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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1446

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (18:20): I oppose the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. It is paternalistic, nanny-state legislation based on the assumption that prohibition is an effective regulatory response to something of which the government disapproves. The intention of the bill it to make it impossible for Australians to bet on sporting matches while they are in play. There is already legislation that seeks to make this illegal, but it has some loopholes. This bill seeks to remove those loopholes.

Why does the government want to ban in-play gambling? Why should some forms of gambling be legal, even encouraged, while another form is prohibited? The justification we are given is that in-play gambling leads to match-fixing. There have been examples of that in the past. So there is an assumption that the only way to prevent such match-fixing is to ban in-play gambling. I am not discounting the fact that match-fixing or spot-fixing might sometimes be a problem. In recent years, we have seen examples of this in some sports, such as cricket and tennis, but this legislation is no solution. Banning live betting on the internet in this country will have no more impact on match-fixing than banning the production of pornography in Australia would have on the availability of porn. The internet just does not work that way. The only winners will be unregulated, untrustworthy offshore operations, and punters will have no protection if they get ripped off. And when those unregulated, untrustworthy offshore operations play host to punters engaged in match fixing or spot fixing, nobody in Australia will be able to follow the money trail. It will all be invisible.

The United Kingdom has taken a better approach. The UK's Gambling Commission is authorised to manage gambling licences and to monitor betting to ensure everything is run in a safe and efficient manner. They understand that banning betting will not stop dodgy practices. Instead, they concentrate on monitoring the integrity of sports betting and looking after the interests of punters. They can look for signs of match fixing, act on tip-offs and follow the money trail. If they find evidence of match fixing they can deal with the individuals at fault, including cancelling licences and launching prosecutions, while leaving all the innocent punters alone. So instead of collectively treating gamblers like naughty schoolchildren, they treat them individually as adults whose pastimes are a legitimate form of entertainment and whose interests are worth protecting. What a novel attitude.

Australia loves to ban things. This ban on live betting adds to the nanny state nonsense and it will not stop match fixing. It could also turn hundreds of Australians who have been betting online without harming anyone else into our latest class of criminals.

Also caught up in this bad legislation are hundreds of Australians who enjoy a flutter on online poker. Online poker is not a spectator sport. Nobody tries to fix a cricket match as part of an online poker game. There is no public interest in banning it as part of interactive gambling laws. I have an amendment to exempt online poker and blackjack from the bill. It is insane that they were ever caught up in it. But ultimately, I don't want the bill to pass. I believe individuals have a right to make decisions for themselves, no matter whether we would make the same decisions ourselves.

Finally, if the legislation passes, I would like to take this opportunity to give some advice to online poker players. Notwithstanding the risk of offshore hosts, screw the government: get yourself a VPN and an offshore account and carry on as you were. And I wish all of you the best of luck.