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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 4428


Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (19:50): This legislation, as far as it goes, is fairly simple. It has been, I might say, fairly adequately explained by the previous speaker, so I won't go over in great detail the provisions of the legislation or the consequences of it. It's pretty widely known that it's explicitly aimed at Lottoland and any other variants of what they do. It's known as, I guess, contingency betting, where people don't bet on a lotto but on the outcome of a lotto. Rather than buying a Powerball ticket, they bet on the outcome of the Powerball in a sort of second-hand way. Doing so online, whether through an Australian or an overseas lottery agency, is potentially opening up another whole area of problematic gambling in the online arena.

I'll say at the outset that I'm not opposed to gambling per se and I'm not opposed to online gambling per se. I dabble in it very occasionally in very small amounts, as I'm sure many people do in Australia, but, as we all know, it can cause significant problems for some people and it causes huge problems for a significant number of people in Australia, and, when that happens, it can have massive flow-on consequences for their families and their friends. We all know the stories of bankruptcies, people losing their houses, suicides and families being split asunder because of problem gambling and gambling addiction. Whilst I'm certainly not laying all of that at the feet of Lottoland, I am certainly saying that anybody can run into problem gambling with any type of gambling, even if it's just buying scratchies at the newsagent. All of the evidence demonstrates that the type of gambling that occurs through pokies in particular is the area that is by far the most damaging and the most addictive. I say as an aside that it's pleasing to see the Senate today make the decision to agree to a Senate committee inquiry into so-called loot boxes in gaming—another area of online activity, often involving children. It's quite deliberately designed to be akin to the mechanisms that addict people to pokies.

I think it is pretty clear that the approach that Lottoland and similar organisations use is problematic, even before you get into the issues of its impact on small businesses and newsagencies. People involved in newsagencies have come to see me from different areas and with different perspectives. Senator O'Neill spoke about those perspectives—the different concerns and the different views about this legislation, what the impact might be on newsagents and similar small businesses, whether there might be other ways of doing things and what some unintended consequences of this legislation might be. One thing I will say, particularly in this area online, is that, when you do put your finger on one thing and say, 'This is a problem. We'll squish that,' it can be a bit like with a balloon, where it will just pop up somewhere else. It may be that that will happen, but, in my view, that's not a sufficient reason not to address the immediate problem that is there. It's an area that needs continuing, ongoing monitoring. I know that it's something that governments at the state and federal levels have talked about. Personally, I think, they're small gains, but in this area any gain is worth acknowledging when it comes to tackling problem gambling and gambling addiction.

The online gambling protections that were agreed by gambling ministers towards the end of last year are good, as far as they go. The fact that the government has acted relatively quickly in this area to ensure that it could be addressed before it got out of control—if it's not Lottoland; it's another organisation using a similar business model doing the same sort of thing, potentially in a more irresponsible way—is good as far as it goes. But the point does have to be made that the big elephant in the room—in fact, about 20 elephants' size—is the pokies themselves. They are not being addressed. We can get quick action on these companies and we can paint them all as bad guys from overseas and all of that sort of stuff, but the major harm that is being caused by problem gambling and gambling addiction—which is quite knowingly being generated; indeed, it is a business model that the pokie barons rely on—is not being addressed.

I do give credit to the Tasmanian Labor Party for their attempt to rid pokies from their state in the last state election. We all know about the absolute avalanche of money that the pokies lobby poured in. In fact, we don't know yet how big that avalanche of money was, because it still hasn't been disclosed and won't be for some time. But we all know there was an avalanche of money that came in from the pokies industry to try to ensure that pokies remained in Tasmania and so there couldn't be an example of pokies introduction being wound back. It is, of course, quite possible for a state to be a flourishing, vibrant community and have a thriving economy—with the same sort of number of jobs and the same sorts of community benefit funds from all sorts of other avenues—without having pokies in every second pub throughout the place, because that's the case in WA. They had them in the casino there, of course—and that's another sweetheart deal—but at least they haven't been spread like the plague, like an electronic version of the cane toad, around the rest of the country, as has happened, unfortunately, everywhere else. That is where our attention needs to be.

Whilst it's good that there has been cross-party and rapid action on this small area that creates a potential problem—and I acknowledge alongside that its potential local small business impact and the disputed views about what that might be and, indeed, who else might move into this space—the one thing I would say is that, whilst the Greens don't oppose this legislation; we do need to keep watching this space about who else might move into similar sorts of things in similar sorts of ways. As we all know, particularly when it comes to online stuff, the landscape is constantly changing. People who are looking to make a buck out of gambling, as we have all seen in the sports betting arena, are always looking for different ways to get to the consumer. It's not so much about giving people the opportunity to bet—as I say, I do that myself occasionally—but is more about finding the people who are vulnerable and to find the addict.

It is worth noting that the federal government has been able to get agreement from online betting agencies in Australia about some responsible gambling measures and some consumer protection measures—things like self-exclusion registers and the like. If that can be done so readily in the amorphous space of the online world then surely it can be done when it comes to the, not quite bricks and mortar, but the plastic and lots of flashing lights of the poker machines, particularly because they are all interlinked now. I am quite sure that the federal government, if it had the political will, could use its own powers, including through the communications or corporations laws or a combination thereof, to put in place the requirement for any large-scale pokie operations, at least to put those same basic consumer protection measures in as a matter of law, as well as some of the other measures that unfortunately were not able to be got through during the time of the Gillard government—basic measures like $1 bet limitations, for example.

The conservative government in the UK managed to implement single bet limits that are much lower than what apply here. Why can't we do it here? We know why: because of the massive donations that the pokies lobbies give to both parties of the political establishment here. Their clout is undeniable and pretty much undenied. There was a written guarantee from the Gillard government to Andrew Wilkie and others about some not massively revolutionary consumer-protection measures to minimise gambling addiction and problem gambling in regard to pokies, and they somehow never quite managed to happen. Even over three years it couldn't quite happen. It shows how powerful that lobby is. That, however, is no reason to give up on that, and certainly the Greens won't give up on that.

We do not oppose this measure in itself inasmuch as it addresses a problem area. We congratulate the government in moving quickly on it, but, really, pokies are the problem. The focus needs to be on pokies. It is something that the federal government can act on. Obviously it would be better if the states would work alongside that. In my own state of Queensland the performance of the state government has been appalling. We've even got a situation now where there's a licence proposal for, I think, 45—certainly a sizable number—poker machines to go into a pub that's attached to the Indooroopilly Shopping Centre in inner-western Brisbane. That's where we're at in Queensland. We've still got proposals for extra casinos with extra pokies in them in urban areas, and we all know that those casinos, as much as they talk about relying on high rollers, actually, over time, rely more on locals going in and playing the pokies.

The Greens will certainly do what we can leading into the federal election to push for real action on the real problem, which is the pokies and the massive influence of that industry and lobby. Part of it is legislative reform to try to reduce the number of pokies and put in place consumer protection. But of course it all ties in, at the end of the day, to political donations reform and eliminating the ability of that industry to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of the parties of the political establishment.