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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 918

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (10:16): I would like to speak briefly about the Poker Machine Harm Reduction ($1 Bets and Other Measures) Bill. I believe this bill will limit the impact poker machines have on our communities and the most vulnerable in them.

Many people may not understand or be aware of the full extent of poker machines across the country. Since the first poker machines were legalised in New South Wales in 1956, Australians have had an unfortunate sick relationship with these money-guzzling machines. In 1999 the Australian Productivity Commission reported that Australia had nearly 180,000 poker machines, with more than half of these in New South Wales. On a per capita basis, Australia has roughly five times as many gaming machines as the United States. In the fiscal year 2002-03, revenue from gaming machines in pubs and clubs accounted for more than half of the $4 billion in gaming revenue collected by states.

Madam Acting Deputy President, you may be thinking that this bill is about finances, but ultimately it is about people. These machines, found in pubs and clubs in all states excluding Western Australia, have a disastrous effect on many people's lives. They affect not only the persons gambling but also their family, friends and extended community. Men and women across the country are tricked into gambling in these machines. These machines offer the false promise of a fair go and the possibility of a jackpot. People are tricked into putting in just a bit more money because the next line will win.

The problem gambling website of Victoria spells out the real mechanics of poker machine gambling under the heading 'The poker machine is the winner'. The facts speak for themselves. I quote:

Pokies are not designed to provide you with extra income. They are designed to make profit for others

Like other forms of entertainment, you pay to play the pokies. The more you play, the more you pay

…   …   …

The machine is never "due" to payout. You can never predict how each play will end.

I believe that as a parliament we must take some responsibility and take more steps to protect our most vulnerable citizens. As with any addiction, breaking a gambling addiction is extremely difficult. As a parliament we can take some steps to shatter the false allure of a pokies jackpot win and give our constituents tools they can use so they have a fighting chance.

This bill will make $1 the maximum bet on a poker machine. It will make the highest denomination a machine can accept $20. Jackpots will be capped at $500. The time frame for the full transition to these measures will be within five years. These measures may seem excessive to some; for others they may not be enough. But, when we realise that 40 per cent of gaming machine revenue comes from problem gamblers, I think this bill is certainly a good start.

This bill really should not face any objection within this chamber. Gambling addiction is an unfortunate, devastating reality for so many in Australia. My office, along with the offices of many in this chamber, receives calls from people needing help. It is tragic to think that children of problem gamblers are two to four times more likely to go down the same path as their parents.

It is important to remember that pokies have an impact on all aspects of our society. They impact on people individually, on their personal relationships and on a community level. Health effects range from mental health problems, through to drug and alcohol abuse, through to depression and suicide. Families find they are not able to pay the bills, buy food or meet medical costs. These stresses in a family environment can lead to the breakdown of marriages and relationships within the family.

Prevention is better than cure. Healthcare professionals can only do so much. They cannot wave a magic wand, bring a family back together or make an old job again available. Poker machines are addictive. If they were not, they would not be so effective. This bill and this issue will not go away. New forms of gambling are constantly being pushed at Australians. These include online gambling companies targeting Australians but not being based in Australia, making legislating a nightmare. Earlier we heard about the philanthropy of the clubs. The question is: is this philanthropy based on the misery of others?