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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13920


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (11:56): I rise to support the shadow minister and his approach on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012. It is a bill which really does contrast the way in which we, as members in this place, think about our fellow Australians. It shows what splits many of us in this parliament, into those who believe in personal responsibility and do not assume that not all Australians are bad and need to be protected by government legislation or regulation and others.

Serious governments address problems where they exist, and undoubtedly many families and many people face challenges related to addiction to gambling. But the absurdity of this legislation is that it focuses purely on one form of gambling, as if to presume that there are no other ways for Australians to lose their homes, their incomes and their families and no other things which cause as much pain as addiction does. It somehow presumes that a piece of legislation focusing on one aspect of gambling will reduce or stop the impact on so many thousands of Australians, as if there is no other way that you could possibly find to feed the addiction that so many undoubtedly face.

We have seen this bill being pulled and pushed around. It started on Monday or Tuesday; it is now Thursday, the last sitting day. It has been on and off today a couple of times. We have seen a lot of walking around. We know there is a big brawl going on between the Greens and the member for Denison, and lots of leaking about polling and so forth. We are in the middle of all this.

But there is apparently an intent here. It is not all about politics; it is not all about someone getting one up on the other, so that one party gets to run around Denison and say that they have done something that the other person did not; it is not about GetUp! having all this support from online gambling but focusing on poker machines—not at all! This is all good public policy on the last sitting day of the year, there is no doubt in the world! I am sure the minister has really enjoyed the last 48 hours, dealing with all these issues as she has wandered from one office to another trying to get a deal to satisfy all the egos involved.

But never will you satisfy some of the egos involved, particularly that of the member for Melbourne; there is no guarantee about that. If you want to see sanctimony in this place, look no further than the Australian Greens and look no further than the Murray-Darling Basin. But I digress.

I would urge many members to read the speech of the member for Moncrieff on this bill. In that speech he made some very important points in relation to this issue. There is a very serious issue here, which is that many Australians face a problem with addiction. There is no doubt a problem, and there need to be programs which assist. There should be regulation of gambling—indeed there should be. But to presume that somehow this industry will be able to take an extra burden, an extra whack, when it is screaming and saying, 'We can't,' puts at risk the thousands of people who are employed in this industry—for instance, in and around the thousands of clubs that so many Australians enjoy spending so many of their hours, enjoying their lives.

It is true that some people enjoy playing poker machines. It is true that some people enjoy following racehorses. It is true that some people enjoy playing poker online. It is also true that most people are able to do these things in a manner which is within their limits. They take responsibility for themselves; they know how much they can spend; they know when enough is enough. Of course there are some in society who go too far, but the problem with this bill is it seeks to legislate against one—and only one—form of gambling on the presumption that there is no other way for people to restrain themselves.

Gambling in Australia is changing very rapidly. The online accessibility of gambling is increasing as the internet's role increases in so many facets of our lives. I tend to agree with the member for Barton when he expresses concern about the pushing of gambling on televised sporting events. I enjoy a punt occasionally, but I do find it frustrating that, when I am watching a great test match or a great AFL game, gambling is being pushed through betting odds constantly being displayed on the TV screen. I think that we in this place could look at and address this practice.

This bill assumes that problem gambling on poker machines can be stopped by regulating them to death. This is no doubt the intention of the Greens and the member for Denison. But in doing they will send people with a gambling addiction back in their home, and the sort of gambling they do there is completely unregulated. It will always be difficult to regulate offshore gambling sites, which GetUp!, interestingly, does not seem to have a problem with for some reason. It is not possible to identify problem gambling which occurs at home, and—unlike in pubs and clubs across Australia—there is no-one watching out for home gamblers and saying, 'I think that person's spent too much,' or 'I can see a problem developing.' The addiction to online gambling will be played out silently in our suburbs, but the member for Denison and the Greens will feel good about themselves that they got legislation through to show that they have cracked down on pokies and the pokie barons and stopped the pokie palaces and so on. Of course, to do so would be to play pure politics in the interests of meeting political promises rather than to address the very serious issues of problem gambling which some people face. It would not address the aggressive advertising of some of the new forms of gambling. Young people have access to online gambling through their TV screens, the internet and their smart phones—

Mr Bandt interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: The member for Melbourne thinks it is funny that on the last sitting day he gets a bit of politics up with the member for Denison. He gets to run around and say: 'Look! we got it!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): Order! The member for Mayo will confine his comments to the bill.

Mr BRIGGS: That is disorderly, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I would appreciate if you would pull him up.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mayo will confine his comments to the bill and do his best to ignore the interjections.

Mr BRIGGS: It is ironic coming from the member for Melbourne. But this is a very serious issue, and he thinks it is hilarious.

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mayo will resume his seat. Honourable members will cease interjecting, and the member for Mayo will confine his comments to the bill rather than to those who are interjecting.

Mr BRIGGS: I am confining my comments to this very serious bill. I take very seriously that the minister has worked day and night for the last few weeks to try to get an outcome which she believes is in the best interests of Australian government policy. I do not think it is hilarious; I think problem gambling is a serious issue in our society. Many Australian families have had their lives torn apart by problem gambling. I think it is a disgrace that we are playing political puffery in this place under the cover that this bill is going to address problem gambling; I do not think it is a laughing matter at all. I say very strongly that the member for Melbourne should be ashamed of coming into this place and laughing during this debate. That he does so highlights the absolute sanctimony of these people.

Many thousands of Australians rely for their income on jobs they hold in places that have poker machines, and any legislation should be considered in the light of its impact on the families of these Australians. The shadow minister has rightly identified that the bill goes too far and puts jobs in the gaming industry at risk. That is why there is so much outrage over this bill. I believe very strongly—and I have said this quite often in South Australia—that AFL footy, which I love very much, has some problems with the way it finances itself at the lower levels, and particularly in SA. Some clubs at the SANFL level benefit greatly from poker machine revenue, and they have a great advantage because of it; other clubs at the same level have not benefitted as greatly from poker machine revenue. There needs to be a rethink about the revenue base of the South Australian National Football League if we want community football to continue to go from strength to strength. One of the challenges for the SANFL is to work out how to deal with the diminishing revenue they receive from poker machines due to increased online gambling. Any hotel owner in South Australia will tell you that the returns from poker machines are diminishing because people are able to access at home through their computers and their smart phones the gambling needs they seek to service.

Those people with addictions, as I said before, will not be seen by people in hotels. Their community will not see the impact on them if there is an impact. While people who have abused poker machines in the past have sometimes not been picked up—quite often with terrible consequences—there would be no way in the world that other people would know whether they are abusing online gambling, particularly with offshore sites. We can regulate Australian gambling quite easily—indeed we are debating that now—but we cannot regulate offshore sites. We cannot regulate people's access to offshore sites. We cannot regulate the internet, as the government found when it tried to apply a so-called filter. You cannot regulate the internet; indeed, we should not seek to.

This bill focuses on one type of gambling and impacts on a huge industry that employs many thousands of Australians. Hotels and clubs do many good things in communities and provide a place where elderly people in particularly, like my wife's 91-year-old grandmother, can go to have a cheap—subsidised in effect by poker machine revenue—lunch. My wife's grandmother does not play poker machines but gets a cheap lunch and some companionship with friends every week. These sorts of places will find it more difficult as they continue to be regulated. That is quite clear. That is the intention of the bill. I think it is a great shame that we do not take into account the collateral damage done under the claim of good intentions.

There is an addiction problem not just with gambling but in so many different ways in our society. But addressing it through one lever alone will not help those families that are affected so badly by it. That is why we on this side have a comprehensive approach. We have put out a discussion paper to engage with the community and to work through the issues of addiction, not just to poker machines but more broadly. We will try and find ways to better see those in the community who are being troubled, who are putting their own lives and their families at risk. No one in this parliament wants to see people adversely affected by gambling; I genuinely believe that. We are looking for the best way to deal with it. This bill is not the best way. I support the coalition position of opposing this bill. It is a bad piece of legislation. Its intention is bad. It comes from a wrong premise in its beginning and will not have the outcome it seeks in the end.