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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4849


Senator BARNETT (2:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator the Hon. Amanda Vanstone. Will the minister outline to the Senate the opportunities the states have to save people from the dangers of excessive gambling?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank the senator for his interest in the issue of problem gambling. It is a very serious issue around Australia. Problem gambling is a disaster for anyone, but it is a serious disaster for low income Australians. Low income households pay a much larger share of their own income in gambling taxes. We know that from the Productivity Commission and from other research that has been done. We also know that, despite the differing interests in this issue of gambling, it is possible for people to work together. Only last year under the Prime Minister's business and community partnerships awards scheme, a South Australian award was given to what I thought was one of the most unusual partnerships you could form. It was between the Heads of Churches in South Australia and the Australian Hotels Association—somewhat unlikely partners I would have thought.

The Heads of Churches got together with the Australian Hotels Association recognising that there was a problem with gambling in South Australia, recognising that parliament would be regulating and recognising that they both had a common interest in working together to get a better outcome. I would hope that that is what can happen in all of the states and I would also hope that, at a national level, the Hotels Association and people who are interested from the consumer viewpoint can work together effectively for a common outcome. It would be a disaster if people who have a particular interest in this use it to promote themselves or their industry as opposed to working together to get a positive outcome.

The question I am asked relates quite specifically to the individual states. It is a well-placed question because it is the states that reap the windfall from the misery of problem gamblers. Gambling continues to increase dramatically. Since 1990-91 gambling taxes have increased by over $1.1 billion—that is over 45 per cent in real terms. That is money coming out of the pockets of low income Australians. The real causes of this problem are poker machines. It is instructive to compare the states. The state of Western Australia compares very well to all other states in this respect. Western Australia, a Labor state, does not allow poker machines in any place other than in its casino. The consequence of that is that Western Australia has the lowest per person expenditure on gambling and the Western Australian government receives the lowest gambling tax revenue.

Honourable senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Abetz and Senator Ray, please come to order.


Senator VANSTONE —So five gold stars for Western Australia. On the other hand, when you average it out, every Victorian pays $343 to the state government in gambling taxes.


Senator Conroy —Yes, blame Labor. Who introduced all those poker machines? Jeff Kennett!


Senator VANSTONE —Victoria has extremely high per capita collections from gambling. Think how much that would be— $343 per capita—if we actually shifted that to focus on how much problem gamblers were spending. Senator, I could give a lot more information in relation to this question. If you want to ask for more, I will get it.


Senator Conroy —You might want to have a chat with Julian McGauran.


Senator VANSTONE —So Victoria does not deserve a gold star; neither, frankly, does New South Wales. The New South Wales gambling taxes are the second highest after Victoria, and when you average them out they come to $261 per capita. Every person in New South Wales spends on average nearly $1,200 a year on gambling. Imagine how much that is when you actually say, `It's not everybody,' and focus on problem gamblers. (Time expired)


Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The senator has outlined the opportunities in the states of Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. The supplementary question is: can the minister outline the opportunities for the states to save people from the dangers of excessive gambling in the other states?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —Yes, as a matter of fact I can. The question asked me to focus on the other states in particular. That is the appropriate question to ask in this place. What have the premiers of each of the states done to limit problem gambling in their states?


Senator Forshaw —They got rid of the Liberal governments.


Senator VANSTONE —Senator Forshaw says that they got rid of the Liberal governments. That is interesting. What have they done since they came to power to limit problem gambling? It is a big zero.


Senator Conroy —What has Julian done?


Senator VANSTONE —What have they done to spend some of this money that they are ripping out of the pockets of low income Australians? What have they done to spend that on social services? What have they done to help the families of problem gamblers? They have done absolutely nothing. The problem is that the states are absolutely glued to gambling tax revenue, and none of the Labor states has done anything about that. They are too afraid to take on the Hotels Association. That is what you are: too afraid. (Time expired)


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Senate to come to order. Senator Conroy, once again you have been continually interjecting.