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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2171


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (20:00): I rise to make a contribution this evening to the Communications Legislation Amendment (Online Content Services and Other Measures) Bill 2017 before us. I want to start with two words: Sam Pickles. Sam Pickles happens to be a character from a very Australian book called Cloudstreet, which you may be familiar with, Acting Deputy President Sterle. It is written about your home town of Perth, in Western Australia, where I also grew up as a boy. It's become one of the most read novels in Australia by a Western Australian author, Tim Winton, who you may also be familiar with. I was very fortunate to meet Mr Winton on Saturday night and had my copy of Cloudstreet signed.

In Cloudstreet the key character, Sam Pickles, is a likeable enough man who does his best for his family, but he's a terribly compulsive gambler. He has an addiction to gambling. The story talks about the life of the family and their challenges as they deal with Sam's gambling habits. The conclusion you draw is that he just can't help himself sometimes. He calls it 'the hairy hand of Lady Luck'. He believes in an external force that is somehow always going to deliver him the next win. Of course, he blows all the family savings and they lose their home and their friends. It's really about their trials and travesties. The book, while it might be fiction, is the sad story of a lot of Australians who have addictive gambling personalities and addictive gambling problems.

Any kind of addiction, whether it's gambling, alcohol, drugs or sex, tends to be seen in this society as perhaps a weakness or a philosophical or character flaw. In fact, it's very much a physiological problem. While I accept some of Senator Smith's assertions here tonight that we shouldn't be too prescriptive in trying to regulate for what he calls 'a psychological problem'—and, let's be honest, that's exactly what it is for many Australians who suffer from addiction, such as gambling addition—the government has a very important role to play, as it does in dealing with other forms of addiction. We have very strong rules, regulations and laws in this country around the use of illicit drugs. We regulate tobacco, alcohol and other drugs because of addiction and the negative externalities that are associated with people who are addicted. We know that gambling, as Sam Pickles shows in the book Cloudstreet, can not only ruin families; the problems can flow right through communities.

My home state of Tasmania has just had a state election that has seen the Hodgman government re-elected on the back of the mother of all pro-gambling industry election campaigns that I have certainly ever seen. Senator McKim, who's been through a few elections in Tasmania, would say the same thing. We don't know how much money the gambling industry has pumped into this election. We're guessing it's several million dollars, if not way more than that. Because of Tasmania's gambling laws, we may never know exactly how much money big gambling has put into the Tasmanian election.

The Greens have been campaigning for decades to remove pokies from pubs and clubs in Tasmania. We've worked with stakeholders right across the board. We've looked at the problems of problem gambling, addiction, and the amount of money being lost through pokies to local communities and to local businesses where that money would be spent otherwise. The government don't mind it, because they pull in some tax, but we've estimated, through ACOSS and TasCOSS—the Tasmanian branch of ACOSS—and a number of other stakeholders, that we are talking about tens of millions of dollars of revenue each year being taken out of the Tasmanian community and going directly into the pockets of those big gambling companies, in particular the Federal Group. That is owned by one family, the Farrell family. They are based in Sydney, but they set up Federal Group in Tasmania and essentially it has a monopoly on gambling in Tasmania. We have casinos and a number of pubs and clubs that have slot machines.

We have had lots of debates in here about problem gambling around slot machines and pokies. This is different, because it is about advertising for sports bets, but the principle is essentially the same. For someone who is addicted to pokies, the addiction is fed by bright lights, stimulation, noise and, of course, the idea that somehow the hairy hand of luck is going to come down on their side of the ledger. It is no different with sports betting on TV. When someone with an addiction problem is sitting down in front of their TV and they get into a sports event that they are highly into, especially if it is their team, these things also offer stimulation. These are the sorts of things that the committee uncovered when we looked at this, and the online gaming inquiry that the Senate Environment and Communications Committee held last year also talked about the systems that have been put in place in online gaming. But the principle is basically the same.

The philosophical question is: does the government have a role to play in trying to regulate and reduce the harm from problem gaming, whether it is problem gaming online, problem gambling through online sports betting or gambling through pokies or other forms of gambling? And of course we do. The bill that we have before us today doesn't get to the heart of the matter as far as the Greens are concerned. Senator Hanson-Young, my colleague—you were a bit worried then, weren't you, Senator Hanson-Young, as you thought I wasn't going to add the second part of your name—gave a great speech in here tonight where she basically said that, on behalf of Foxtel, the government has deliberately produced a loophole to let channels like ESPN get exclusive rights to broadcast gambling ads to children. We don't think it's satisfactory that any ban on sports betting finishes at 8.30 pm. When I get the chance to sit down and watch the AFL—which is, sadly, very rare these days—8.30 pm is not even getting towards half-time. That's when things are starting to get warmed up. Usually, it is not until we get to later in the game that things start getting pretty tense.

Why ban online sports betting at 8.30 pm? Who came up with that arbitrary line? Is that when we think children go to bed? Well, they don't. My children certainly don't go to bed at that time. They go directly online or they do other things. I don't think the old-fashioned 5.30 pm to 8.30 pm when you get tucked into bed really works anymore, if that is what has driven this decision—but we can ask Senator Fifield about this during the committee stage. Sports events like the Big Bash—and I can think of lots of other events—can go to much later at night. Sometimes the tennis will go until midnight, depending on who is playing and how many tie breaks you get, especially in the fifth set. But the same point applies: why turn it off at 8.30 pm?

I want to get back to the loophole that I mentioned and that Senator Hanson-Young mentioned. Let's be clear: this loophole wasn't identified in this legislation. They didn't leave open an existing loophole in this legislation; they created a new one. And who benefits from this loophole? It's not the media industry. Every broadcasting network and online content provider has to abide by the new restrictions, although we've made it clear we don't think those restrictions are anywhere near good enough—especially to prevent children from picking up the habits of online sports betting. This exemption doesn't apply to them. It's not the community, who overwhelmingly oppose gambling advertisements during live sporting events. It's not children, who are supposed to be protected by this legislation but are instead having that protection undermined. The only one who benefits from this is Foxtel.

Who could be surprised that this government would put the interests of Foxtel above the interests of the public? This is a government that gave Foxtel a $30 million handout because they were worried their media favourites weren't getting enough money out of the Liberals' media reform deal with Senator Xenophon and One Nation. I remember those special deals from not so long ago very well. This is the government whose communications minister received a fancy pair of cufflinks from Foxtel a week after the deal came through. He may indeed even be wearing those tonight! We can ask that question during the committee stage.

The Australian Greens think the intent of the bill is too important to water down, especially when we've come so far, with the inquiries we've had and the time it's taken to get the legislation to this point. I remember having a very late night in here with Senator Xenophon a few years ago on online betting. I remember going to an inquiry in Melbourne where Senator Conroy presented to the committee in his new role with the gambling industry. We've come a long way, so why don't we get it right? Tonight may be the opportunity for us to do that, if we can convince the Senate that we should strike while the iron's hot.

This is about protecting children, not about protecting this government's media mates. The amendment before us today rights a wrong by closing a loophole that puts children at risk just so Foxtel can make a buck. It shuts down the ability of the regulator to agree to carve-outs and exemptions like the one it signed up to on Friday. It means that the regulator can't be asked to sign on the dotted line for any gambling regulations that actively undermine the intent of the prohibition.

It's the job of this place to make legislation better. That's what we are; we're a house of review. It's our job, through the committee stage and through consultation across all party lines, to make legislation better. That's what we'll do tonight—certainly, that's what the Greens are going to attempt to do. This is not a political colour issue—a left-wing or a right-wing issue. This is actually about getting it right, especially for those who have problem-gambling addictions, and about protecting children from going down that road. If you think that children and teenagers aren't susceptible to this, then think again, because the evidence shows that is not the case. I heard that evidence when I was on the committee.

When the Prime Minister was asked about what he wanted to achieve from this bill, he said:

Parents around Australia will be delighted when they know that during football matches and cricket matches, live sporting events before 8:30pm, there will be no more gambling ads.

Let me say that again: the Prime Minister thinks there should be no more gambling ads during live sporting events when there are children watching. The Prime Minister says that the intention of this regulation is to protect children and help parents. I don't imagine the Prime Minister believes that children who live in homes with Foxtel connections or—as I mentioned earlier—those, like my children, who are often up past 8.30 pm are any less deserving of that protection. Yet that's exactly what this exemption for low-audience-share channels, which was signed into effect on Friday, has done.

The amendment is an opportunity to put the Prime Minister's stated intent into effect. It makes explicit that the intention of the bill is to make sure the regulations of gambling promotions in live event coverage are applied consistently across all broadcasting services. It then requires that ACMA checks that the intention of the bill is reflected in any code of practice that it includes in its register. It prohibits ACMA from including a code that undermines the intention of the bill. It gives ACMA the power to remove a code that does not satisfy the bill's intention, which, if this amendment proceeds, would include the Foxtel carve-out that I have mentioned today. It would also prevent giving consideration for a broadcast service's audience share when applying gambling regulations for live coverage of a sporting event. It also increases the time when the prohibition of gambling promotions during live co-produced sporting events kicks in, taking it from five minutes before the event begins to 30 minutes before.

As the government's own explanatory memorandum makes clear, all the analysis and research indicates that the majority of gambling promotions are in the 30 minutes prior to some football matches. That may be so, but I must say tonight and get on the record something that has been a big source of frustration for me. I think the worst online sports-betting gambling ads are the ones on the side of the Adelaide Oval, those flashing lights when you are trying to watch the footy. You are trying to follow the football and what's going on and then your eyes are drawn to these 'place a bet' ads. I don't know if I'm right, Senator Hanson-Young, but most of them seem to be at the Adelaide Oval. It is a personal dislike of mine. Not only am I opposed to Sportsbet and its advertising on TV; it really shits me when I'm watching the football and I get distracted by these flashing lights. They are not just a billboard that's been put up. They flash, and they run really fast. So the wording of 'place a bet'—on whatever it happens to be—goes right around the oval like a firecracker. It's almost impossible to miss if you are watching the footy. It is really, really hard to miss.

Senator Hanson-Young: When you're meant to be watching the ball!

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That's right—when you are meant to be watching the ball. This is a very serious matter and we've made it very clear that these kinds of things are detrimental to problem gamblers, as they potentially are to children.

We believe that kids should be able to watch the pre-game show without being bombarded by a flurry of gambling advertisements. Kids shouldn't have the sporting experience linked to gambling every time they turn on the television. The idea that we want to protect children from being exposed to what all the research shows is dangerous should not be controversial. Children should be protected no matter how many are watching the program. Would we protect 50,000 children watching a sporting program but not 10,000 children doing the same? Why are we protecting children based on numbers, not on principle? The Greens amendment is about saying, 'Just because Foxtel ask for the right to exclusively market gambling ads to children doesn't mean we have to give it to them.' It seems that News Ltd get a lot of what they ask for in this place. It is about showing this government that there is a way not to compromise on good intentions simply because someone gave you some cufflinks one time. We are fixing a problem that was introduced by design, but it's a chance to protect children and push back on a broadcasting service that thinks it should be exempted from that responsibility. When we go into the committee stage Senator Hanson-Young and the Greens will be raising these issues, and I'm sure—much to your delight, Minister!—we will go into more detail on these issues.

Briefly, to summarise, problem gambling is a big issue in this country. It goes across all sorts of platforms. From online gaming on computers at home to sports bets on TV, we get an incredible amount of stimulation. Did you know you can place a bet on who is going to kick the next goal, where it is going to be kicked from or which team is going to do it next? There are all sorts of things you can bet on during a game when you are caught up in the excitement of it all. Or it could be pokies. We need to accept that the government has a role to play in minimising the damage that problem gambling and problem gaming causes not just for individuals and their families but for communities and, often, the economy. This is money that could be spent elsewhere. We don't believe with that physiological addiction that is so evident, especially in poorer communities like we have in Tasmania that have pokie addictions and state governments that have pokie addictions, that not regulating those industries because you're in the pockets of big gaming or, in this case, creating exemptions because you are in the pocket of Rupert Murdoch and News Ltd is good enough. Tonight is a chance for the Senate to get it right, to do our job, to scrutinise the legislation before us and to make sure this amendment will get the balance right on the original bill that came through this place, which I and my colleagues and many other senators in this place contributed towards. So I will be sitting here with Senator Hanson-Young during the committee stage and we will look forward to asking the minister a few more questions about his cufflinks.