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Wednesday, 27 June 2001
Page: 25280

Senator BROWN (6:20 PM) —My contribution to the debate on the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001 will be brief. The problem of gambling in Australia is growing rapidly and it has to be addressed. I am not one who says that the Internet is there to be free from any legislative intrusion—that is, that society cannot get together and, through its elected representatives, have any impact on the Internet, that the Internet is a democracy-free zone in terms of regulation. I do not believe that any more than you can apply to that the old idea that it was caveat emptor when people went shopping. `Let the buyer beware' just did not work. We have a whole range of rules about what people are able to sell and what they cannot, because we have to act as a society to make sure that there are laws to defend all the players in society. Gambling is out of hand. The opposition is quite right: the state governments have themselves become addicted to gambling because of the revenue that it provides. One thing we are finding through this debate is that the Commonwealth has substantial powers to intervene on that problem in the national interest.

I have been working hard with community groups to get amendments to this legislation. I am very happy, for example, about the way in which wagering is being exempted, because there are more than 100,000 people employed in that industry. It has been here since European arrival, and it is a substantial employer in a way that poker machine and casino gambling are not. There is a difference there. It is a hard line to draw but, in complicated legislation like this, I do not think either prohibition or laissez-faire are easy or good options. We all have to make a decision as to where we draw the line. I have drawn the line at moving to ban Internet gambling as far as poker machine style betting is concerned but not as far as horseracing is concerned. The feedback on that one which I have received from the community, including the Tasmanian community, has been very positive. I thank those people who have contacted me to say so.

It will, nevertheless, not be perfect because gambling does not allow for perfection. It is a hard job, but I am particularly pleased that, through this legislation, we are making a very real attempt to prevent overseas gambling entities in both gaming and wagering from using the Internet to entice Australians into betting when it is not allowed domestically. I think the amendments there are substantial and will go a long way to ensuring that that does not happen. I am particularly pleased that, just today, we have moved substantially to ensure that bookmakers overseas will not be able to field bets through the Internet into Australia. That concerned me greatly. I did, on behalf of the Greens, at the outset say that I was looking to assist the job rich racing industry. In the last few days I have been concerned about the loophole which would allow overseas bookmakers to entice Australian gamblers through the Internet. It is now going to be closed.

Conversely, we are moving to the position—and I am delighted about this—where we get rid of the double standard which says, `If it is not good enough for Australian domestic purposes, we will ban it; but it is okay to export Internet gambling overseas.' I have good grounds for believing that we are now going to have my suggested amendment that countries which do not want Australian Internet facilities beaming into their households will be able to be designated as countries which are not available for facilities set up in Australia to provide Internet services to. It is a very big breakthrough, indeed. I am looking forward to that amendment going through with this legislation tomorrow.

Let me emphasise that we have come a long way in overcoming the major concern I had, which was that we put a prohibition on gambling because we do not like it spreading into households in Australia through the Internet but that we allow casinos and so on to export it to other countries. Under the proposed legislation, if other countries say, `We do not want your gambling houses facilitating through the Internet gambling in our domestic circumstances,' then Australia is going to move to say, `We will make you a designated country and gambling houses in Australia cannot beam gambling, through Internet services, into your countries either.' I think that is a fantastic breakthrough. It has huge ramifications. It is a very ethical thing to do. If the Howard government support that—and I have every hope they will—good on them.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ian Campbell) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.27 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.