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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10380


Senator BACK (Western AustraliaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (21:09): I rise to contribute to this debate on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and related bills and pick up on the points that Senator Xenophon has made. As an original member of the committee, when it was first established under the chairmanship of Mr Wilkie, I too have participated in the hearings and listened to the harrowing stories that have been outlined. Senator Di Natale is quite right when he makes mention of the fact that this is an addiction.

As a Western Australian, where, of course, we do not have poker machines except in the casino, I can look at this somewhat more dispassionately, perhaps, than others can. As the Leader of the National Party and the duty senator has just said, they are a curse. I have no doubt about that. On a matter totally unrelated to this debate this evening, it never ceases to amaze me that we have a circumstance in which some of the states and territories in this country earn up to 10 per cent of their annual revenue from gambling. That in itself is an horrific figure. It worries me enormously that when GST calculations are made, Senator Cash, for some reason that 10 per cent of revenue earned by the states that have poker machines does not seem to be brought to account in the overall calculation. That is irrelevant to the discussion.

My whole professional life has been more about prevention than it has been about treatment. When we speak of addiction, we should first try to focus on those areas where we can prevent it. Nothing I have seen in my membership of the committee or in the documentation that has come out has led me towards any move or thrust by the government or indeed by the committee under its chairmanship of Mr Wilkie which looks at prevention of these problems associated with poker machines.

I go to the concept of voluntary precommitment. It is my understanding that this really is an issue of the states, that all of the casinos in this country do have voluntary precommitment systems. The clubs in the main, if not all, have voluntary precommitment systems and, if the hotels do not, I think they should be dragged if necessary kicking and screaming to ensure that they have them. I know from my days working in the field of hardware and software that it does take a long period of time to actually develop the hardware and software technology, to test it and retest it where it gets to the level of compliance with state and other authority requirements, that you cannot introduce this in a five-minute period. I understand that today's passing of the amended National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 has in fact recognised that it will take a longer period of time to introduce this technology, to test it rigorously and to ensure that it does meet the statutory requirements of the states and territories. I made it my business to go and visit the manufacturers and the software developers to establish for myself that in their industry as in the industry with which I was associated—being the retail fuel industry and the credit card industry—those same restrictions do occur.

If anyone thinks for one minute that this is a move on the way towards mandatory precommitment in terms of poker machines, then they are sadly wrong because all of the evidence available to me—and I have the utmost respect for Senator Xenophon—says that mandatory precommitment does not and will not work. My only involvement in this industry in terms of gambling has been in wagering in the horse racing industry. I can assure Senator Evans that I was never involved in the gambling side. In fact, when I was a young veterinarian working in a race horse practice in Melbourne, an elderly trainer once said to me, 'Dr Back, the only way you will ever make money following horses is with a broom and shovel.' I followed that assiduously and I never became a gambler, but I did see those who became addictive problem gamblers. One of the things that I remarked on was the fact that once a person is an addictive gambler the form of gambling they participate in does not matter.

It disappointed me when the Productivity Commission met with us—and I am sure Senator Evans can relate to this—and they said, 'People are very loyal to their form of gambling. They very rarely change. They may go away for a period of time but they will always come back.' The point I made to the Productivity Commission people was: when the casino was first introduced in Western Australia, a whole series of people went away from wagering to casino gambling and they never came back. This point has been evident in Norway and elsewhere when you have in some way limited—in this case poker machine gambling—to the extent that it becomes unattractive to people. They simply move. They move to internet gambling, they move to online gambling—and that was the experience in Norway. Senator Xenophon, Mr Wilkie and I have had spirited discussions about this, but the simple point I want to make is the fact that we have got to arrange a circumstance in which those problem gamblers honour their other commitments to expenditure before they actually have the money to gamble.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Pursuant to order earlier today, the time for this debate has now expired and I am compelled to put the second reading motion. The question is:

That these bills now be read a second time.