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Notice given 2 May 2003

1422  Senator Allison: To ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister—

(1) Did the Prime Minister receive a letter from the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials in early March 2003 urging Australian, British and American leaders to form an international taskforce to protect ancient monuments, archaeological sites and museum collections in the event of a war with Iraq; if so: (a) can a copy of the letter be provided; and (b) what action was taken in response to the letter.

(2) Has Australia complied with the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, March 1999.

(3) Are reports that western military personnel were stationed to protect Iraq’s oil resources but not its cultural resources accurate.

(4) Will the Australian Government now work to establish an international taskforce, able to enter Iraq as soon as possible, to prevent further looting of cultural property and assess the potential for salvaging cultural artefacts; if not, why not.

1423  Senator Allison: To ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister—With reference to the Productivity Commission report no. 10, Australia’s Gambling Industries , dated 26 November 1999: Can information be provided on the progress made by the Ministerial Council on Gambling in respect of each of the following issues identified, and findings contained, in the report (pp 3-4):

Ÿ  Quantification of the costs and benefits of the gambling industries is hazardous. Uncertainty about key parameters constrained the Commission to providing low and high estimates. For the gambling industries as a whole, estimates of their net contribution to society, ranged from a net loss of $1.2 billion to a net benefit of $4.3 billion. This masks divergent results for different gambling modes, with lotteries revealing clear net benefits, whereas gaming machines and wagering include the possibility of net losses.

Ÿ  Policy approaches for the gambling industries need to be directed at reducing the costs of problem gambling - through harm minimisation and prevention measures - while retaining as much of the benefit to recreational gamblers as possible.

Ÿ  The current regulatory environment is deficient. Regulations are complex,  fragmented and often inconsistent. This has arisen because of inadequate policy-making processes and strong incentives for governments to derive revenue from the gambling industries.

Ÿ  Restrictions on competition have not reduced the accessibility of gambling other than for casino games. With the possible exception of casinos, current restrictions on competition have little justification.

Ÿ  Venue caps on gaming machines are preferable to state-wide caps in helping to moderate the accessibility drivers of problem gambling. However, more targeted consumer protection measures - if implemented - have the potential to be much more effective, with less inconvenience to recreational gamblers.

Ÿ  Existing arrangements are inadequate to ensure the informed consent of consumers, or to ameliorate the risks of problem gambling. Particular deficiencies relate to:

- information about the ‘price’ and nature of gambling products (especially gaming machines);

- information about the risks of problem gambling;

- controls on advertising (which can be inherently misleading);

- availability of ATMs and credit; and

-  pre-commitment options, including self-exclusion arrangements.

Ÿ  In such areas, self-regulatory approaches are unlikely to be as effective as explicit regulatory requirements. In most cases, regulation can be designed to enhance, rather than restrict consumer choice, by allowing better information and control.

Ÿ  Counselling services for problem gamblers serve an essential role, but there is a lack of monitoring and evaluation of different approaches, and funding arrangements in some jurisdictions are too short term.

Ÿ  Services, awareness promotion and research activities related to problem gambling are likely to be most effectively funded from earmarked levies on all segments of the gambling industry, with the allocation of funds independently administered.

Ÿ  The mutuality principle, combined with lack of constraints on gaming machine numbers, appears to be distorting the investment and pricing decisions of some clubs, with impacts on competitors. Of the options for dealing with it, only tax action at the state level appears feasible.

Ÿ  Policy decisions on key gambling issues have in many cases lacked access to objective information and independent advice - including about the likely social and economic impacts - and community consultation has been deficient.

Ÿ  An ideal regulatory model would separate clearly the policy-making, control and enforcement functions.

Ÿ  The key regulatory control body in each state or territory should have statutory independence and a central role in providing information and policy advice, as well is in administering gambling legislation. It should cover all gambling forms and its principal operating criteria should be consumer protection and the public interest.