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Senate inquiry into pokies, as gaming lobby m -

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Senate inquiry into pokies, as gaming lobby meets PM

The World Today - Thursday, 13 March , 2008 12:22:00

Reporter: Sabra Lane

ELEANOR HALL: As representatives from Australia's gambling industry were meeting officials in the
Prime Minister's office this morning, the Senate was looking to the possibility of imposing a novel
new tax on the industry.

Family First Senator Steve Fielding has proposed a tax on poker machines that would see them phased
out of clubs and pubs within ten years.

He argues that poker machines are having a detrimental impact on communities, and are used in
massive numbers by problem gamblers.

But, the gaming lobby says the figures on problem gambling are out-dated and irrelevant.

In Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Late yesterday, with little fanfare, the Senate referred a new bill - the Poker Machine
Harm Reduction Tax, off to an inquiry. The Community Affairs Committee will consider the novel bill
and report back to Parliament in late June.

Family First Senator Steve Fielding is behind the proposed legislation. He wants a new tax on
pokies, to help phase them out of pubs and clubs and into the domain of casinos only.

STEVE FIELDING: It's a good thing. I think it's about time that we did look into it but it's action
orientated. It's not just a passive thing, it is action orientated, so looking into proposed laws
but also looking at the pokies plague. And I'm hoping common sense will come out of it and there
will be a agreement to see them phased out of pubs and clubs over the long term.

SABRA LANE: How long would it take to phase them out? What's your argument?

STEVE FIELDING: We think that probably over a decade would make sense. It gives time for all those
people that are employed in pubs and clubs; it gives time to the state governments to de-addict
themselves to the pokies revenue - they are hopelessly addicted to it and quite clearly we need
federal intervention.

That's why Family First is using constitutional powers through taxation to phase poker machines out
of pubs and clubs over a long period of time, and I suggest over a decade.

SABRA LANE: Senator Fielding says the reason why governments are reluctant to address this issue,
is that they receive about $4 billion each year in taxes from gambling revenue. And the Family
First senator argues that nearly 300,000 people have a significant gambling problem, most of them
due to an addiction to poker machines.

But the gaming lobby says most arguments about gambling are based on data that's nearly 10 years
old.

SABRA LANE: They argue that since the Productivity Commission conducted its inquiry into poker
machines in 1999, nearly 10 years ago, that things have vastly changed since then and that problem
gambling isn't such an issue any more.

STEVE FIELDING: Look the issue is, when you come to poker machines 85 per cent of problem gamblers
are using poker machines on a weekly basis. So quite clearly poker machines are a huge issue.
People in the problem gambling sort of state, 50 per cent of them have financial problems and it
also leads to social issues like relationship breakdowns.

So, quite clearly the community is sick and tired of the pokies plague, seeing them all over the
place in every club and pub. And why should we have to face pokies when we just want to go down to
the local pub or club for a meal or a get together with people? It's crazy.

SABRA LANE: Peter Newell is the chairman of Clubs Australia, an organisation which represents the
country's 4,000 registered clubs.

PETER NEWELL: If you look at clubs Australia-wide, I think they employ somewhere around 70,000
people Australia-wide. If Senator Fielding's proposals were to come to pass, I couldn't tell you
exactly how many jobs would be put at stake, but the majority of them, because clubs just, as we
know them, or the majority of them, wouldn't exist.

SABRA LANE: Clubs Australia met with officials in the Prime Minister's office this morning, urging
Mr Rudd to establish a new inquiry into the social impacts of poker machines.

Mr Newell says the last inquiry conducted by the Productivity Commission in 1999 is out-dated, and
that while the welfare lobby often quotes from the commission's findings, that those conclusions
are out of date because the industry has improved.

PETER NEWELL: We're combating a range of allegations, things such as - we have 20 per cent of the
world's poker machines; that problem gambling is, "out of control" - allegations that are not
supported by what we see as the facts.

We also know there is a lot of wild information out there and we have encouraged the Prime Minister
to adopt a uniform, his term "scientific" approach, to have this properly looked at.

SABRA LANE: Do you want the Productivity Commission to specifically look at this again or do you
have faith that the new Senate inquiry into poker machines will address this?

PETER NEWELL: We would be more than happy to have the Productivity Commission look at this again,
and we'd be happy to make submissions to that, and in any other way assist that.

We don't want club revenues coming from problem gamblers any more than anybody else does.

ELEANORE HALL: That's Peter Newell from Clubs Australia ending that report by Sabra Lane.