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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 12467

Mr JENKINS (Scullin) (21:49): In the true traditions of a democracy I respect the right of the member to have the opinions that he has, and I will leave it to those who have listened and those who read his speech to come to the decision that most of what he said is codswallop. Today I am not grieving about his contribution; what I am grieving about is something that the coalition side of politics would defend in the name of freedom—that is, gambling and, more particularly, the use of electronic gambling machines.

Regrettably, the electorate that I live in and represent is one of the electorates in Australia that is hardest-hit by losses on gambling machines. Of the five top hotel-gambling venues in Victoria, three are in the city of Whittlesea. I regret to say that part of my grievance tonight is the influence of one of the big two supermarket chains, Woolworths, in this industry. Woolworths, through its ownership of ALH hotels, has the five biggest gambling venues in low-income areas, and three of these venues are in the electorate of Scullin. They are the Plough Hotel in Mill Park, the Excelsior Hotel in Thomastown and the Bundoora Hotel. The yearly losses on electronic gambling machines at those three hotels in the year 2011-12, in the order that I read them out, is $20.2 million, $18.6 million and $18.5 million. One hotel venue that is not owned by Woolworths is the top venue in Victoria, and it is also in the electorate of Scullin. It is the Epping Plaza Hotel, where the total losses on electronic gambling machines amount to over $21 million.

I apologise that I will be using a lot of statistics here, but I think that I have to use them to illustrate my case. The total losses on electronic gambling machines in the city of Whittlesea, of which the southern end is in electorate of Scullin and the northern end in the electorate of McEwen, was $102 million in the year 2011-12. It had therefore increased from 2008-09, when the losses amounted to $94.9 million. If we look at the average loss per electronic gambling machine in the city of Whittlesea, we see that it had increased from 2008-09, when the average amount lost was $152,000, to $164,000. What intrigues me is that, in the same period, the average Victorian loss per electronic gambling machine in hotels decreased from $101,000 to $100,000 while the average loss per gambling machine in hotels in the city of Whittlesea increased from 2008-09, when it was $181,000, to $198,000 in 2011-12. In other words, there was a 10 per cent increase in Whittlesea over the period while the average throughout Victoria remained static.

If we compare the losses on gambling machines in clubs in the city of Whittlesea with losses on machines in Victoria as a whole over the period that I am talking about, we see that it went from $79,500 per machine to $79,400 per machine, while the average loss per machine in Victorian clubs over the same period decreased from $71,000 to $69,000. So all the evidence points to the fact that the machines on which the most money is lost are in the hotels.

But my concern is that, whilst they have been able to keep that at a static rate on average throughout Victoria, we have seen this great increase of 10 per cent over the period in the hotels in the city of Whittlesea.

My concern is that in the city of Whittlesea, for a decade now, there has been a gambling forum that has operated with membership including the actual venues themselves and many of the agencies that work with problem gamblers. After 10 years without really seeing great results, I am sorry to have to report to the Federation Chamber that those that work with the community groups have decided that enough is enough and they have walked from the forum because they just do not see the value in meeting with people from the venues to try to achieve results. The final straw was when, in the Responsible Gaming Forum, the community support organisations suggested to the representatives of the venues that were there that they put a cap of $200 on withdrawals at ATMs in the venues, and there was just no discussion and no agreement to even look at it. That was the final straw. But one of the really big problems with the Responsible Gaming Forum was that the three hotels owned by Woolworths were not represented. Woolworths did not play a part in the forum.

What then concerns me is that, if we contrast the attitudes of the government and the coalition about this issue, the coalition has decided—and it may be that I should listen to and analyse what the member before me was speaking about—that this is about individual freedoms and that people should be able to go into the venues and lose as much as they like, and then go out into society and do all sorts of things that are antisocial to make up for the losses. If they have to rob from a car to feed their habit, let them do it! I know that that is an exaggeration, and I do not wish to base my case on that, but to simply say that this is something that the problem gamblers themselves must address denies the fact that gambling through electronic gambling machines is something that the state created. The state made it legal. So to those that say we are a nanny state if we put limits—if we suggest that there should be mandatory limits that people have on the losses that they are going to make, they say that this is state interference—I would maintain that this is an industry that has its existence because of actions of the state, so if we do not look at the problems as being a responsibility of the state then we are denying that, and the costs are great: the costs to the individuals, the costs to their families and friends and the costs to the community in general.

I think that it is about time that we step back from the politics of this issue and who can upset one point of view the most, and that we actually have a look at what we might be able to do. I am the first to admit that the position that the government finds itself in may not be the greatest of positions and that the intentions of the government might be better than they are contemplating. But consider this: this is the first time a national government has had proposals in place to see what action a national government can take to improve a situation that is controlled by the states and territories.

One of the things that amaze me is that we have a proposal to have a trial in the Australian Capital Territory—I stress that it is a trial. What is the basis of a trial? To see if something works, and we cannot even get agreement about that. It amazes me that so many people are willing to wash their hands on the basis of some ideological bent that controls their public policy about this area without giving things a chance to be proven. I hope that this parliament can look at this as a problem that we should all come to some agreement about in tackling it, because the people of my electorate cannot continue to suffer because of the losses that they incur.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): There being no further grievances, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 22:0 1