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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13917


Mr McCLELLAND (Barton) (11:40): At the outset, I should place on the record that my wife has recently been appointed as a director of the St George Leagues Club Ltd, which is a well-known club in my electorate and one arm of the famous St George Illawarra Dragons. Indeed, the club is a major supporter of that famous football team. I would also like to place on the record my appreciation for the work of registered clubs in my electorate and indeed throughout Australia. Also, I should place on the record that I myself have worked in registered clubs, and I am very grateful for the support that Ramsgate RSL Club provided to me by employing me as casual labour for most of my period of studying at university. I should also place on the record that both my son and my daughter are employed at a local RSL club while they are studying.

I think that account would give an indication of what valuable institutions clubs are. In fact, registered clubs are the second largest employer in my electorate, and it goes without saying that jobs and employment opportunities are foundational to the economic and social wellbeing of individuals and families. This parliament should therefore be very cautious about—indeed, those preparing this legislation have been very mindful of, and the discussion that has taken place in the course of proceeding with this legislation has been very mindful of—introducing a regulatory framework that has the potential to adversely impact on employment and, specifically, to result in people losing their jobs.

The objects of the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 are admirable—that is, to reduce the extent of problem gambling in our community and the adverse impact that has on families. But, equally, it must be appreciated that regulatory reform should be introduced in a manner that avoids families suffering from the adverse impacts of loss of employment, and I know that the minister has been attuned to that issue.

Like most members of this House, I am a great supporter of the registered club movement. I have mentioned the issue of employment, but clubs are more than simply employers and entertainment venues. They are literally part of the fabric of our civil society. Speaking from the perspective of a representative from the state of New South Wales, I think it is fair to say that there would be very few local sporting organisations that are not the beneficiaries in some way, shape or form of local clubs. In my younger days, when I was playing rugby union, we were supported by the Kyle Bay Bowling Club. When I played rugby league, we were supported by the Kingsgrove RSL Club. Indeed, the sporting teams that my children have played in have all, in some way, shape or form, been supported by one of our local clubs. Again, I think that story would be common to very many families with children in my electorate.

I have a particular knowledge of the St George Leagues Club, which I have referred to. I can indicate, for instance, that that club distributes some $250,000 per year to junior sport at a local club and school level.

From my experience in a multicultural electorate, where 48 per cent of the population were either born overseas or whose parents were born overseas, you cannot overestimate or overstate the importance of sport as a community builder. Lifelong friendships are made and, irrespective of a person's social, economic or cultural background, people come together in a spirit of teamwork. Sport plays a significant unifying role in drawing together the multicultures in our community. As a number of members have said, sporting organisations have been supported so tremendously well by the club industry.

In addition, in terms of those doing it tough—and there was landmark legislation introduced this morning with the National Disability Insurance Scheme—the St George's Leagues Club Ltd contributes some $250,000 per year towards supporting children with disabilities. A number of other charities are also supported, including through direct assistance such as the donation of motor vehicles.

I have mentioned St George as a result of my particular knowledge and association, but other clubs in my electorate also make valuable contributions to our local community. Indeed, when I served as Minister for Emergency Management, I saw the contributions that clubs make to their local communities in times of crises. In some cases, the sturdy construction of the club premises itself provided a safe venue, a safe harbour to literally weather the storm. The club premises was safe accommodation that protected people while the storm, indeed cyclone, passed through. In other instances the clubs have been the focal point of the post-disaster relief effort, providing food and sustenance to volunteers and providing food, sustenance and support—indeed, emotional support—to residents who have been affected by natural disasters. In some cases the clubs provided ongoing accommodation for those who had been displaced from their residences. This is an indication of how registered clubs have become part and parcel of not only our society but our natural environment. It goes without saying that clubs can be a focal point for many citizens, including senior citizens, who have the opportunity of obtaining cheap meals and the value of companionship, particularly for instance if one of their partners unfortunately has passed away. The ongoing support that comes from their association with club members can be a vital contributor to their wellbeing.

To address some criticism, I constantly make the point that, in my experience, registered clubs have always been concerned about problem gambling. When I was employed at the Ramsgate RSL Club some 30 years ago I was instructed to keep an eye on certain patrons and advise the duty manager if I thought they were overdoing it on the poker machines. Invariably the duty manager would sidle up to them, perhaps with drink in hand, and sit down and chat with them to advise of some options to address their issues.

I appreciate that such a personal approach is particularly difficult in large venues; nonetheless, it would be completely wrong and unfair to suggest that registered clubs are not currently taking steps to address problem gambling. I have literally not walked into the foyer of any club in recent years without seeing referral details for counselling services to address problem gambling. Indeed, the club industry itself is one of the major supporters of these programs and supports a number of research programs developing best practices around the world.

Poker machines, it obviously has to be conceded, in this day and age are a common and convenient form of gambling, but they are not the only form of gambling. Other forms of gambling include casino games such as roulette or blackjack and wagering on a horse race, trotting race, dog race or indeed virtually any event. Gambling on literally any form of sporting event and electronic gaming machines can now be readily accessed over the internet.

In the atmosphere of this hung parliament there can be and obviously has been an intense focus on a few lightning rod issues, and addressing problem gambling is legitimately one issue that has drawn the focus and attention of the parliament. But of course—and as the minister recognises in the steps that have been taken in the checks and balances in this bill—we do need to be cautious that, in making the political point and highlighting concern about an issue and demonstrating action to address an issue, we are actually addressing the issue and not simply displacing the problem. The foot on the balloon analogy is appropriate, where pressure on one side may constrain the balloon on that side but see a bulge in the other.

Poker machines are but one mechanism through which problem gamblers exercise their addiction. We need to be very careful that, in focusing attention on poker machines, we are not naive to the prospect of seeing a bulge or expansion of gambling taking place in other areas. For instance, my son is an avid watcher of rugby league, and I have real concern with the amount of advertising encouraging gambling that is aired during the telecast of those games. I know that the minister and indeed the minister for communications have also expressed concern about that issue. It is important to realise while we are addressing this issue that other areas obviously require attention.

I have also noted that the research suggests that between 80,000 and 160,000 Australians suffer significant gambling problems. That is obviously a lot of people, particularly when you think of the broader family members who may be affected by that addiction. But those numbers are not insurmountable in developing targeted programs that address the addiction of the individual as opposed to addressing the mechanism through which they may exercise that addiction—the focus, in this case, being on poker machines. I am pleased to see that an important part of this legislation is the proposal by the government, through the provisions in this legislation, to focus on enhanced research. Indeed, that enhanced research into the issue of problem gambling, which will be funded by the government, will present a real opportunity to focus in on the causes of the gambling addiction of those individuals, as opposed to constraining a particular outlet or mechanism through which they exercise that addiction.

In short, there are many aspects of this legislation that have merit—for instance, requiring the progressive implementation of precommitment technology, which I believe could be in the interests of patrons, and also of clubs in terms of discharging their obligation to show that they have exercised a duty of care for those who identify themselves as potentially being problem gamblers or at least wanting to limit the amount that they spend on gambling. But we need to bear in mind that it is still work in progress, and that research in other countries—for instance, in Nova Scotia and Norway—suggests that this sort of technology can be effective but that, on the other hand, there is also an indication, going back to that point that I previously made, that it may have displaced gambling activity, for instance to the internet. That may well have been because there has generally been an increase in internet usage, but the point is that more research is required before we can definitively say what is effective. I note that, as part of this regime, there will be a trial of this technology in the ACT, and I think that that trial should inform the development of the implementation of these programs.

It is very important that we appreciate in this House—and here the real-world experience of members of parliament is very important to draw on—that, when we introduce regulatory reform, it is going to have an impact on businesses and on venues, whether they be hotels or clubs. So we need to make sure that that regulatory impost is moderated but, firstly, that it is justified, and that has been the aim of the government. We need to make sure that the regulatory impost does not create a situation where it has an impact on employment which itself causes hardship.

I note that the timing of implementation is going to be a crucial part of the debate in the committee stage of this legislation. Obviously, if we can give some time for these programs to be implemented then it is going to reduce that regulatory impost, and that is going to be a significant part of the debate during the committee stage that I personally will be paying particular attention to.