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Wednesday, 27 June 2001
Page: 25264

Senator HARRIS (4:55 PM) —In resuming my comments on the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001, I express my total support for the government's intention in the bill to exclude wagering provisions covering horseracing and sports betting. These industries, particularly horseracing, have a long and colourful and exciting history in this country. Who has not heard of the likes of Bart Cummings, Gai Waterhouse, or our world-renowned horses of the ilk of the great Phar Lap? All are a great part of our history and, like most aspects of our relatively short history, we are proud of them. I support the government's initiative for a representative gaming association that will establish the necessary guidelines for the industry across the country. This association, together with the AUS model standards, should be sufficient to provide for the real life realities of gambling and for the necessary social and consumer protections by establishing a desirable environment in which Australian gambling industries can operate.

My position on this bill is primarily that anyone with Internet access can, at any time, log on to a gambling site and proceed to gamble, irrespective of whether or not you or I approve. I feel the most obvious direction in which this chamber should proceed is to encourage gamblers to connect to a heavily scrutinised and regulated Australian site. This enables us to monitor this usage and to mitigate any unforeseen and undesirable consequences. This is in opposition to the prevailing views of the government that would leave these gamblers exposed to overseas venues. As some businesses are going to profit and, subsequently, generate more employment opportunities, I would of course support those businesses being Australian operations and for all of the investment and tax dollars to remain in Australia for the benefit of Australia and its citizens. Any cases of problem gambling could be readily noted and the person concerned could be subsequently referred to counselling organisations for guidance.

One of the outstanding failures of this bill is its total omission of any preventive measures to curb the real perpetrators of our gambling problems, which lie primarily at the feet of the pokie machines. The rampant proliferation of these machines in every pub or club, and anything in between, needs to be the target of the bill. Until a genuine attempt is made to address this problem area, nothing else can be taken seriously. This places some of the responsibility for the habit back on the gamblers themselves. This is not 1811, and I am not a Luddite. While I acknowledge the many difficult social and economic problems associated with gambling, I can also recognise the impracticalities and the possible heavy impositions on third parties. History has proven that prohibition has never worked and that, given the nature of human beings, it will not work in the future. We have both an opportunity and a responsibility to assist problem gamblers. It is up to those of us who are present in this chamber today to assess and to formulate how to optimise all of the best benefits of technology with practical and responsible legislation in order to implement legislation that contains the fairest and most realistic measures.

It is difficult to reach a balance between allowing Australians to be responsible for their actions and assisting and supporting those who have a gambling problem, and that is the balance that this bill will need to reach. While mindful of our responsibilities in a social sense, we also have to consider the effects on the IT industry. I have some concerns in relation to the different processes of blocking access to these sites, both in Australia and overseas. I believe that it is going to be difficult. As I have mentioned in previous debates, I was of the opinion that blocking the DNSs would be a way to actually close off the ability to access these gambling sites. However, several things have been brought to my notice. One of them is that the sites continue to generate random DNSs that would make it difficult to block them. I also believe—and at this point in time I have not been able to substantiate this—that it is possible for the manufacturers of PCs to purchase blocked numbers of DNSs and appropriate them in different areas of the globe. If that is the case and a DNS is appropriated to Australia, it is going to be extremely difficult to ascertain whether it is in Australia or not.

I want to look at some of the issues that have been raised in particular by the Minister for Racing, Gaming and Licensing in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory government's position is that they would prefer the bill to be defeated outright. However, when we look at the industry—and that encompasses all aspects of the industry—we are getting the information that the industry desires this issue to be resolved once and for all. The wagering side of the industry provides approximately $600 million annually to our economy. If we look at Victoria, TABCORP pays $235 million to the Victorian government. Queensland provides approximately $100 million and New South Wales provides $195 million in revenue to those state governments.

The other issue that I believe we will need to address in relation to this bill is whether offshore operators can provide wagering within Australia. I believe personally that it would be preferable if they did not. If we look at Vanuatu alone, there is one single wagering provider that has a turnover of $500 million. The Australian government derive no revenue or employment from that, so I think it would be desirable to exclude wagering from being offered offshore. I will be seeking clarification from the minister to ensure that lotto, if excluded, continues to be provided electronically through the local newsagents. There are concerns that they may become unviable as a result of losing part of that turnover. I believe the other issue is the link. There are sections proposed in the bill that will put punitive costs— (Time expired)