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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13766


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (17:30): I rise to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and cognate bills. There are a few points that I would like to make. The first is that the coalition acknowledges that gambling is a major problem for some Australians and we do support measures that will effectively tackle problem gambling and help address and prevent gambling addiction. We understand that it is a serious issue and we understand the damage that a gambling addiction can do. But we have to make sure that in addressing this problem we are doing so not for political expediency and not so that we can say we have done something but so that we address the very issue.

The first thing that we need to address is that problem gambling does not occur just with poker machines. It occurs in other areas as well. As a matter of fact, my own family has personal experience of a member of the broader family having a gambling problem. I have heard and seen firsthand the problems that can occur. Importantly, that was able to be addressed and the person involved has been able to deal with the problem that he had—but it was not a poker machine addiction. We need to understand that tackling problem gambling requires a proper, measured and focused response that does not look at just one form of gambling but tackles the underlying problem of gambling addiction.

Fundamentally, problem gambling can only be tackled by providing problem gamblers with counselling and support services, and that costs some money. That means that the government has to put some resources into trying to address the problem. The coalition will look at approaches that provide additional, better equipped and more effective counselling and support services for problem gambling, because we understand how important this is in addressing the issue. We also support, specifically when it comes to poker machines, voluntary precommitment programs. We would like to see this extended to all gaming venues. But decisions that have such significant implications should be the result of detailed and careful consideration and should not involve a quick deal between members in this place.

One of the curious things that I fail to understand in the rush to all of a sudden bring this legislation into this place and have it debated and voted on this week is that we were debating this issue a year ago. Yet, all of a sudden, everything went quiet. Nothing occurred in this space. As we approach next year, an election year, all of a sudden—bang!—legislation is produced and rushed through committee processes and will be rushed through the parliament this week. There has been no proper explanation as to why that should be happening—none whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I think it has left many members on this side confused as to the government's real reasons behind introducing this legislation and rushing it through this place. Has another deal been done? Has another handshake agreement been done? Will that be honoured or will it be walked away from in a short period of time? I suppose, as we hear from members in this place, we will find that out. But it does seem strange that we have a big debate around this issue, we hear nothing and then all of a sudden a bill is rushed into this place.

The coalition has six areas of concern with the legislation before us. The first goes to the fact that what we are seeing is over-reach by the Commonwealth into the states and territories. There has been no proper explanation given as to why this should occur. For instance, in my state of Victoria, we already have voluntary precommitment. So why is the government looking to extend its powers and over-reach into what is a clear policy delineation which says that these matters are matters for the states? That has not been fully explained. I can see no proper reason why the Commonwealth wants to extend its influence over the states and territories in this regard other than that it seems to be hell-bent on dictating policy from Canberra. When the government has done that, it has proved inadequate. Every time it has over-reached we have seen public policy failure after public policy failure. Yet here it is wanting to do it again.

There are fundamental reasons why we will see public policy failure as a result. The first is that industry have not been given time to effectively prepare for the government's decisions. We have seen the consequences when industry have not been given the proper time, have not been consulted and have not had discussions on what this government has in mind; it leads to widespread concerns within industry. It is not a satisfactory response, because this government, at least after five years in office, should know better and should understand that proper, functioning policy that works in the interests of all Australians requires proper process. It requires planning and it requires an understanding of what the implementation implications will be. Yet we are not seeing this with the government's approach to this bill, and that is a real shame, particularly when, for this bill to be meaningful, it is going to require the cooperation through COAG of the states and territories. Yet we have not seen the government use the COAG process properly to see this outcome occur. If we are to get proper voluntary precommitment established in all the states and territories then using a cooperative approach and having them on board I would have thought would have been a very good first step.

The second issue of concern with this legislation comes around the time frame for implementation and the costs of implementation. The bill seeks to propose uniform time lines and conditions on all states and territories. The evidence suggests the consequences of this arbitrary approach will be extensive compliance costs and administrative burdens, because one of the issues we have is that some states and territories are further ahead in implementing than others. Government has not taken this into consideration.

The government has relied on the Productivity Commission in saying that this is how it has framed its policy approach in this area, but in truth the Productivity Commission has stated that realistically most state and territory governments could not quickly implement a genuinely binding precommitment system. Full-scale implementation and advanced interfaces with the gambler would also require all machines to have card readers or other player identification devices and software upgrades—a costly measure if required to be done quickly. Yet that does not seem to have been taken on board, and that is an issue that I think the government is going to find will haunt it because I would imagine that industry, faced with these compliance and implementation costs, is going to have a few words to say to the government on this issue. The problem is that, down the track, that also might lead—and there is some evidence to suggest this—to the risk of non-compliance. So driving through this legislation could actually start driving non-compliance—and there is evidence along those lines from the Australian Hotels Association and Clubs Australia.

There are also issues concerning the use of ATMs and how the government is approaching this. The coalition realises that this is going to put significant costs on the industry, and we have supported industry calls for an extension of not less than 12 months to the lead time for the commencement date of the proposed daily ATM withdrawal limit. This has been a long-held view of the ATM Industry Reference Group—really since this debate began in 2007, when we saw, for the first time, the Commonwealth say, 'We are going to try and encroach on the states and territories in this area.'

The other issue that we have is that, once again, there will be a disproportionate negative impact on smaller venues, those in regional and rural areas and premises suffering economic stress. So we just see this as a carte blanche approach—an approach which just blankets everyone, and treats everyone the same. This is one of the reasons that legislating from Canberra into the realms of the states and territories is not a smart idea, because it leads to Canberra saying, 'One size fits all,' and yet we have seen that it does not.

You would think that this government would have learned its lesson about this through every one-size-fits-all approach that it has tried, especially when it has been encroaching on state powers. We saw this with the pink batts insulation scheme: the Commonwealth department of environment was never designed and put there to roll out a pink batts program. And what were the consequences? Deaths, fires, and a massive bill to the Australian taxpayer. And what did we see? A repair bill of $120 million for remedial work.

That is what happens when, from Canberra, the Commonwealth starts overreaching into areas that they just should not be in. This is one serious area of concern, and especially for regional and rural areas, because the cost-of-living pressures and cost-of-doing-business pressures that have increased under this government have put enormous pressure on communities and venues, and yet here they are, just carte blanche, putting another cost on them—and not with any proper consultation; just saying, 'You will wear this.' That is not the way that you implement good policy. That is not specifically targeting problem gamblers. That is just saying, 'This one-size-fits-all approach is the way we will go.' It is not going to prove to be effective.

So we have serious concerns and reservations on this bill, and in summing up I will just go through them. Firstly, it does not specifically target all problem gamblers; it targets problem gamblers in one area. Secondly, there is an extension of Commonwealth influence but this is a states and territories issue and you should work cooperatively with them and get them to implement the policies and to roll them out. Thirdly, there is a lack of time given to industry to deal with the consequences of this legislation, and there are costs to industry in dealing with this legislation which you are just telling them that they are going to have to wear. Fourthly, there is going to be a negative impact on employment. Fifthly, there is going to be hardship felt in rural and regional areas beyond what the Commonwealth has considered, which potentially could also lead to widespread non-compliance. Sixthly, there are concerns with the way that you are rushing in the implementation associated with the use of ATMs.