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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 81

Mr HARDGRAVE (2:27 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Treasurer, is the Australian government concerned about the spread of poker machines and the effect of problem gambling on Australian families and individuals? Is there anything that can in fact be done to help curb this growing social problem?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Moreton for his question and I can tell him that the Australian government is concerned about the spread of poker machines in Australia. In fact, we were so concerned about it that we commissioned an inquiry by the Productivity Commission, which reported in 1999 that there are 130,000 problem gamblers in Australia, 160,000 at risk and another 500,000 to 1,000,000 people affected by problem gamblers.

Problem gamblers account for 33 per cent of the industry revenue in relation to poker machines. Let me say that again: problem gamblers account for one-third of the revenue that comes through Australia’s poker machines. On a per capita basis, Australia has roughly five times as many gaming machines as the United States, and those who are losing money tend to be those with lower incomes. The Productivity Commission found there is an inverse relationship between income levels and the density of gaming machines—that is, the higher the income, the less the density of gaming machines in a particular neighbourhood, and the converse applies. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2004-05 all gambling activity was estimated to be at $15.4 billion, but poker machines in clubs and pubs accounted for $8.7 billion or 56.3 per cent of gambling revenues in Australia.

I noticed that recently the Leader of the Opposition also expressed his concern about poker machines and his regret at being part of the Queensland government’s decision to introduce them when he was working for the Queensland government. It is a matter of concern the way in which state governments in the late eighties-early nineties embraced poker machines, seeing them as an easy way of generating tax revenue and not looking at the social consequences that were involved. So I welcome the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has changed his position in relation to poker machines and I look forward to getting bipartisan support for the government’s position in relation to this social ill.

As a consequence of the Productivity Commission inquiry, the Australian government set up a Commonwealth-state ministerial forum to deal with those areas recommended by the Productivity Commission on consumer protection, counselling and research, and reform to regulatory governance. The Ministerial Council on Gambling comprises both the Commonwealth and the states and, at the Commonwealth leadership, has now agreed on a national framework to respond to problem gambling. We look forward to cooperation from the states in relation to that matter.

In some areas there have been positive steps, such as warnings in relation to gambling for people who might be problem gamblers and an increase in counselling services for those who suffer from this addiction. It is the Commonwealth’s view that more can be done, particularly in restricting the availability of ATMs in venues where there are poker machines. The ATM represents a real temptation for a problem gambler who may have come with a fixed sum of money, gone through it, and now finds it easy to go to the ATM to continue their addiction. We would ask all of the states to cooperate with the Commonwealth in its active program to deal with this scourge, an area where the Commonwealth has taken leadership even though it has no legislative power. We would ask all of the states to cooperate in dealing with this matter.

Let me say, in conclusion, there is no reason why Australia would need more poker machines. At the moment we have high level of poker machines in this country. There is no reason why we need any more and no reason for any state government whatsoever to believe that the introduction of keno or other forms of interactive gambling could actually add to the social cohesion in our country. We ask those state governments that are contemplating such a move not to go ahead with it.