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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 272

Senator XENOPHON (3:47 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

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

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This Bill is an opportunity for the Federal Government to draw a line in the sand in relation to the damage caused by poker machines to literally hundreds of thousands of Australians.

I decided to run for the Upper House in South Australia on a ‘No Pokies’ ticket in 1997.

The tipping point for me came when a client in my suburban legal practice who had an acquired brain injury, and who had received an emergency $30,000 superannuation payment, came to my office in tears.

I asked him what was wrong and he said to me that his “friends didn’t want to be his friends any more”.

When I pressed him for details it turned out his so-called “friends” were the staff at his local pokies pub and in the previous weeks they had been picking him up from his modest unit and driving him to their venue so he could gamble on poker machines.

They’d give him free drinks, credit and, when he was too drunk to keep gambling, they would push the buttons for him.

But as soon my client’s money was gone, so were they.

It was this parasitic callousness that drove me to take a stand.

Of course if you listened to the industry at the time, you would have thought these machines were harmless entertainment.

This is a quote from John Bowley, then Marketing Development Manager of Aristocrat Leisure Industries in 1992.

John said with a straight face: “Playing Pokies is entertainment, not gambling. It would take you a month of Sundays to lose $100 on one of these things.”

Well, clearly time flies in John’s world because as the Productivity Commission revealed in its Report into Gambling in June this year, it doesn’t take a month of Sundays to lose $100 on a poker machine.

In fact, with some machines accepting $20 bets and depending on the spin rate of the machine, the Commission concluded it was relatively easy to lose up to $1,200 in just one hour.

I believe it’s always best to have a fence at the top of a cliff than the world’s best equipped ambulance at the bottom.

There’s no question that preventing harm is always better than treating it, which is why the Productivity Commission’s Report into Gambling represents such a breakthrough in thinking.

For more than a decade, State Governments and the poker machine industry have pointed to programs that supposedly help problem gamblers after they develop a gambling problem - the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach.

But the Productivity Commission rightly points out the ineffectiveness of this approach.

The Commission, in effect, argues that poker machines are a dangerous product and they need to be regulated and made safer.

The Productivity Commission has recommended a vast range of changes to the industry and the function of poker machines.

This Bill will limit the maximum bet on any spin to $1 and will adjust spin rates and volatility of machines to ensure problem gamblers cannot lose more than $120 an hour.

I stress that this would only be an interim measure, but one which will make a significant difference to the rate of loss on these addictive machines, and will complement other reforms to the industry such as the introduction of comprehensive pre-commitment schemes which the Gillard Government has adopted as part of its agreement with Independent MP for Denison, Andrew Wilkie.

Based on the Productivity Commission’s figures, every day the Federal Government fails to act on problem gambling, $5.4 million of state revenue will be lost solely by problem gamblers.

And that figure does not include the daily revenue from recreational gamblers.

The $5.4 million that the states rake in every day in taxes is just from problem gamblers - people with an addiction.

That $5.4 million represents food that can’t be afforded by the wives or husbands of problem gamblers; it’s school shoes that aren’t on the feet of the children of problem gamblers, and, too often, it’s money stolen from employers around the country by people desperately trying to feed an addiction.

The industry will claim it will cost too much to impose these relatively modest limits and modify the machines’ spin rates and to only accept a maximum of $1 bets.

But the truth is that argument is disingenuous.

It’s a little known fact that poker machines in many Australian jurisdictions must be connected to an Electronic Monitoring centralised computer system which monitors the network and allows for remote adjustment of, amongst other things, bank note acceptors.

So don’t believe any stories about retro-fitting and the multi-million dollars costs to gambling companies.

A lot of this can be done with a few strokes on a keyboard.

In the past, when the poker machine industry has sought to argue against any changes, they have claimed that any restriction is an affront to freedom, and that players are exercising free will.

It’s an absurd position. Addicts aren’t exercising free will.

They are feeding an addiction created by the very presence of poker machines in our community.

Almost half of all profits come from problem gamblers.

This is an industry without a sustainable business case.

It’s unsustainable unless it is allowed to exploit the addicted.

That said, I think we are seeing a shift in thinking.

People are starting to realise just how damaging this industry is.

The Gillard Government’s landmark announcement that it will intervene if the States do not introduce a uniform and full pre-commitment system by June 2011 is a clear sign that the major parties agree that problem gambling needs to be addressed.

I call on the Government and the Opposition and my cross-bench colleagues to support these modest interim measures.

Thirteen years ago when I ran for the South Australian Parliament on an anti-poker machine platform I was openly mocked by a number of politicians from the major parties.

More than a decade on, I draw encouragement from the fact that the Productivity Commission seems to be saying that we are all crazy unless we act immediately to curb the destruction caused by these machines of misery.

The time to act is now. The cost of not implementing these measures won’t just be counted in dollars. It will be counted in shattered lives.

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

Leave granted; debate adjourned.