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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2863


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (17:15): I will speak only for a short period of time tonight because I respect that there is a large list of speakers who are very passionate about this issue and would like to talk on it tonight. It is interesting—Senator Stephens talked about Australian culture, and there is no doubt that having a punt and having a bet is synonymous with Australian culture. Probably the best book I have ever read on Australian culture, and possibly one of the best books ever written in this country, is Cloudstreet,by Tim Winton. Just about everyone in this chamber has probably read it. I certainly hope they have. It is a fascinating book. It is a juxtaposition of two families—the Lambs family and the Pickles family. Sam Pickles, a man who loses his hand, is a really interesting character to follow in the book. Essentially his life is a constant struggle against a gambling addiction. It is fascinating to read about his gambling addiction. It is an addiction which so many Australians suffer from, and it is quite easy to understand why.

It suggests that a person will only get control over their gambling when they have started to make progress in working on the big worries in their lives, such as boredom, failure et cetera. It also suggests that a lot of Australians have strong values of not giving up easily and not quitting when the going gets tough and also have very strong competitive drives. These factors tend to work against problem gamblers, leading them to keep going until all their money is gone. The interesting thing about Cloudstreet is that what Sam Pickles used to look forward to was when the races occurred. That stimulus was what he required in his life. We know it is the same with the pokies. The stimulus that drives the problem of addiction to pokies is the noise, the flashing lights and so on.

The stimulus is obvious when you think about online gambling, but the next phase is to see gambling on television, in an area of content that Australians love and are totally attached to, including children, which is sports games. Why are we so fascinated with sport? It is a big part of our culture. Most of us grow up playing sport. If you have an addiction then it is quite obvious that while you are watching sports games it is going to be very hard to get away from that addiction and that stimulus is going to be in front of you the whole time.

I have discovered a couple of interesting things about sports gambling which suggest that it is possibly going to be an even more pervasive problem than other types of gambling, such as casino gambling. There was a really good article recently in LiveScience by Professor Ghose. He talks about a large study done by Tel Aviv University in Israel, and quotes from a statement by a study co-author:

"Sports gamblers seem to believe themselves the cleverest of all gamblers. They think that with experience and knowledge—such as player's statistics, manager's habits, weather conditions and stadium capacity—they can predict the outcomes of a game better than the average person,"

He goes on to explain a very large study that he did in the UK around soccer. In the end he came to some startling conclusions:

"Casino gamblers are more appropriately characterised as obsessives, because they have less belief in themselves, and know that they will lose sooner or later. But they gamble anyway because they feel they need to," Dannon said.

By contrast, sports gamblers may need tailored cognitive therapy that rids them of the belief that they have more control over the outcome than they really do.

I was interested in that conclusion, so I went looking for real-life examples of severe problem addiction with sports gambling.

Probably the best story that I read was an article from the Roar, 'How sports gambling cost me love'. It was by Hayley Byrnes, who was married to a rugby league player. She talks about the culture within sport of sports players being addicted to sports gambling. She said:

I personally have spent the darkest of hours with a sports gambling addict. Without delving into too much personal detail out of respect to this person, I can however say that for over four years I battled weekly with a live in boyfriend’s gambling addiction.In the end we both lost.

… … …

It wasn't until one night in bed after a few weeks of living together with my partner that I started to have any indication there could be trouble in paradise. As we lay in bed, he sat up next to me, eyes fixed on the laptop.

"What are you doing on that so late?" I mumbled.

"Oh just watching a tennis bet," he replied. 3am rolled around and he was still up, eyes glued to that screen watching live tennis scores like a heroin addict waiting for his next delivery.

The article goes on to say that eventually this couple did seek therapy. In that therapy, after not talking for the first two therapy sessions, her partner talked about the very first time that he gambled:

… as a 16-year-old kid he was led into the TAB by fellow teammates, unbeknownst to him at the time that one bet would cost him his football career, friendships and his first love.

It was a very compelling story about real lives.

I think Senator Humphries said gambling causes 'some' harm. I think even single individuals and single lives being ruined by gambling addiction is a lot of harm. There is plenty of evidence to show that there is more than some harm in our community. The risks are very real that we might see gambling addiction normalised, especially if we see it in sports advertising, which kids can watch. I want to use the word 'stimulus' again, because that is what we know drives, or certainly helps facilitate, gambling addiction. On television at quarter time, at half-time, after the game and of course before the game, there is the temptation, the stimulus, to get people interested in laying a bet, in gambling. I do not have the compulsion myself, and I know lots of people who have healthy habits in terms of laying bets. But addiction, whether it is gambling, alcohol or heroin, is all the same. It is a physiological problem that is very difficult for people to combat and it takes a lot of effort to overcome.

We talk about the need for regulation. It is my understanding that the voluntary code on odds has been in place now for a couple of months and—let's make this very clear—it has been complied with. We recognise that, but the problem is still there. Nothing has changed. The advertising is still there and the odds are still there. Online betting has risen from $2.4 billion spent in 2007 to almost $10 billion in 2012. In 2012, 528 individual ads were put forward which were collectively broadcast more than 20,000 times. This is big money. The TV rights for AFL is big money—it is huge money. Why do TV companies pay big money? It is obvious: they want eyeballs on the screen. What comes with eyeballs? Ratings. What comes with ratings? Advertising spend. This is all about how TV broadcasters can get advertising spend. It is obvious that, when there is a new, developing market out there—online gambling and sports gambling especially—tied directly to individual sports programs, it is going to be a big market and there is going to be lots of money in it.

My experience with large profits being available to both broadcasters and betting companies is that it spells trouble in terms of regulation, particularly self-regulation. Even the Liberal Party, who understand free-market economics, must recognise that there is a role for government to play when markets fail. One way we classically talk about market failure is when there are costs associated with a particular business activity. The costs associated with gambling are severe in lots of different areas when it comes to its impact on our community. We have looked at it right across the board. Where we see these costs associated with a productive activity, in this case a service, the government has a role to make sure those costs are minimised or those companies pay for those costs.

That is certainly not the Greens' understanding of the system at present, and that is why this motion has been moved by Senator Di Natale—to take very strong action and to not rely on a voluntary code that we do not believe has worked. It is time for regulation. We believe banning all live sporting odds is very important. We also believe that advertising should occur after 9 pm, when we know most children will not be watching advertising. We want to avoid this problem being normalised. We certainly want to see a ban on cash for comment, which, once again, to use Senator Stephens's comment, blurs the lines between what is sport and what is gambling. That is something we certainly cannot afford to introduce into our culture in this country.