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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13763

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (17:18): I rise today to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012. The issue of problem gambling is one that I feel tremendously strongly about and know deserves the devotion of considerable time and thought by all who sit in this chamber. But it requires more than time and thought; it requires planning and a response that will bring about outcomes for those that need to have the cycle of addiction broken and for the families that are directly impacted by the behaviour of those that have an addiction to gambling. My own professional background as a social worker for some 25 years, prior to entering parliament, has given me firsthand experience of the terrible burden that gambling addiction places on both individuals and families. I have no doubts regarding the profound impact it has on many lives. The government, however, historically and according to the evidence before me in this bill, fail to understand or even stretch themselves to discover the highly complex nature of problem gambling. This fundamental inability to engage with the issue extends to an inability to understand the causes behind problem gambling and a determination to allocate blame unjustly to industry sectors that employ hundreds of thousands of Australians and provide critical support to thousands of community groups and organisations.

In August 2011, the shadow minister for families, housing and human services, Kevin Andrews, and I met with a large group of concerned local people in my electorate and held a consultative community forum. There was standing room only in the venue, and those who attended felt very passionately about gambling reform and the possible introduction of any measures aimed at the clubs industry. Together we explored the various perspectives found amongst members of the community, and, without much probing, a very clear consensus emerged. Everyone who attended agreed that gambling addiction was a terrible problem. As I have stated, this problem has significant implications for many, including people in the electorate of Macquarie, and as Australians it is our duty to do whatever we can to assist those who suffer from any form of addiction.

Having acknowledged this issue, however, it is also critical to appropriately direct active responsibility for practically addressing problem gambling. The clubs sector provides essential civic services and is often at the forefront of local and national efforts to address problem gambling. In the electorate of Macquarie, there are 21 clubs, which employ in excess of 500 people, providing revenue that is directly absorbed into local areas and charities and community initiatives, as well as invaluable support for many volunteer community organisations and sporting clubs. In 2010, these clubs donated more than $5 million to community groups and organisations, many of which would not have been able to engage in major activities or even exist without this support.

The Richmond Club, for example, sponsored the Hawkesbury Martial Arts club last year. Eight members of the martial arts squad were selected to represent Australia at the 2011 USA Karate Federation Junior Olympics. The team then went on to win 13 medals. A representative of the martial arts club told members of the community and me that without the assistance of the Richmond Club this would not have been possible.

This kind of support by community clubs is at risk with the introduction of this legislation. Given the strength of feeling expressed at this forum and the clear concern expressed by members of my local community, I had hoped that the government would take the significance with which Australians view any problem-gambling-related regulation of the clubs sector seriously and would subject any proposed legislation to exhaustive and careful review. At this point, it appears that we are stuck in a bit of a Groundhog Day situation, because once again I must rise to say that this government is attempting to push important legislation with significant implications for thousands of Australians through this House without appropriate review or consideration.

The coalition supports voluntary precommitment, as do all states in Australia. Given this, why is this government stepping over a fairly clear constitutional line, into a regulatory area that is a state and territory responsibility, to legislate on voluntary precommitment? States and the territories license clubs and poker machines. As the shadow minister for families, housing and human services has stated, the Constitution does not provide for Commonwealth regulation of this area. This is an area that is clearly a state and territory responsibility, yet this government has taken it upon itself to interfere and aggressively seek to legislate where it has no business to do so and, given the receptive attitude of the states to voluntary precommitment, no reason to do so.

The states and the territories are exploring the implementation of voluntary precommitment schemes. Indeed, the clubs industry is investing in voluntary precommitment. The entire focus and purpose of this legislation, the introduction of voluntary precommitment, is already the subject of proposals and movement in the states, the territories and the industry itself. Yet this government is attempting to insert the Commonwealth into an area which is not within its legislative remit or its area of function and responsibility, as set out in the Constitution of this nation, to replicate the exact measures already being undertaken by the appropriate levels of government and industry across Australia.

If the states and territories had refused to commit to or even explore voluntary precommitment, one could see the justification in the government taking this action and proposing the legislation we are now debating. However, given that the states and territories are doing this, why, one wonders, would the government take the course of action apparent in the pursuit of this bill? I concur with the member for Menzies that finding the answer to this question is not difficult. The bizarre pursuit of pointless legislation is intrinsically connected to the political deal struck with the Greens and the member for Denison, although at this stage I wonder whether the member for Denison has found that agreement as fulfilling as he had hoped.

In the electorate of Macquarie, there is a rehabilitation centre that works with young men aged from 18 to 35 to break the cycle of addictions. Many of them have addictions to gambling. The federal government has cut $400,000 from its funding. If the federal government were serious about breaking the cycle of addiction in individuals and families, that funding—funding that would focus on solutions and introducing and supporting programs that work to break the cycle of addiction, not just for individuals but for their families—would be restored rather than this legislation being introduced.

Based on my own professional experience, I can attest that the best ways to tackle problem gambling do not lie in targeting business or simply looking at poker machines and certainly do not lie in a bizarre replication of legislation already developing in appropriate channels and levels of government. Instead, real and effective solutions to problem gambling lie in recognizing the tremendously complex nature of addiction, realizing first that an individual's excessive indulgence in a pastime managed appropriately and responsibly by the vast majority of Australians is not solely linked to the ability of Australian adults to access this pastime. This recognition must also extend to an exploration of the connection between problem gambling and a large raft of many social and economic problems, including social isolation, depression, alcoholism and family breakdown.

The organisation I spoke of earlier that has seen its funding cut, ONE80TC, has an understanding of this. It has a program that provides people with a capacity not just to break the cycle but to develop new behaviour, new relationships and opportunities not only to reach their potential but to restore the family and the relationships that have been impacted by their negative behaviour.

Secondly, it must be realized that solutions to the very significant issue of problem gambling will only be effective if found across the community, within many organizations, as I have already mentioned, working with employers, health services, industry and the Australian public. Access to the services found at all levels of society that help Australians deal with the multitude of issues that contribute to the development of problem gambling is the only truly effective way of combating addiction. Effective prevention is key to the ongoing success and extent of any long-term solutions. For those who have already developed problems, counselling and rehabilitation programs and support services, in conjunction with voluntary precommitment, are the solutions.

The coalition is totally committed to addressing problem gambling, but the real commitment of this government to tackling addiction is debatable. Why have all its efforts not been poured into exploring effective whole-of-community solutions and programs that are already working and that would both prevent and treat addiction, but instead simply been directed to the lazy and somewhat bizarre replication of regulatory measures that are being developed elsewhere and at the appropriate levels of government?

Labor seem to be obsessed with fighting ideological battles on behalf of the Greens, who continue to prop them up in government. This bill helps no-one, least of all the most vulnerable people who live with problem gambling through their own or a loved one's addiction. For this reason, the coalition opposes this bill.