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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1439


Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (17:50): I rise to speak on this issue which, no doubt, is of increasing community concern around Australia. Gambling is an industry that is growing rapidly in this country. We have seen growth in the number of local companies that are involved. We have seen international outfits come onto the scene that are active in this area. A number of speakers have talked about the offshore gambling companies as well, which is obviously a concern for legislators. With the offshore companies, it is very hard to track how much money local Australians are gambling through those companies, and then there are the associated parts of that in terms of how much tax those companies are paying if they are taking the money offshore. There is also the issue, for those offshore companies, of harm minimisation. Obviously, any regulation that we bring in from an Australian point of view does not apply to those offshore companies. That is a concern from a level playing field point of view.

In terms of the legislation that is before us, it goes some way towards tightening the restrictions around these organisations. Obviously, with the proliferation of these companies we have also seen an increase in promotion and advertising from betting companies. I think that what has come with that is increasing community concern around that advertising. I know that Senator O'Neill has foreshadowed that Labor will be moving an amendment, and that amendment says:

The Senate calls on the government to work with the broadcasting industry and national sporting organisations on a transition plan to phase out the promotion of betting odds and commercials relating to betting or gambling before and during live sporting broadcasts, with a view to their prohibition.

I think that is something that would be welcomed by the community.

I am sure many people across Australia feel this when they sit down to watch their favourite team play or their favourite sport on TV, particularly with young children. You get concerned about the focus on live gambling and the ability or the encouragement or giving people the option to gamble on sporting matches. I know myself, as someone who has been a long-term season ticket holder of the Broncos, that, when I first started going to games as a season ticket holder, which would be about 10 years ago now, you did not see or were not encouraged to partake in gambling. But now and increasingly you see the sponsors on the jerseys and you see the sponsors on the ground, and indeed the opportunity to gamble within the sporting stadium is increasingly being promoted. When you see the mix of people who attend those football matches and understand the mix that would be watching at home on TV as well, you understand that traditionally, from an Australian point of view, partaking of or viewing sporting activities has increasingly been a family affair, so I think that, when we look at the potential damage that gambling can cause, we always need to look at it from that point of view.

The other thing I have noticed—and through the committee process I have had the opportunity to ask questions of the companies involved in these outfits—is that increasingly people who gamble are doing it through the apps on their phone or online. A good example of that was on Boxing Day. I went to my local club with some friends to watch the Boxing Day test. We were sitting at the TAB inside the RSL club, and there were a lot of people gambling, but not many people were getting up and using the terminal at the club. Increasingly, people are using their phone to gamble and not using the machines.

When it comes to looking at harm minimisation and what that means, if I am sitting there at a club and just gambling on my phone, there is no way that anyone inside that club is actually going to know what I am doing. Obviously, you could have a number of mobile phone apps on your phone and use any one of those to gamble. I think that, when you look at the proliferation of the companies involved and the fact that you can open an account with any of them, we need to constantly look at ensuring that we have the best practice possible to ensure that the harm minimisation policies are effective in this regard.

When we had the opportunity to question some of the companies recently, they attempted to put the argument that the focus for that effort should go on the financial institutions, so they are the ones who should bear the responsibility for identifying problem gamblers and be the ones to report that or potentially put a freeze on that person's account. I do not think it is good enough on the part of the companies to effectively pass the buck to the financial institutions. There obviously needs to be a lot more pressure put on those companies as this issue continues to develop and the community and therefore governments and parliaments have to respond to that challenge.

In terms of the proposed Labor amendment, I think it is appropriate for us to signal that this is something that we would pursue in government as well. We are really sending a message to the industry—and that is the broader industry, those gambling companies but also those people who benefit in a financial sense from the advertising—so that they know that Labor are determined to act in this regard, and we will continue to pursue that both in opposition and potentially in government as well.

Just further to my point about the offshore operators, who obviously do not currently pay tax in Australia: in the 2015 review of the impact of illegal offshore wagering, stakeholders highlighted that the current mechanisms for enforcement within the existing framework were insufficient and that they were no longer competing on a level playing field. Again, through the committee process, this has been raised by a number of the companies. Despite the large number of complaints that have been raised since the Interactive Gambling Act was established in 2001, there have not been any prosecutions, so I think that, with any changes to the Interactive Gambling Act, we need to look at the enforcement as well to ensure that we are doing our utmost to hold those companies to account.

But at the heart of this bill is the creation of a legal framework that is suitable for the industry and, importantly, empowers the Australian Communications and Media Authority with enforcement powers and the relevant authority under the act by ensuring that the Australian Communications and Media Authority becomes an efficient regulator with powers to issue informal warnings, infringement notices, civil penalties and injunctions. That aspect of the bill is certainly welcomed by Labor and, I think, as we have seen through the evidence process in the committees, is much needed. In particular, I welcome the creation of an offence and a civil penalty for a person who provides a regulated interactive gambling service to a person in Australia who does not possess a relevant licence from the state or territory government. This is inherently simple in its intent. There is now a clear framework for ACMA to investigate and take action against unlicensed services.

Another tool for ACMA's enforcement is the use of a civil penalty regime to encourage and support improved compliance with the Interactive Gambling Act. This will ensure that ACMA will be able to properly investigate and respond to breaches of the new regulatory regime. Frequently, under the current framework, that was unable to occur, due to other agencies not regarding these breaches as a priority and acting on them. This includes provisions for ACMA to refer complaints to the Australian Federal Police if they believe it is warranted. We also welcome the amendments to notify international regulators about their licensees who have been found to have broken provisions of the IGA. Previously, the offshore locations of a number of companies has made it very difficult to enforce current provisions of the Interactive Gambling Act. However, providing ACMA with relevant powers to help build those relationships with foreign regulators is a good start and no doubt will provide a framework for ACMA to enforce these new provisions. Certainly, from the evidence that we had from the department they are determined to work with international bodies to ensure that they make progress in this respect to ensure that there is more stringent accountability on an international level to those offshore gambling companies from an Australian point of view.

In terms of the proliferation of gambling, it is something that is of concern to me. It is something I intend to continue to keep a close eye on. I have enjoyed the role I have played in the committee in the short time I have been on it. I think that it is obviously something that is a constant feature of parliament, whether it be looking at pokies or looking at interactive gambling. I think it is something that is moving very fast, particularly with the availability online these days and moving into an international phase. Therefore, it is something that governments will continue to deal with. I am pleased to support the Interactive Gambling Act and I am pleased to advocate for the amendment that Senator O'Neill moved. It is an issue that I will continue to deal with as a senator.