

Let me say from the outset: I cannot stand the pokies. I cannot see the sense in them. They tell you, when you enter the place, that you cannot win. There used to be some science, when you could use your own technique on the arm that you had to pull—the 'pull, pull back, knock down again' was always a favourite—but now, to me, just sitting and pushing a button on these things makes watching paint dry exciting.

I recognise the impact that problem gambling has on individuals and families. I understand addiction and what is required to break addiction. But, if you want to do something about problem gambling, you cannot just take one form of gambling and load that up with regulation and red tape and pat yourself on the back and say, 'Job well done.' This legislation is a mirror image of the alcopops legislation, which was supposed to cure binge drinking. Remember that? They put a tax on it and walked away saying, 'Job done.' The kids now buy 1,125-millilitre bottles of straight spirit and mix them themselves, so the standard drink measure is completely out the window—'Job done. Nothing to see here, people. Move on.'

If you want to see desperate gamblers, go to a newsagency on a Saturday morning, Lotto day, or stand out the front and watch the people as they line up for Oz Lotto when it hits $100 million. As a mate of mine said, 'Oz Lotto is God's way of proving that humans do not understand statistics.' Up until then, I knew Lotto was on Thursday and Saturday; I never knew there was a draw halfway through the week as well. If you want to see desperate gamblers, go to a newsagency on Lotto day.

Online betting businesses are forking out millions of dollars for prime time advertising, and the line between sports shows and betting promotion is getting more and more blurred—but fixing pokies is apparently the solution to all these things! That my 10-year old son can ask if $13 on Matty Bowen being the first try scorer is a good deal, but we are only interested in talking about the pokies, shows the narrow-mindedness of this debate. Any attempt to tackle problem gambling needs not just to look at poker machines but to look at the underlying problem of gambling addiction. That is what the coalition believes.

We do support improvements to the way we address problem gambling. But we cannot support gambling reform that sidelines the state and territory governments, the governments that are actually responsible for governance of the gaming industry. We want to see support services and counselling for gamblers become better resourced and more widespread. We do see a need for voluntary precommitment to help fight this problem. But it should be one part of a bigger approach that tackles every layer of the issue. We should also acknowledge that the pubs and clubs are already doing their bit to curb this blight on our society. We want a response to gambling to be the result of detailed consideration, not just a handshake deal between a single member of parliament and a Prime Minister desperate to hold onto her job.

There can be no doubt that this legislation is being swept through as fast as possible, regardless of the consequences, regardless of the cost. When I talk about consequences, I am talking about the jobs of people employed in our pubs and clubs—apprentice chefs, bar men and women who are working their way through uni, and mums returning to work slowly while the kids are at school. These will be the consequences of this legislation if we keep letting this bad government continue to load up our hospitality sector with additional charges and levies and taxes. Part of that includes swift arbitrary and uniform time frames and conditions that have been placed on state and territory governments. The Productivity Commission has already pointed out that this is completely at odds with reality.

The technology required for a precommitment regime is costly—it involves card readers and software upgrades on all gaming machines, paid for by the businesses and venues. It is simply not realistic to force smaller venues to invest in major changes on the same time frame as big city casinos. It is inevitable that meeting the requirements in the designated time period will not be possible for a lot of small businesses, so they will be forced to risk noncompliance or shut that part of their business down and maybe go out of business entirely. The result is an ineffective policy, all because we have a government that would not take the time to work with stakeholders to do the job properly.

In Townsville I have been hosting a series of red-tape forums. The purpose of these is to find out from small business owners and managers where bureaucracy is costing them too much money and time, often with no apparent reasoning behind it. The Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, has already said we want to remove red tape from business, but the people in Townsville are telling me that we cannot just remove red tape; we must remove red tape with a view to improving productivity. There is no point just removing rules and regulations if it does not have the consequence of making it easier to do work or to get more work out of the place. The first forum was for the hospitality industry, and a few of the attendees owned businesses that have poker machines. Apart from the multitude of red tape already surrounding the pokies, a common thread throughout the discussion of operating a business in this industry was the overlap of layers of government. This comes in alcohol, transport, and health and safety regulations. Across the spectrum, managers have to meet a multitude of expectations and requirements from every level of government.

Here we see it yet again: more forms for small-business owners to spend time filling out and more taxes and fees for them to pay. State governments are responsible for the pokies, yet in waltzes the federal Labor government just to appease the member for Denison. For two years of a Labor majority government while Senator Xenophon was in the Senate, pokies reform was a state issue. It certainly was not a big enough issue for Labor to take a gambling policy to the election. But now we find ourselves in a hung parliament, and suddenly it is a major issue.

As the member for Moncrieff so succinctly put it in his contribution, where will this end? When I was first elected, I met with the member for Denison and Senator Xenophon to get their perspective on this matter. I asked them about other forms of gambling and why they limited their action to poker machines. The member for Denison told me, and I will never forget this moment, 'You have to start somewhere.' So, if you like a punt or you like a game of cards, they are coming for you. This is only the start for them and their nanny state.

I take great issue with the ALP on this. When this was first raised, out trotted members of the ALP to forums where they told nearly identical stories of people crying in their offices about their losses and addiction to poker machines. It was a national imperative. Mind you, had anyone raised it with them in the lead-up to the last election, they would have received a short, sharp response: 'That is a state matter.' As soon as Harry Jenkins was knifed as Speaker, it was no longer a national imperative. We needed a more considered response.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): The member must use correct titles when addressing the parliament.

Mr EWEN JONES: Now that they need the vote of the member for Denison once more, they trot out some wishy-washy legislation which will achieve nothing except that it will close down a couple of small clubs and pubs, lose a few jobs, but raise a fair bit of tax. 'Whatever it takes' is their mantra.

Every state government supports voluntary precommitment. They are already moving towards voluntary precommitment schemes, working with the industry to do so. It is simply a waste of time and money for a federal government to be pushing these changes when they are already being looked at by the governments that are actually responsible for them, let alone to be attempting these changes with as little consultation with those state and territory governments as this government has had.

To implement these changes with any level of success, the state and territory governments have to be on board. Instead, the critical input of these governments, along with that of the hospitality sector and other stakeholders, has been sidelined in the determination to race this through the parliament. The legislation was first introduced on 1 November, and suddenly it has to be passed before the end of the sitting year.

Mr Lyons interjecting

Mr EWEN JONES: We'll see you at your club, mate! We'll see you at your club! If this government is really serious and determined to do something about gambling, why not work with the states? That is what the COAG process is there for. We all know that this is about political outcomes, not responsible ones.

Townsville has 45 venues with gaming machines. These are mostly clubs and small-business pubs. They have not seen any evidence that a precommitment system will reduce problem gambling. We are still waiting for the trial of mandatory precommitment, yet here we are pushing bills that come with great expense to local businesses and clubs in a knee-jerk reaction to a hung parliament.

The impact of this legislation will also be felt more by the smaller venues. The cost of compliance with every level of government is killing the will of businesspeople to get up every day. At the recent red-tape forum I held for the hospitality industry, I asked them if they were having any fun in their business at all. That is why you go into business. They all just sighed and said that the fun was being sucked out by all levels of government and by the cost of compliance and regulation. Now we are going to make it harder for them in an area in which we have no real jurisdiction—or is it just this government trying to muscle in on state government revenues? The legislation calls for levies and compliance costs. It calls for funding for new bodies that it must have to run this show. Is it just another tax grab by a cash-strapped government?

These businesses contribute to the community. They have real estate. They take on apprentices. They employ permanent and casual staff. And they are already paying a massive tax bill through the pokies that is redistributed to give grants to local organisations. We owe it to these businesses to take the time to get this right. In Townsville there are three main licensed clubs. They are the Townsville RSL, the mighty North Queensland Cowboys club and the Brothers Leagues Club. They have nearly 100,000 members, and I am proudly a member of each. The clubs and casino give back to the community over $3 million annually to projects which would never be funded otherwise. They take pride in their community because they are their community. They are my community.

I would like to share a story about the Townsville community transport, TOTTS. They had 39 volunteer drivers. The drivers are not required to have a first-aid certificate, but they wanted to make sure that all their drivers had a first-aid certificate. The cost was $120 each. I approached my licensed venues: the RSL, the Brothers Leagues Club and the Cowboys Leagues Club. To a person, they just said, 'We'll pay for it, and every time they get a new driver we'll put them through.' I said, 'Thank you very much for this.' They said: 'Don't thank me. This is what we're here for. This is what licensed clubs are for. This is the perfect example of why we have licensed clubs, of what we do in our community.' That cost is borne by those clubs because that is part of their community.

This is bad legislation. It will not help a single addicted gambler. It will not help licensed clubs provide for their members. I will not support this legislation, which specifically attacks major private sector employers and trainers in my electorate. Let me be as clear and unambiguous as I can. This legislation is not about problem gambling. This legislation is all about politics and staying in power.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate will be resumed at a later hour.