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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 324

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (11:31): I strongly support the government's intentions in relation to the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010. The internet and electronic media are fast becoming the biggest loophole across many areas of government regulation. The internet has stretched to cover every facet of our lives. We email instead of talk. We can share photos and music and movies with the tap of a finger. And we even use the word 'google' as a verb. We can now carry the world in our pocket. But, like the real world, the virtual one has its dangers.

Contrary to what some vested interests say, I am not in favour of a nanny state. I do not support excessive government regulation, and I think most people are able to make up their own minds. But I do not agree that dangerous products should be easily available or that they should be promoted as fun or fashionable. I think Senator Singh in her contribution and Senator Urquhart before her well outlined the health risks involved in smoking and the terrible human toll.

Everyone knows that tobacco is highly addictive. Everyone knows the chemicals in cigarette smoke slowly destroy you from the inside out. According to figures from the medical journal the Lancet, over five million people die from tobacco related illnesses each year. It is the world's leading cause of preventable death. I do not think anyone could argue that we should not discourage people from smoking and that we should not regulate the sale and advertising of what is a legal product. We already have measures in place to do this in the real world. It follows that in the virtual world, which is now so integrated with the real world, we should have the same measures in place.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau Australia, online advertising revenue in Australia reached $1.256 billion for the six months to 30 June 2011. That represents a growth of 19 per cent compared to the same period in 2010. By comparison, the broader Australian advertising industry grew just 1.1 per cent, using the same time periods. The IAB also predicted that the online industry would grow exponentially to over $3 billion this year. We should not discount the power of advertising in social networks where word of mouth can spread to literally thousands of people every time someone update their status. The dream endorsement for many companies is no longer a quote from a movie star or sportsĀ­man or woman, but from a blogger or even everyday citizens tweeting about how much they like their product. This kind of 'real' promotion is the new gold standard, because people are more likely to believe their friends than advertisers. Of course, some advertisers try to buy in to this promotion, paying well-known bloggers to promote products or by creating what seem to be 'spontaneous' campaigns. What people may not believe if it comes from advertisers, they may believe if it comes from their friends or someone they look up to.

I congratulate the government for recognising the need for reform in this area and for targeting this dangerous product. However, there are other equally important loopholes to close. Online sports betting is now pervading almost every aspect of sport, from advertising on the field and during breaks in the telecast to odds being quoted in the commentary. It is good to see that there is some movement in relation to dealing with that. Unscrupulous operators promoting their games through Facebook or other social networking sites encourage players to buy virtual objects with real money, including gambling chips that can never be cashed out. To paraphrase the Reverend Tim Costello, gamblers can now lose their homes without ever having to leave them.

This sector is urgently in need of greater regulation and protection for consumers. If the government acknowledge that there needs to be greater regulation in internet advertising as part of a comprehensive harm minimisation strategy, they also need to consider the effect of unregulated or poorly regulated gambling activities on the net. This bill constitutes an important reform. I congratulate the government, but I ask them to look further. I will be doing my bit to assist the government by introducing legislation to tighten up the regulations for online advertising for gambling products. That must be the next step. I also look forward to hearing from the government how they will be monitoring the success of these regulations by monitoring tobacco take-up rates, particularly amongst young people. Presumably that information will be available as part of ongoing health surveys. I think this is a good piece of legislation. I hope it is as successful as it is intended to be. I think it will be largely successful. The next step must be online gambling advertising promotion.