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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13772


Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (17:59): Like the member for Mitchell, I have great concerns about the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and related bills. I will speak about the impact of this legislation on behalf of all the clubs across Macarthur and on behalf of the employees, club members, schools, sporting groups and charities they support. There are 17 local clubs in MacArthur, with more than 130,000 club members. Our local clubs support more than 750 employees, making them one of the biggest employers in the region, the south-west of Sydney.

Every year there are 4.4 million visitors to our local clubs. Many of these are families from my electorate—including my own family—who enjoy the friendly atmosphere, great entertainment and affordable meals offered by our local clubs. I personally believe that the Labor government's attack on our local clubs is an absolute disgrace. I am looking forward to hearing what Labor members from Western Sydney have to say about this legislation. It is un-Australian.

The reforms are going to cost our local clubs at least $24 million to set up and at least $30 million in lost revenue. If the government gets their way on mandatory precommitment, a number of clubs in Campbelltown will not survive the huge set-up costs and the lost revenue. Even if they survive, this is money which would otherwise have been invested into our local community in Macarthur. Clubs in Macarthur currently pledge large amounts of funding to local sporting groups, community organisations and schools in our region. They provide jobs for young people and scholarships for local university students. One club in my electorate provides more than $37,000 each month in food discounts for local families—people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. There are large tracts of public housing in my electorate. These people will be affected by these changes.

Our community receives millions of dollars from our local clubs. The Campbelltown Catholic Club has donated $1 million every year for the past five years to Catholic and public schools in Macarthur. In total, it has donated more than $20 million to local schools and charities since 1990. This includes more than $100,000 to Youth Solutions, more than $190,000 to Lifeline Macarthur, more than $250,000 to St Vincent de Paul, and the same to Youth Off The Streets. These organisations will suffer as a result of this legislation. They rely on these donations to stay alive. I will name just a few more. Mater Dei, a local school for children with disability, has received more than $650,000 from the Catholic Club. Our parishes and local charities have received more than $1.6 million and our Catholic schools more than $11.3 million from the Catholic Club—and that is just to name a few organisations that have received help from just one of the clubs in my electorate.

Wests Leagues Club, Leumeah, is also a big supporter of our local sporting groups, schools and charities. They spend more than $1 million each year on 22—yes, 22!—local sporting teams and the Wests Tigers. This includes $450,000 a year on subsidised registration for local teams, uniform subsidies, training and insurance—letting disadvantaged kids play the sport of their choice. The general manager of the club, Tony Mathew, has told me that a big concern is that they still have no detail about how the government's voluntary precommitment system will actually work. His club already has a precommitment system in place. So why should they have to pay again for an alternative system with new card readers and machines? We are talking about an enormous amount of investment, yet the club has been given no detail about how the system will work or what they will need to do.

Without a strong club movement, funding for our local community will be lost and local jobs will be lost—and for what? Local clubs in my electorate are already doing their bit to support problem gamblers through counselling and support services. Yes, gambling is a serious problem for some people, but the vast majority of people in Macarthur gamble responsibly. This attack on our clubs will not help the problem gamblers. Instead of putting restrictions on our right to have a punt, the government should be helping the problem gamblers by offering them real solutions, such as support programs and counselling. They should be increasing funding for these programs, as the Liberal government in New South Wales has done. But this government has a different idea and wants to rush through this legislation—legislation on which there has been very little consultation with the states or the industry.

The bills we are considering require that new machines manufactured or imported from the end of 2013 be capable of supporting precommitment. They also require that all gaming machines be part of a state-wide precommitment system and display electronic warnings by 2016, with longer implementation time lines for small venues. The legislation also imposes a $250-a-day ATM withdrawal limit for gaming venues other than casinos.

I find it interesting that casinos are not included in this ATM withdrawal limit. Could this have something to do with the effect this would have on tourism in the member for Denison's own patch? He has a casino in his electorate. Why are problem gamblers in casinos different from problem gamblers in pubs and hotels? This is legislation to suit one individual and it is still poor legislation. Why does the member want to apply this legislation to pubs and clubs but not to casinos in his own electorate? Does he think that problem gamblers do not go to casinos? What is the excuse? You can take $250 out of an ATM at a pub or a club, but you can take any amount out at a casino. What is the difference between a problem gambler at a casino and a problem gambler at a club or pub? This is just another example of the government developing policies to suit the crossbenchers and the Greens.

The member for Denison has implied that people who are part of the club and hotel industry are dodgy and prey on vulnerable people in our society. This is an absolute disgrace! I know for a fact that the people who work in the clubs across Macarthur genuinely care about others and make a significant contribution to those most in need.

According to Clubs Australia, the 2016 deadline for clubs with 21 or more poker machines is completely unrealistic given the massive cost of replacing or upgrading existing machines to offer voluntary precommitment. Of the 17 clubs in Macarthur, 13 have 21 or more machines, which means they have to have voluntary precommitment on 100 per cent of their machines by 2016. This can only be done at a cost of $38.4 million. Of this, $16.7 million is unplanned expenditure. Given clubs are not-for-profit organisations, this additional spend can only be sourced by cutting jobs, cutting community donations or borrowing from the banks.

For clubs where the possibilities for savings from such measures are insufficient, the likely result is closure. This legislation treats clubs with more than 21 poker machines in the same way it treats Star Casino. If a club has 24 pokies—as does the Campbelltown City Bowling Club, for example—this legislation assumes it has the financial capacity to replace its entire fleet of pokies in four years time. Due to financial constraints, the existing machines at this club have not been replaced for eight years. So how can it be expected to replace 100 per cent of their machines over the next four years?

Clubs in Macarthur already provide support for problem gamblers and in New South Wales we have seen the prevalence of problem gambling drop by half since 2006. Our local clubs are all members of the ClubSafe program, which provides a free problem gambling counselling service for all patrons. Our clubs in Macarthur already have voluntary precommitment programs in place for problem gamblers. This is a real solution to a very real problem, and one that delivers results for problem gamblers in Campbelltown and Macarthur.

Aside from this government's failure to offer real support for problem gamblers another concern of mine is the lack of consultation with the industry regarding this bill. Clubs Australia has called for several amendments to the bill to ensure that voluntary precommitment can be rolled out across the country in a way that does not undermine the financial viability of the club industry. Many clubs have already installed voluntary precommitment. Clubs Australia believes that those venues that have already done so should not be required to replace their systems with a new version of voluntary precommitment. This would allow venues to implement voluntary precommitment on a venue-based rather than state-wide system. Clubs Australia is also concerned that the bill gives most clubs three years to implement these changes even though the Productivity Commission recommended that voluntary pre-commitment be implemented over six years, recognising the challenge to afford the technology.

In terms of the supervisory levy that will be charged on venues for the costs of regulation, Clubs Australia wants the total levy capped for industry at $5 million per year, with at least a 50 per cent contribution from the federal government. This equates to a maximum charge of $25 per machine per annum. In regard to the $250 daily withdrawal limits from ATMs, advice from the ATM Industry Reference Group indicates a significant number of people generally withdraw cash at levels above $250, so Clubs Australia is proposing an increase in the limit to $400 per day. The ATM suppliers for clubs and pubs advise that they need a minimum of 12 months to implement withdrawal limits across the 5,000 ATMs affected by the change. Clubs Australia has also called for the release of a full cost-benefit analysis of the bill's proposals, as well as a regulatory impact statement. As yet neither of these have been done.

It is clear to me that there has been very little consultation with the industry on this so-called reform. Labor has indicated it intends to rush the bill through this week and this has compounded industry concerns about the lack of consultation and the unforeseen consequences of the legislation. The coalition believes the government's national gaming reform legislation is far from perfect and can be characterised by its lack of appreciation for the concerns of state and territory governments, its decision to ignore important technical advice and suggested improvements from key industry participants, and a failure to provide much needed clarity and flexibility in the proposed legislative measures. The Productivity Commission itself stated that the issue of addressing problem gambling is a complex task for public policy, and that coverage and design of regulation require particular care to ensure that the benefits exceed the costs and that account is taken of what is often imperfect evidence.

The coalition understands that gambling is a major problem for some Australians. That is why we support measures to effectively tackle problem gambling and help address and prevent gambling addiction. We support voluntary precommitment programs and would like to see them extended to all gaming venues. Tackling problem gambling requires a measured response that does not just look at poker machines but tackles the underlying problem of gambling addiction in all avenues. Problem gamblers do not just use poker machines—what about horse racing, sports bets and online gambling? Today's paper reported on a lady problem gambler who lost $8 million on online gambling. There are no reforms here that suggest that this precommitment system is going to help her. She got online and lost $8 million of her employer's money.

This is why the coalition is pushing for a more measured response, one that sees voluntary precommitment programs extended to all gaming venues and that provides problem gamblers with the counselling and support services they need. For a mandatory precommitment system to be effective, it needs to be shown that it will actually reduce or prevent problem gambling. There is no evidence that this is the case. The government needs to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of the final mandatory precommitment scheme before any decision is made on its implementation.

It is a big concern that the government is not planning a trial of its scheme. The coalition has identified six areas of concern with the government's legislation, they being: the extension of Commonwealth influence over state and territory jurisdictions; the lack of time given to the industry to effectively prepare for the implementation of the new measures; the cost of implementation; the negative impact on industry and employment especially in smaller venues and those premises already experiencing financial hardship; the risk of widespread non-compliance; and the matters associated with the use of ATMs.

The government's bills set out enforcement measures, including civil penalty orders, infringement notices, injunctions, enforceable undertakings and compliance notices. This means Labor will have to establish yet another new bureaucracy, a federal gambling regulator. The bills provide that the regulator may charge fees for services, and they also establish two levies to support this package of measures. This will effectively create a new tax. The supervisory levy will be determined by regulations. The purpose of the supervisory levy is to recover the costs to the Commonwealth of administering these bills, which all relate to gambling and thus all fall within the domain of the states. Gambling has traditionally fallen within state government responsibility and every state government supports voluntary precommitment. The states are now criticising the government for moving into their legislative space.

I oppose this legislation having in mind my local clubs and the problem gamblers in my electorate who need counselling and support. I have always been a big supporter of our local clubs in Macarthur because I can see the great things they do for our community. My family and I have enjoyed visiting our local clubs for many meals over the past 30 years, as do hundreds of families each week across Macarthur. I think these reforms will change our local clubs as we know them and stop vital funding to many community groups and organisations without helping problem gamblers at all. That is why I oppose this legislation. Problem gamblers need counselling and support services to kick their addiction—not this ridiculous legislation that does nothing but hurt our local clubs who put so much back into our local communities.

If I am a problem gambler and I walk into a club, and I know I am a problem gambler, I will set my limits too high—so the system does not work for problem gamblers. They need counselling. If they set their own limits, the system will struggle. As I said, there are no limits with online gambling, and you can bet on credit. There will be a huge impact on our communities, because clubs donate money to charities and other organisations in Macarthur. It will have a huge impact. This is not the system for problem gamblers—it will not work. We will have flawed legislation where the member for Denison will pick and choose what pubs and clubs do and what casinos do. If you are a problem gambler you can go to the casino and take out as much money as you want, but if you go to a pub or club you can only take out $250. Why is it different when you go into a casino? It is another aspect of this legislation where the member for Denison is obviously looking after his own backyard—tourism and casinos in his local electorate. He has been able to pick and choose what he wants to put in the legislation so there is the least impact on his electorate.