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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2167

Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (19:42): I rise this evening to make a contribution on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Online Content Services and Other Measures) Bill 2017. Certainly from my perspective, I think this demonstrates the responsiveness of the government to responding to two things: the first being the rapid change in the use of gambling-type technologies and the second being—and I think perhaps more importantly in this case—the very strong and clear community sentiment that was relayed to the government and to other members of this chamber and the House of Representatives. The community has, I think, drawn a very clear line in terms of what it finds acceptable in gambling advertising over some mediums. I'm pleased that the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Fifield, has been quick to listen to those concerns, to understand those concerns and to respond to them in the legislative manner that we've got before us.

That doesn't mean, of course, that everyone in this chamber will agree with the proposal that is before us. As Senator Bartlett has alluded to and as Senator Hanson-Young alluded to in her comments earlier today, there are lines to be drawn regarding the proper scope of regulatory action in response to these and other changing circumstances. Having worked closely with the minister on the issue, I think that where the government is drawing the line is the most prudent measure. That doesn't mean that in the future other measures may not be properly canvassed and that those views and the views and attitudes of other stakeholders sought with regard to their appropriateness. But I think that, when you look at the detail of what's proposed here, this is a very, very prudent measure that properly reflects community concerns and it does so in a way that's totally consistent with the legislative or regulatory framework that operates in this area more generally as a starting point. That's why I think it is important that, when we do come to legislate on matters like this or extend the regulatory scope to respond to community concerns, we do so in a way that properly reflects the existing architecture of the laws and the regulations in that particular area, and I think that this bill does that.

In the brief time that's available to me, I want to reflect on a couple of things. I remind the Senate of the origin of this particular reform because it sits amongst some other media reforms which are a very, very important and sizable success story for this coalition government. Again, full marks to the Minister for Communications for pulling off what many people said was impossible. He responded accurately to concerns from industry stakeholders that the operating environment for them was becoming more challenging. The real losers over the medium to long term were not actually media proprietors—although I'm sure they would face some sort of commercial costs—but Australian consumers. I think that the media reform package that finally made its way through this place was a very, very necessary and timely measure.

There is another thing I want to talk briefly about. In this place we get to read lots of explanatory memoranda. I've got to say that many of them are tedious. They're very, very dry. If I could be so bold: they often don't have the depth of evidence that legislators are looking for to justify policy responses. I compliment officials from the Department of Communications and the Arts. The explanatory memorandum in this case was very, very dense—I use that word politely—in terms of properly articulating the problem that the government is seeking to address, and I'll come to that in a moment. Then I'll just briefly talk about why I think that this particular resolution is the right way to proceed and will make some comments with regard to the government's approach to SBS, because that's a matter that Senator Hanson-Young reflected on in her contributions.

I start by winding the clock right back. Sometimes it can be too easily forgotten how quickly the issue of gambling has progressed in our community and how quickly community attitudes have become much clearer in terms of what are acceptable approaches to gambling. I want to recount for the Senate some of the key points that came out of the Productivity Commission report that Senator Bartlett might have been referring to in his contribution. I don't believe—others will think differently—that the matter of gambling in our community is as easily rectified as some people would have us believe. Clearly, it has its origins in a range of issues, not least of which are psychological issues. I think it is a naive and very shallow response to only apply legislative or regulatory remedies to these issues to somehow rid us of the curse of problem gambling.

To begin, I want to remind people of some of the comments that were provided to us in the original Productivity Commission report. Even though it was some time ago, its observations are still quite pertinent. Not surprisingly to some, the report identified:

Gambling is an enjoyable pursuit for many Australians. As much as possible, policy should aim to preserve the benefits, while targeting measures at gamblers facing significant risks or harm.

It said:

While precision is impossible, various state surveys suggest that the number of Australians categorised as 'problem gamblers' ranges around 115,000, with people categorised as at 'moderate risk' ranging around 280,000.

It went on to say:

It is common to report prevalence as a proportion of the adult population, but this can be misleading for policy purposes, given that most people do not gamble regularly or on gambling forms that present significant difficulties.

Again it goes on to try to calculate or predict:

The significant social cost of problem gambling—estimated to be at least $4.7 billion a year—means that even policy measures with modest efficacy in reducing harm will often be worthwhile.

I think that's a particularly important point because some people come to this debate thinking there is a silver bullet. This point from the Productivity Commission recommendations or observations clearly demonstrates that even policy measures with modest efficacy can reduce harm and be worthwhile. It goes on to say that:

Over the last decade, state and territory governments have put in place an array of regulations and other measures intended to reduce harm to gamblers.

- Some have been helpful, but some have had little effect, and some have imposed unnecessary burdens on the industry.

In other words, it's been a mixed bag. Finally—and I think it was quite a prophetic final point in its observations—it goes on to say:

Governments have improved their policy-making and regulations with respect to gambling, but significant governance flaws remain in most jurisdictions, including insufficient transparency, regulatory independence and coordination.

- There is a particular need to improve arrangements for national research.

Of course, what the Productivity Commission was talking about was the known problem, but what we are here tonight to discuss and to debate is trying to prevent that problem getting itself rooted into the minds and the behaviour of children, and then providing significant adverse outcomes as a result of that.

But these reforms are important. As I said, they come out of a much broader package of media reforms that the Senate successfully agreed to late last year, I think it was—it feels like a long time ago now. The broad package of media reforms that were brought to the Senate by the government and ultimately endorsed by this Senate were intended to, and will over time, improve the sustainability of Australia's free-to-air broadcasting sector, support the creation of high Australian content and modernise broadcasting and content regulation.

Importantly for us, the package does also include community safeguards in the form of additional restrictions on gambling promotions during live coverage of sporting events, provided on broadcast, subscription and online platforms. The additional restrictions will prohibit gambling promotions from five minutes before the scheduled start of the sporting event until five minutes after the conclusion of the sporting event, where the event occurs between the hours of 5 am and 8.30 pm. To reflect on the comments of Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Bartlett—I didn't get a chance to listen to Senator O'Neill's contribution—no-one doubts that this is an issue that is worthy of immediate remedy. No-one doubts the fact that there is a broad community call for action on the part of government. Certainly, for me and for the government, we're saying that the best remedy is a remedy that sits comfortably within our existing legislative and regulatory architecture, using ACMA as the primary regulator and using the codes that currently exist, but extending them across new platforms to provide the best possible protection for families and, by extension, the best possible protection for children. Whenever I listen to constituents raise the issue with me, hear it talked about in our backbench communications committee or even hear in Senator Hanson-Young's contribution, we know that children with their older brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents enjoy that great Australian pastime of sport participation and sport watching as a family. So anything that can be done to protect children is very worthwhile.

I just want to go back to the point of the explanatory memorandum. The explanatory memorandum makes the case for reform very, very powerfully, and, as I said in my opening remarks, provides much more depth in providing a policy justification for this action than many of the explanatory memorandums that I've had the opportunity to read. I want to briefly focus on three paragraphs from the explanatory memorandum.

The explanatory memorandum does an excellent job of identifying what the problem is that we're here tonight to rectify. It says:

While there are a number of 'time of day' and classification related restrictions on commercial free-to-air television that are intended to reduce children's exposure to gambling promotions, these do not apply to sports and news broadcasts. In addition, restrictions in relation to live sporting events, outlined in Appendix 3 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (the code), do not restrict broader gambling advertising immediately prior to the match and in breaks with the result that there are significant levels of gambling advertising associated with live sporting events.

That's a statement that is well supported, because we know that from the anecdotal evidence we hear from constituents. It goes on to say:

There is less concern where these events are broadcast after 8:30 pm as children are less likely to be viewing at this time however many sports events commence between 7pm and 8pm or take place on weekend afternoons when there are significant child audiences. Children are thus exposed to significant levels of gambling advertising on television which risks increasing adolescents' desire to experiment with gambling. Increased exposure to gambling advertisements has also been associated with more positive youth gambling attitudes and intentions towards gambling.

I think this is particularly important, because the statement is supported by some independent research. It says:

In a recent study, children aged 8-16 who regularly watched Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL) matches were more able to accurately recall the names of sports betting brands (eg Sportsbet, TAB) compared to other sports like soccer. Further, many children were able to describe gambling sponsorships associated with AFL and NFL player uniforms. This demonstrates the 'normalising' effect of gambling and how intertwined it becomes with the sport itself. Gambling and sport are no longer disparate entities in the eyes of children but have become enmeshed.

I thought that was a powerful demonstration that the problem is not an imagined one. The problem is a real one, and does deserve some attention.

Finally, let me briefly touch on the legislative approach that the government has adopted and why I think it is a prudent one. I think this will be the subject of much of the debate as we approach the committee stage of the bill. When we explore the preferred action of the government, we know that it has taken a decision to, as far as possible, broaden how the restrictions will apply to online content service providers who provide live sporting events. Those will include: sporting codes, such as the Australian Football League, of course; telecommunications companies, such as Telstra and Optus; social networking companies, such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter; emerging live content providers; online wagering providers, such as Ladbrokes; internet protocol television; community television providers; internet radio providers; commercial free-to-air broadcasters; online platforms, such as SBS online platform; and subscription television broadcasters' online platforms. Parents and families can be confident that this regulatory approach will have the widest possible reach.

In choosing this particular approach, the government has been conscious that no existing legislation has attempted to impose broadcast-like program standards on online content services. To date, regulatory intervention in the online space has been limited to addressing content that causes significant harm to society. Existing regulatory frameworks, such as schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act, and the Interactive Gambling Act, seek to prohibit or block access to harmful content, not to set standards around the provisioning of scheduling of content. The regulatory framework in the Telecommunications Act was also unsuitable as it does not regulate the content of content services. Following a review of the existing framework, the department considered that none were fit for purpose and that significant amendment would be needed to adapt each framework to address the proposed reforms. Given that the Broadcasting Services Act covers regulation of broadcasting content, it is practical to include the new online content restrictions in the same legislation and it will ensure consistency across platforms. As a result, the government has developed a targeted new framework, in proposed schedule 8 to the Broadcasting Services Act, to enable ACMA to make the necessary rules to restrict gambling promotions during live sports events.

So, at a variety of levels, this is a very prudent approach. I think the chamber agrees it's a necessary and timely one. It's one that is consistent with the legislative and regulatory architecture around these issues. You only have to look at the Senate committee report to see that there is a divergent view about how these things should be regulated, but I'm confident the government has chosen the most correct path. I'm sure that, as community standards continue to change and as pressure comes on the parliament from electors, if need be the government will be very responsive to other issues in the same way it's been very responsive to this one. I commend the legislation to the Senate.