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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 338

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (10:15 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table the explanatory memorandum and to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Family First has today declared war on poker machines with the introduction of the Poker Machine Harm Reduction Tax (Administration) Bill 2008. It is a bold new plan that will see pokies phased out of pubs and clubs and restricted to racetracks and casinos.

Everyday Australians are ambushed by the temptation of poker machines at local pubs and clubs. Family First believes pokies should be restricted to racetracks and casinos, which are dedicated gambling venues where people go to have a flutter, not community venues where families go to eat dinner.

Family First’s bill phases in a new federal tax on poker machines in pubs and clubs to push pokies out of community venues. The tax will be phased in over a number of years to allow these businesses to wean themselves off pokie profits. All revenue from the tax will be held in a trust fund to help community and sporting groups through the transition.

Poker machines have inflicted a devastating toll on thousands of families, particularly children, and the problem is not going to go away. About 293,000 people have a significant gambling problem in Australia and about 85% of problem gamblers use poker machines.

As the Herald Sun editorial said this week “For all the flashing lights, the dark reality for problem gamblers is often crime, social dislocation and family breakdown.”

The statistics paint a frightening picture:

  • Around 52% of problem gamblers said they had borrowed money and not paid it back;
  • About 36% of problem gamblers said they had sold property to raise money to bet;
  • A further 43% of problem gamblers said they sometimes went without food to pay for their addiction;
  • And one in four problem gamblers suffered divorce or separation.

On average, around seven other people are affected by a severe problem gambler’s behaviour. That’s around 2 million Australians.

And a staggering 50% of regular poker machine users are problem gamblers or at risk of becoming problem gamblers.

Not only are poker machines addictive for players, but they are also addictive for state and territory governments.

State government revenue from poker machines and Keno in 2006-07 was almost $3 billion. Gambling addicted state governments are incapable of weaning themselves off surging poker machine taxes

Unless there is Federal intervention the policy paralysis at the state level will continue. The states have shown they are incapable of kicking their addiction to pokies. That is why Federal intervention is necessary.

Family First’s legislation will see gaming machines confined to casinos and racetracks. It works by imposing a tax on individual poker machines in pubs and clubs which gradually increases, eventually rendering them non-profitable.

Tax revenue from this measure will be held in the Poker Machine Harm Reduction Transition Fund, to help community and sporting groups through the transition. It will be used to:

  • Provide funding to local community and sporting groups where they no longer receive funding from poker machine operators;
  • Support problem gambling treatment, rehabilitation, research and prevention programs; and,
  • Promote community education on responsible gambling.

Poker machines are the worst form of gambling for problem gamblers.

The Productivity Commission found “the extent of problem gambling varies across the states and territories, with New South Wales having the highest rates and Western Australia the lowest - reflecting the relative availability of gaming machines.”

In Western Australia poker machines are already successfully restricted to the Burswood Casino which again backs up the viability of this new legislation.

The Western Australian Government resisted the temptation to allow pokies into every pub and club and the Commission noted that people spent the least on gambling in Western Australia

And in NSW, South Sydney Rugby League Club The Rabbitohs, proved that clubs can operate without pokies when they decided to scrap their poker machines last year.

Poker machines are the worst form of gambling for problem gamblers.

In my own home state of Victoria, 85 per cent of problem gamblers spend most of their gambling time using poker machines. That’s 36,000 people in Victoria alone and most play the pokies every week.

Another 32,000 Victorians who use poker machines are classified by the Centre for Gambling Research as “at risk” of becoming problem gamblers.

So that’s 68,000 people, or more than half of regular poker machine users in Victoria, are problem gamblers or at risk of becoming problem gamblers.

A 2005 report commissioned by the Victorian Government found that problem gamblers spent an average six times the spending on poker machines of non-problem gamblers every week. In practical terms that means problem gamblers were spending more than $440 a week on poker machines.

One recent study estimates problem or at-risk gamblers account for about 53 per cent of the money spent in Victoria on poker machines outside casinos in 2005-06. The Productivity Commission’s estimated problem gamblers accounted for 42 per cent of expenditure on poker machines nationally.

Poker machines plague our suburbs and cause family breakdown and financial devastation and the Government has turned a blind eye to the devastation.

The Productivity Commission found one in ten people with significant gambling problems said they had thought of committing suicide because of their gambling.  Problem gamblers spend about 20 per cent of their household income on gambling while other gamblers spent just over one per cent.  Gambling was also responsible for relationship breakdowns and poor job performance. The most common impact on gamblers was depression.

The Victorian community is demanding action. A report revealed three in four Victorians believe pokies do more harm than good and gambling was too widely accessible.

Unfortunately state and territory governments are so addicted to pokies that the $3 billion a year split by government and operators is the biggest barrier to addressing this menace.

Family First acknowledges that to change this overnight would be reckless. That is why the Family First plan of phasing in the pokies tax means that business and state governments can wean themselves gradually off their dependence on pokies with the revenue from the tax being held in a trust fund to assist community and sporting groups through the transition.

Given these shocking social statistics, Family First is urging Federal politicians from all political parties to support this bill. No one can deny that this is a matter of urgency.

Senator FIELDING —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.