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Pokies inquiry set to curb industry -

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Pokies inquiry set to curb industry

The World Today - Thursday, 11 September , 2008 12:52:47

Reporter: Michael Edwards

ELEANOR HALL: In Canberra today a Senate inquiry has begun examining legislation that has the
potential to drastically curb Australia's poker machine industry.

Independent senators Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon have introduced Bills which call for tax
increases on poker machines and limits on the amount of money that punters can bet.

The Senators say the Commonwealth needs to take charge because state governments have shown they
can't be trusted to crack down on a problem which is eroding Australia's social fabric.

Michael Edwards has this report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Family First Senator Steve Fielding says curbing the impact of problem gambling
should be a national priority. Senator Fielding says problem gambling is tearing families apart and
it's largely being driven by poker machines in pubs and clubs.

He says it's something that state governments can't be trusted to fix as they rely so heavily on
revenues generated by the machines.

STEVE FIELDING: How could they sleep at night, the state governments, sleep at night knowing that
50 per cent of the revenue is coming from problem gambling? This is basically stealing from the
vulnerable and it should stop.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: A Senate inquiry has begun examining draft legislation proposed by Senator
Fielding and self-described "no pokies" Senator Nick Xenophon which is aimed at keeping problem
gamblers away from poker machines.

Senator Fielding says his legislation is designed to cut down on how frequently money is put in the
machines.

STEVE FIELDING: Well what the legislation does is it looks at the machines themselves and reduces
how fast they spin. It would also give a break between spins, just allowing people to stop and
think about how much they're spending, and also would look at how ATMs, how close they are to poker
machines and people withdrawing more than they possibly should because they're so close.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: And Senator Fielding is also calling for an increase in taxes on poker machines.

STEVE FIELDING: All the money raised from this extra tax would go into a trust fund that would help
local community groups de-hook themselves from reliance on pokies revenue.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: It's unclear what level of support the legislation will get from the major
parties. Senator Nick Xenophon is calling for bipartisan support.

NICK XENOPHON: We have a Prime Minister who says he hates poker machines, he knows what they do to
families; an Opposition leader who has been very critical of the damage caused by poker machines.
So it's a matter of getting those fine words and putting them into action.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Social welfare groups agree with the senators that pokies are damaging society. Dr
Mark Zirnsak is the chair of the Victorian InterChurch Gambling Taskforce.

MARK ZIRNSAK: The kind of impacts are divorces, family break-ups, loss of housing, fights within
family, including one in eight people who are in counsel for problem gambling reporting there's
been violence in their, domestic violence as a result of their gambling problem.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: But sporting and social clubs say the proposed legislation would prove disastrous.
The clubs say pokies generate $4-billion in revenue and they couldn't survive without them.

David Costello is the chief executive of Clubs Australia.

DAVID COSTELLO: When you look at the whole range of community and sporting facilities at clubs, and
I'm talking only about clubs here provide right around the nation, it is clear that you wouldn't
have clubs any more if they weren't operating gaming machines and could provide the sort of
services they do.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The inquiry is expected to report in November.

ELEANOR HALL: Michael Edwards with that report.