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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2164


Senator BARTLETT ( Queensland ) ( 19:30 ): I apologise to senators for requiring a quorum just before the dinner break due to my not being here. I'd like to join with my Greens colleague Senator Hanson-Young in speaking on this issue. The Greens have a number of amendments that will be addressed when we get to the detail of the legislation. In my role as the Greens spokesperson for gambling, I want to put on record our strong concern at the continuing what I was going to call 'inability' but is clear unwillingness of the federal government to adequately address problem gambling. This bill purports to make a small measure to try to address gambling advertising online and in broadcasting, but it clearly has major loopholes, even with the inadequate measures that it's trying to put forward.

On top of that, we have the continuing inaction of this government—and, it should be said, of the previous Labor government as well—when it comes to the massive social harm that is done, particularly by poker machines in the community. That is something that the federal government can address, should it choose to do so, but they've clearly chosen not to do so. What we are now seeing, with major social and human harm being caused across most of Australia because of the world-record amounts of pokies proliferation, is a huge cost—a huge social cost, and a huge economic cost as well.

It is impossible to reach any conclusion other than that this world-record level of pokies per capita in Australia—clearly, the most of any country in the world—is a deliberate policy decision. It's an orchestrated outcome of decisions of governments, both Labor and Liberal, at state and federal levels to allow this to happen and to enable it to be brought about. Clearly, this is because of the significant amounts of money that the pokies lobby donates to both political parties. The Greens would certainly like to see donations from gambling interests banned entirely. If that happened, I think we would definitely get far better policy and legislative outcomes in this area, whether it's regulation of advertising and promotion of gambling or how we deal with it online or in the broader community. The fact that the federal government is legislating in the area of online content services and broadcasting shows that it has the constitutional power to do so. I am quite sure that, were they of a mind, the federal government could legislate national controls and standards for poker machines as well. That's something the Greens will promote, and we'll be pushing that issue more fully as we move into the federal election.

We saw at the state election in Tasmania that the fate of poker machines was a major issue. We don't yet know how much money the gambling lobby put into ensuring that their interests were looked after in that state election, because it hasn't been disclosed, but the amount was extraordinary. That is certainly not going to deter the Greens from continuing to push this issue with our various representatives in state parliaments and at the federal level. The issue in regard to this particular legislation and the way that it seeks to deal with advertising of gambling is a sign, once again, of government looking after its mates. Those are the loopholes that the Greens will try to close with amendments to this particular legislation.

Let's be clear: this is something that the public wants. The public does not want to see gambling advertising proliferating across sporting programs or after programs. They don't like to see the amount of influence that the gambling lobby now has through sponsorship of sporting teams. This is something that can be got rid of in the same way that it was with cigarette companies. We used to have cigarette companies sponsoring football teams and providing all the advertising around the grounds. We even had premierships and best and fairest medals named after brands of cigarettes. That was phased out. It was phased out with the conscious choice at the federal government level and financial assistance to enable sporting bodies to transition to other sources of revenue. I believe the same needs to happen in regard to the gambling influence in sport and, I might say, in regard to poker machines as well. At the federal level, we can provide financial incentives for states to move away from their dependence on poker machines, get rid of the massive social harm that they are causing and enable similar amounts of revenue and money to be spent in the community in ways that are not tied to such massive human harm. The sooner we can do that, the sooner we can put an end to some of the terrible suffering that poker machines and problem gambling cause.

I should say that I and indeed the Greens are not against all forms of gambling. We don't seek to ban it or rule it out. What we seek to ensure is that it's properly regulated. At the moment, particularly in the poker machine area but even in this measure before us now, it is not adequately regulated. There is not adequate protection against problem gamblers and gambling addicts being inappropriately targeted. The fact is that there has been some small progress in regard to trying to assist problem gamblers in the online space. The fact that that principle is accepted by the industry in the online space as a code of practice is good, but it does mean that it should be able to be applied in regard to poker machines. If it can be regulated and controlled with a set of standards in an online way, particularly in regard to people opting out universally across the country, then it can be done with poker machines as well. Poker machines these days are all networked. They are all basically plugged into each other across clubs, across casinos and sometimes across different venues as well. So the same opportunity is there and the same legal power is there, should there be the political will to do it. That is something that we certainly would like to encourage other parties to look at, as the Greens will be doing.

The final thing I want to say in regard to this area is to really point out the hypocrisy here at the policy level where we have government turning a blind eye to problem gambling and particularly to poker machine addiction, which is the worst and most addictive form of gambling that there is, while at the same time we have a minister in this government saying that we need to put all people who are on income support and receiving welfare payments on a cashless welfare card so they can't decide for themselves how to spend their money. They are using things like gambling addicts and people putting money in pokies as a reason why this needs to happen. If they're really concerned about the harm caused by people putting their money in poker machines then they should tackle the problem of poker machines and not further punish people who are addicted at the other end of the process. That's where they should be putting their attention if they are genuinely concerned about how people on welfare are spending their money—removing and regulating the danger of the deliberately addictive nature of poker machines being proliferated throughout the community.

In my own state of Queensland we have the state Labor government there continuing to push a policy of more casinos and somehow trying to create the myth that you need a big casino somewhere to create a tourist attraction. We are seeing that in my own city, in Brisbane, with the Queen's Wharf project. A huge amount of public land is being given over to the casino baron, with a huge pile of poker machines added to it. At the same time the state government are making it harder for small venues and live music venues with their restrictive lockout laws they are giving the casinos a complete exemption. We saw that in New South Wales as well, with their lockout laws—funnily enough, the casino gets an exemption. It is the same in Queensland. The casinos always seem to get an exemption.

The state Labor government are currently trying to do exactly the same thing in Cairns, on a smaller scale, as they have done with Queen's Wharf in Brisbane, and have a CBD casino. There is already a casino there, but they want to put a casino in the CBD—and, again, provide a developer with the use of some public land and just call it all a tourism hub, as though a casino is essential for a tourism hub. To make it profitable, it will inevitably rely on the local population spending money on the pokies. I was walking through the existing Cairns casino just a couple of weeks ago. The casino is 90 per cent pokies, I think. There are a few blackjack tables and a few other things, but 90 per cent of it was pokies. Clearly a lot of the people there were locals. It is clear that the existing casino relies on the local population putting their money into pokies to try to maintain its profitability. Why any government would be looking at building bigger casinos with more poker machines is beyond me. Certainly the Greens will continue to do what we can to stop that.

I repeat my praise for the state Labor government in moving to ban donations from property developers, because of the way they have clearly perverted the policy and decision-making processes at a local government and state level. Clearly the same thing has happened with the gambling lobby, and we need to see them, in particular, put into the same category. They cause just as much social harm—in fact, more social harm in lots of ways. The suicides, the family breakdowns and the crime consequences that come from gambling addiction are well documented. A body as dry as the Productivity Commission has examined this, and it has detailed the harm to productivity, purely from an economic side of things, because of our poker machine policy and our inadequate regulations around gambling.

What we should not be doing—and, unfortunately, are doing with the inadequacies in this legislation, unless the Senate can support the amendments that Senator Hanson-Young is putting forward—is opening up the risk of further social harm being caused because of inappropriate advertising reaching people that it shouldn't be reaching. We need a better regulatory regime, and I urge the Senate to look at the amendments that are put forward in this chamber to strengthen the regulatory regime being put in this legislation.