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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13933


Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (12:57): I appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak on the National Gambling Reform Bill and cognate bills. I question why this bill is currently before the House. Why, on the last day of sitting, with issues pressing, are we now debating a bill that has been floating around the House for some time?

I applaud the commitment to the bill by the member for Denison. His position has been steadfast. His position has been unique the whole way through this process. I felt for the member, for whom I have a degree of support in this. The Prime Minister gave him a deal—there was an agreement in place that this issue would be dealt with. I felt for him when the government reneged on that bill. They chose to step away from that because the dynamics of the crossbenchers had become somewhat different and, as a result, the strength of the arm of the member for Denison was drastically weakened. So I sympathise with the member about that. However, in listening to comments today I associate myself with the member for New England, who earlier said that if he was God or if he had a magic wand there would be no poker machines. I tend to support that. I am not a big lover of poker machines. I think that since poker machines were introduced into Queensland I would have put a total of about $20 through poker machines. That is my personal perspective.

However, poker machines are not illegal, and the operators, like clubs, hotels, bowls clubs and football clubs, help the community. I speak from a regional perspective; I do not have big sports clubs in my electorate. If you wanted to play the poker machines in my electorate you would go to a pub, which would probably have 20 machines, tops. A small bowls club in my electorate would have five or 10 poker machines. The revenue from those machines helps the community. In fact, some of those clubs survive not because of the poker machine revenue but because of the volunteer hours that are put in to keep those community interest groups afloat.

Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to sit with the member for Denison and speak about this issue at length. I raised concerns with him that if poker machine access was wound back an addict may then punt through other gambling outlets, whether it be on racing or online gambling. I think the response was that they stay siloed. I tend not to support that concept, because of the other options that are available for people who are addicted to gambling and practise that addiction through putting money down the throats of poker machines. I do not believe that this legislation addresses the whole problem. I do not believe that, if you take away the capacity to gamble in one location, an addicted gambler will not migrate to another location to gamble—that is, unlegislated international gambling outlets, which are accessible as simply as through a phone. This bill is farcical. In the last 12 months we have seen greater access to sports bets through betting on live action football games. It is hypocritical that the bill before the House is trying to deal with a particular member's interest in gambling machines when gambling is becoming so widespread through our community.

In the evidence from the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform the comment was made that there will be mass noncompliance with reference to the regulation of this bill. Comments along those lines concern me. There are also allegations that the industry was concerned about the time frame for the rollout of this bill.

Being from a regional centre I often get approached by people in the streets saying that political correctness has gone mad. It is like they form a parallel with gambling addicts and alcoholics. This bill to me represents trying to stop alcoholism by limiting the ability of alcoholics, when they go through the drive-through, to buy a carton and only allowing them to buy a six-pack. When I was first elected I stood on the principle that I would stand up for the silent majority of my electorate. In my presentation on this bill today that is exactly what I am endeavouring to do.

The coalition acknowledges that gambling is a major problem for some Australians. We support measures that would effectively tackle problem gambling, helping to address and prevent gambling addiction. Any response to gambling must recognise that many Australians gamble responsibly. Many Australians also rely on the sector for jobs. This legislation specifically impedes those gamblers who go out on a Friday afternoon, have a couple of beers and drop a few bucks through a poker machine. This is an impediment to those guys. Tackling problem gambling requires a measured response that does not just look at poker machines but tackles the underlying problem of gambling addiction, right across the gamut. Fundamental problem gambling can only be tackled by providing problem gamblers with counselling and support services. Suggesting that addiction is siloed is fundamentally flawed and I do not accept that.

The coalition will look at approaches that provide additional, better equipped and more efficient counselling support services for problem gamblers. So, whilst we are saying that we cannot support this bill, we do appreciate that there is work to be done in the industry sector on addressing problem gambling. We support voluntary commitment programs and would like to see these extended to all gaming venues. Decisions should be implemented as a result of detailed and careful consideration, not a handshake deal between a candidate from the Prime Minister and a single Independent member of parliament.

Earlier on today the member for Lyne suggested that the coalition's position on this bill was primarily based on fear of the loss of revenue from gambling outlets. I, like the previous speaker on our side, take offence at that. I think it is hypocritical for the member for Lyne to take that moralistic high ground in this debate. I am trying to put forward a logical and self-determining position.

Since 2010, the government has constantly rejected calls for a trial from industry. Those calls were supported by the coalition. The member on the other side of the House shakes her head, but I encourage her to—

Ms Macklin: Because we're having a trial.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: I am going to get to that, with reference to the trial. According to manufacturers the government time line is unrealistic and unachievable. I have already mentioned those points. The coalition has grave concerns about the proposed trial in the ACT. These concerns include that public moneys being provided as compensation to clubs involved in the trial may be siphoned back to Labor clubs and returned to the Labor Party coffers. You do not have to be Dick Tracy to go back and work out the audit trail and find out that some of the funds end up at that Labor Club here in Canberra where the trial is proposed. So it is on those points that I say to the member for Lyne that our opposition to this is not because of where the money comes from. It is purely because of our succinct and clearly outlined opposition to the bill.

The bill also provides for monitoring and investigation of compliance with new requirements. The regulatory reforms these functions and this legislation set out have enforcement measures including civil penalty orders; infringement notices; injunctions; enforceable undertakings; and compliance notices. This will mean that Labor will have established yet another new bureaucracy, a federal gaming regulator. There are not too many bills coming before this House that have a pattern or trend to them, which is that they either set up new bureaucracies, look after Labor mates, or somehow create a siphon trail for funds from this government back to a union movement, and this one just about ticks all three of those boxes.

The bill provides for the Commonwealth to delegate the regulatory function to the states and territories, with the approval of the relevant state and territory ministers, but there is no assurance that the Commonwealth would in fact delegate this power. These bills provide for the Productivity Commission to undertake two independent inquiries. One is in relation to any trial or mandatory precommitment system. The second is to inquire into the progress that is being made by gambling machine premises towards complying with the precommitment systems, the dynamic warning requirements, the limits on ATM withdrawals and the progress being made by manufacturers and importers in meeting the manufacturing and reporting requirements. The bill also establishes an Australian gambling research centre within the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The legislation was introduced into the House on 1 November, with the subsequent Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform given a mere week to take submissions, and a further one week for hearings. Given the scope of the legislation and the dimension of the challenge it seeks to address, this was far from adequate. The debate has been in the public arena for a considerable amount of time, but we do see a pattern emerging with reference to legislation. Where the legislation is somewhat sensitive you can virtually say that if the government has something to hide, or if they want to suppress transparency, one week is normally the guideline for this type of bill, and this is not an isolated incident.

The coalition supports voluntary precommitment as one of a variety of tools for addressing the complex issue of problem gambling in Australia. However, we disagree with the approach proposed by the government as contained in its ill-conceived legislative proposal. The coalition does not believe the legislation should be supported in its current form. The Productivity Commission itself stated that the issue of addressing problem gambling:

… is a complex task for public policy. The 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.

Closer examination of the evidence suggests that a number of initiatives that significantly improve the effectiveness of the legislation should be supported.

The coalition has identified six areas of concern with reference to this legislation. In brief, it is the influence of the Commonwealth; the lack of time given to industry; the cost of implementation; the negative impact on industry; the financial hardship; the risk of widespread noncompliance, which was another issue that came out of the report; and the matters associated with ATMs. This point is best demonstrated by the evidence. A respected professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney, Dr Anne Twomey, stated:

… gambling is fundamentally a State matter that should be dealt with by State laws.

   …   …   …

… it would be more consistent with the federal system and with the principle of subsidiarity for such laws to be applied at the State level.

I conclude where I started: I am not a great lover of gambling through poker machines—full stop. I do not spend a lot of money at the track and in fact I only very rarely buy a lotto ticket. I make that choice because it is my personal choice. I would suggest that trying to direct the Australian public as to what should influence their personal choices is not something that is best dealt with through legislation.

There is no way I can support the bill in its current form, because I do not believe it goes to the intent of what its authors intended. However, I would like to see reform in this industry.