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Wednesday, 27 June 2001
Page: 25265

Senator ALLISON (5:05 PM) —It was not so long ago that the only way Victorians could use poker machines was to take a bus up to the border with New South Wales and spend the day in the clubs there, which survived on the bus loads of mostly pensioners who came for a jolly day or a weekend. In less than a decade, Victoria has been transformed. We now have poker machines in pubs and clubs, and we have a huge, state nurtured casino in the middle of town, where family entertainment, shopping and eating seamlessly coexist with the acres of pokies and the roulette wheels. The casino was supposed to make its profits from high rollers from overseas, but of course the multistorey car parks surrounding the casino are full of Melburnians, the majority of whom come from the western suburbs. A woman recently allowed her baby to die in the car park of a suburban pub while she fed her habit at the pokies.

My mother, unlike her daughter, had never joined a public protest until recently, when she and her mates decided to rally against pokies going into what used to be a Coles store in their main street. They won that protest. What drove them was not the fear that their peace would be disturbed or that their house values would drop; it was the knowledge that parents, usually mothers, forget their parenting responsibilities when they are gripped by the need to feed their gambling habit.

This bill is not about poker machines or even casinos—I wish it was. In fact, it is disappointing that the government has not taken the opportunity to move on linked poker machine jackpots. This bill is really about the next great adventure in gambling. If the amendments which are to be put to this bill are accepted by the government, it is about stopping the expansion of gambling into a whole new realm of emerging technologically convenient ways of exploiting human weakness by those who stand to make millions.

We have not been able to look to our gambling revenue dependent state governments to exercise control over the debilitating and unfettered growth of casinos and poker machines. We have not been able to rely on them to regard the licensing of Internet gambling as anything more than another great opportunity for revenue raising. It is good that the Western Australian state government have resisted the lure of the pokies. I am sure that they could do with the money to pay for their prison population, swollen by people given mandatory sentences or languishing in remand for months on end, but that is another story.

The Victorian state government has just offered business tax cuts that business did not even ask for, so flush is it with gambling dollars. It has increased the government take on poker machines to provide much needed money for public hospitals. The Victorian state government late last year introduced a footy tipping competition, which is expected to generate $30 million a year, 24 per cent of which will go to government revenue. I have nothing against footy tipping—I do it, when I remember to put the tips in—but this is yet another example of government fostered gambling and a reason why we cannot just rely on the states to make socially responsible decisions when it comes to gambling.

Between 1995 and 1999, gambling expanded more than twice as fast as the broader economy. Our controls on gambling promotion and advertising were amongst the slackest in the world. The Productivity Commission found that Australians spent about $11 billion last year on gambling and that it is a big and rapidly growing business. Some 2.1 per cent of the population, or nearly 300,000 people, are problem gamblers and they spend $3.5 billion a year on their habit. The most important finding of the Productivity Commission for this debate is the finding that the prevalence of problem gambling is related to the degree of accessibility of gambling. Problem gamblers and their families need access to gambling limited. They do not need a casino in the privacy of their lounge room—or, more likely, in a quiet part of the house, away from the rest of the family.

Gambling on the Internet is in its infancy in this country. In 1999-2000, there was a turnover of only $105 million, not counting the amount that Australians gambled online on overseas sites. It is a tiny proportion of total gambling but it is growing very rapidly. In the US, the figure is $US3 billion this year just on online casinos and this is predicted to increase fivefold over the next few years. There are now 1,200 to 1,400 Internet gambling sites around the world—twice as many as there were this time last year. Other countries are attempting to deal with this issue. Californian state legislation has been introduced to ban most forms of Internet gambling. The Danish tax minister advocates a ban on Danish citizens gambling on overseas sites. The state of New Jersey is suing three offshore gambling web sites because they accepted bets from residents of that state.

I have been particularly alarmed at the opportunities for not just Internet gambling but online gambling available through interactive television in datacasting and digital development. DataMonitor is an independent international business information company specialising in industry analysis which says it provides clients with unbiased expert analysis. In its report in April this year entitled It's only TV but I like it, it advised its clients:

ITV gambling could be a strong method of opening up the world of gambling to a whole new market. Younger demographic groups and women have traditionally shied away from the high street bookmakers but the opportunity of placing a bet from the comfort of their living room may entice more of these groups to partake in the gambling industry. High street bookmakers may feel threatened from the prospect of everyone having access to one or more bookmakers in their home. But interactive TV gambling could be a phenomenon that capitalises on new markets rather than cannibalising existing ones. Research suggests that the latter of these two options is what has actually occurred in France.

Enhanced TV will bring great new opportunities to the world of sports betting. Real-time betting on live sports events as they happen could become the killer application that helps to truly bring betting into the mainstream. Enhanced TV is an offering that many in the industry are looking towards as a means of generating new revenue streams.

The ITV industry will present new challenges to both games and gambling service providers as they adjust to the issues presented by the fact that they must now appeal to a new audience: the television audience.

The report goes on to give advice about the three types of consumer behaviour that the gambling service providers should look to exploit:

• Hard core gamblers—TV could attract serious horse betting punters from this group

• Sports fans—this groups natural enjoyment of sports will lead them to research sporting events for fun and they will occasionally decide to bet on their knowledge of the sport in question

• Impulse gamblers—these will be the most suitable group for the medium of television.

The report says that in the next five years in the US the growth of the subscriber base for digital television services will allow ITV gambling to reach out to a much broader demographic range than traditional gambling services have previously appealed to. A new range of gambling services will go live on interactive TV over the next five years, and this will allow the industry to experience a period of rapid growth in all of the markets where services are offered.

I found this report chilling. I also found chilling the warning by the American Psychiatric Association that young people are particularly vulnerable to Internet gambling. The Paris based Financial Action Taskforce said that Internet casinos are being used by criminal organisations to launder money. I welcome this legislation, as I did the moratorium legislation. It appears technically complex but, if we get it right, compliance ought to be simple. We do not have to control the messages sent on the Internet—everyone knows this is impossible—but this bill can ban the transaction of money for interactive gambling.

Agreements will not be able to be made for the transaction of money for illegal interactive Internet gambling, because they will be unenforceable. That means that a service provider will not be able to use credit or debit cards or other forms of e-commerce for securing funds from customers. I have no doubt that that will not stop 100 per cent of gamblers accessing Internet gambling—they can deposit their money in overseas accounts using money orders or cash. But if you were to go to all of that trouble, you would be better off spending a night at the casino.

John Ellicott's article in the Australian a week or so ago described this legislation as an `enabling bill', and I hope that the amendments which have been put up by various people, including myself and my colleague Senator Woodley, will fix that. There is no justification in allowing Australian operators to target overseas gamblers in a way which is not wanted, regardless of how well regulated they might be or how much revenue would be foregone by state and territory governments in not doing so. If there is not an outright ban on Australian operators then at least there should be an opportunity for other countries to nominate whether or not they wish Australian operators to have access to their citizens and for Australia to enforce that.

I wonder how many countries would opt into that arrangement. Australia does not have to be a world policeman, but at the same time we cannot argue that online gambling is dangerous for Australians but not for others. Neither should we be afraid of the wrath of powerful interests in this country who see great opportunities in this area. Australia can lead by example, and our measures should encourage and give courage to other governments to do likewise. I am pleased to see that the government has moved to make wagering and lotteries exempt; however, these amendments will not achieve the stated purpose without further amendment.

I was not convinced that being able to engage in wagering on the horses or the dogs or buying lottery tickets using your computer as opposed to over the counter, on the telephone or at your newsagent has led to or will lead to an increase in those forms of gambling or an increase in social problems as a result. I may be wrong. None of us can be sure because this is still very early days for the uptake of the technology, and smart minds are looking for ways of interpreting what are, for instance, quite broad definitions of lotteries. For this reason, we have amendments which will require a review after two years to look at just this question, to examine the effectiveness of the legislation and to look at new and emerging technologies and opportunities that are being generated to relieve punters of their dollars.

I want to speak about the question of compensation, the loss of jobs and the so-called loss of revenue that any restriction on gambling opportunities would cause. In my view, gambling has been effectively a licence to print money in this country. Quite frankly, I do not think that governments should feel any obligation to protect such lucrative but utterly unproductive, even destructive, businesses. This may be an old-fashioned view of the world, but while Australians are congratulating themselves on creating employment for 100,000 people in the gambling business, we do not have enough teachers and we do not have enough nurses. During the time in which gambling has had its meteoric rise in this country, scientists have left Australia in droves because there is no money to employ them to do their research. We cannot afford preschool teachers, the ABC cannot afford to make as many Australian programs, we cannot afford to support even our most successful writers, we cannot meet our overseas aid commitments—nonetheless, Australians spend $11 billion a year on gambling.

We have a choice to make before it is too late: do we sit back and allow this country to be seduced by interactive gambling, which could treble that amount, because we are afraid to challenge the technology and afraid of what the savvy technocrats might say about us; or are we prepared to say we do not want Australians, particularly young ones, to go there? Call me a middle-class socialist, call me a wowser, but I cannot see how interactive gambling adds to our wellbeing in this society. I do not see how Australia can, on the one hand, have one of the highest rates of gambling in the world and still consider itself to be progressive and egalitarian. I am lucky: I think that gambling is mindless, and I have better things to do with my money and my time, but nobody knows who will be seduced. If there are 300,000 people in this country with a gambling problem, there are probably 3 million people affected by their habit: their families, their business associates, the people they rob to feed that habit, or the people who pick up the pieces. On their behalf, I will support this legislation.