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Wednesday, 27 June 2001
Page: 25270

Senator TAMBLING (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Aged Care.) (5:33 PM) —Let me make a declaration of interest. Yes, I gamble! I take a Tattslotto quick pick system 8 ticket each five weeks at a cost of $61. No doubt the newsagent transfers the transaction by some sort of Internet connection. I also take out six home art union tickets for charities per year. No doubt the payment is on my Internet banking facility. At electorate fundraising events my hand seems to be forever in my pocket and occasionally I win a bottle of wine. Soon, I am sure, the draws will be decided by Internet gizmos. On Melbourne Cup day I inevitably go to the online TAB and back a couple of nags that I have drawn in office sweeps.

The legislation before us, the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001, has certainly created a lot of political heat in the Northern Territory, but in reality it is a low order of priority for the general community. During last year's debates which addressed the moratorium on certain Internet gambling, I received no more than 12 representations from Northern Territory constituents. The complexity of the IT implications, the proposed regulatory controls and support for the gambling industry have until the past week also been low on the Northern Territory community radar screen.

Very obviously, the original bill, presented here in the Senate in April, was inadequate and was seriously questioned by commercial interests and social groups. The Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee reported in May. Ironically, four separate reports were tabled by individual senators as part of the final report. This highlighted the complex and diverse nature of both technical matters and racing industry impacts, as well as the core issues of importance relating to national savings, personal debt and social policies. Associated moral and ethical issues have now surfaced as important considerations, particularly relating to problem and addictive gambling behaviour on the Internet and elsewhere. In the past week or so these controversies have been well aired. I have received numerous representations, largely on matters of principle

Importantly, over the past few years the Northern Territory government has monitored the development of the Internet gambling industry very carefully. Several important commercial players have established themselves in the gambling scene in the Northern Territory in recent years. Their focus has largely been in meeting challenging international market opportunities, and the Northern Territory government has developed a comprehensive regulatory regime for this developing industry. Senators will be aware that I have constantly brought updated information to the attention of the Senate. Since May 1996 and through to February of this year, I have periodically commented on and tabled relevant reports emanating from the Northern Territory government and the Northern Territory parliament.

The Northern Territory Minister for Racing and Gaming, the Hon. Tim Baldwin, wrote to the communications minister on 1 March 2001. He has more recently made a ministerial statement in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly on 5 June, and he wrote to senators and members of parliament on 15 June. I seek leave to table these documents.

Leave granted.

Senator TAMBLING —I thank the Senate. The Northern Territory government has had a clearly defined policy position for some time and as recently as last week was lobbying senators on states' rights prerogatives and other possible amendments. I ask the minister, Senator Alston, to comment on the recent requests for more appropriate state and territory legislation and regulation.

Representatives from Lasseters Casino, Centrebet and Centre Racing—the three operators in Alice Springs—have all keenly followed the legislation and were also actively working around senators' offices last week in Canberra. I certainly met them. Whilst they are not particularly enamoured of the bill, they were all openly appreciative of the government's amendments relating to the exemptions for wagering and sports betting.

A letter to me dated 22 June from the Darwin based International All Sports Limited begins:

I write to record with you our appreciation for the position you have taken to date to bring about changes to the original legislation as drafted. The exclusion of wagering for horse racing is a sensible and logical decision as is the intent to exclude sports betting.

The letter goes on to seek further advice and clarification of concerns and definitions of betting in the run and the advertising provisions. I referred those issues to the minister on Monday, together with a number of specific examples of betting in the run as they affect cricket, for example, tests in a series or one-day match competitions; tennis, for example, within a championship; golf, for example, within a tournament; football competition, for example, premierships or the Brownlow Medal; motor sports, for example, drivers' championships; and especially the Melbourne Cup. I have advocated to the minister that these examples ought to be in the exemptions, or as International All Sports put it:

This is a significant component of our business and we see no reason why it should be outlawed.

Last week in the second reading debate, Senator Crossin invited me to come on over and sit next to her on the opposition benches. I will not be obliging because the hypocrisy and cynicism of the ALP on this gambling issue hold no appeal or logic. So, Senator Crossin, there will be no crossing! When it comes to gambling, the ALP are the biggest and most dangerous risk takers I know, let alone such incredibly poor economic managers who live on hire purchase. The ALP show no interest or compassion in trying to solve any of the significant and personal problems associated with addictive gambling or to protect the weak and vulnerable in Australian society.

Of course, the links between gambling in the poker machine riddled Labor clubs and their networks of intrigue and underhand deals are well known. The question of just why no suitable corrective measures are ever implemented by Labor state governments is also well known, as is the attraction of the ALP to Las Vegas examples and controls. That rather reminds one of the networks of Al Capone, Jimmy Hoffa and their union cronies.

The legislation we are considering has a most important value in that it is predicated on deterrence. The community plainly does not want an increase in the accessibility of easy convenience interactive gambling. I have been surprised at the community concern expressed to me about addictive problem gambling and the need for governments to give a lead by legislative examples in setting moral issues and standards, especially as they affect the relatively new Internet medium. I mentioned earlier the numerous direct representations to me in the past few days. They have included some tragic family examples, the expressed concerns of professional, financial and debt counsellors, and, importantly, a number of community leaders caught up in helping people recovering from the social consequences of undisciplined and inadequately controlled gambling in many parts of the community, including, surprisingly, with youth in Aboriginal communities.

I am no prude and I am certainly not trying to deny the place or the relevance of sensible recreational gambling. I made my limited declaration of interest at the outset. But none of us can walk away from our responsibilities. Certainly, families and individuals have a role to play; so do commercial operators and social agencies; and governments—federal, state, territory and local—are all charged with considering what falls in their area of responsibility, not only for revenue collection but also with regard to the effects on family budgets and lifestyle.

Interestingly, medical studies in the USA and Canada are revealing strong links between `human brain events to ideas from behavioural economics'. It has certainly been established by research for the Harvard Medical School that `discrete parts of the human brain respond in an ordered fashion to the anticipation and reward of money' and unfortunately that, in too many cases, gambling behaviour may be similar to drug addiction.

I have no doubt that the Internet is as perplexing as it is challenging. I know from my own health portfolio work in looking at the effects of Internet marketing and advertising on pharmaceuticals and complementary medicines that we cannot walk away from meeting head on the need for appropriate and responsible regulation. As I said earlier, the deterrence factor in this legislation is of paramount importance. The amendments conceded by the government go a long way to setting in place the commercial realities and bottom lines. I am equally confident that, whilst certain restrictions are being established for a level reflecting the majority of Australian views and expectations, the opportunities for the traditional Aussie style of betting through exemptions for horseracing, wagering, sports betting and lotteries will see a growth industry related to Internet technology that sees more jobs, not fewer, and a responsible regulated industry response and partnership.