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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9559

Mr HALE (8:16 PM) —I commend the member for Wakefield for raising this very important issue and I thank other members for their contributions. We certainly have a culture of gambling in this country. If you look back at The Man from Snowy River line, ‘There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,’ there is certainly a culture of gambling in our country. We have always enjoyed a punt on the horses or a game of two-up on Anzac Day at various venues around the community. As gaming machines come into casinos, less of the floor is taken up by the old style of games and more of the floor is occupied by poker machines.

I certainly welcome this motion from the member for Wakefield because it is a mature debate that the country needs to have. We do not want it to be the elephant in the room, where we ignore the fact that there are people within our society who do have a problem with gambling. These electronic machines have taken gambling to a new level. The member for Wakefield alluded to the amount of money that can be lost in a very short period of time. There are clubs throughout Australia that are working diligently on trying to address the issues that face problem gamblers within their organisations. However, more still has to be done.

The Australian Hotels Association has a lot of responsibility falling back onto it for a raft of different reasons. It is an organisation that was established in 1839. Many of the challenges that it faces have to do with the essence of Australian culture, whether that is to do with gambling, smoking regulations or the global financial crisis, as well as the impact that alcohol and illicit drugs make. As the private sector pulls back on sponsorship during the global financial crisis, it will be the clubs that will step up and sponsor organisations. However, they still have a responsibility to continue to work closely with government to protect people who find themselves in a position where they are affected by gambling. Some 6,800 hotels in Australia employ 188,000 people, with a total spend of $12 billion to $13 billion a year. It is not an issue that we can sweep under the carpet; it is an issue that needs to be discussed.

I welcome the fact that the Productivity Commission will be making findings. There have been something like 260 public submissions already and I encourage people to continue to put submissions forward so that we can have a whole-of-nation approach. It is up to the federal government to work with the state and territory governments in order to address the problems that are facing problem gamblers. I commend the Palmerston Sports Club, the Northern Territory government, the Casuarina All Sports Club, Tracy Village Social and Sports Club and Charles Darwin University to name but a few organisations within my electorate that have decided to put submissions forward in relation to this.

One of the disturbing things that I found while researching for this contribution tonight was in a submission made by the National, State and Territory Councils of Social Service. We all had a vision, I suppose, of the lady with the blue-rinse hair sitting in front of a poker machine. Certainly, when I was a golf course superintendent on the Murray River there were a lot of those types of people, but increasingly this is a problem that is affecting young people. You only need to go into a casino nowadays to see that the age of the people who are playing the machines has come down dramatically. There are a lot of young people, people at risk, people with disabilities and certainly people from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that are affected by this. The number of young people that you see is quite unbelievable. I think it is really important that our society addresses quickly the poker machine problem that is starting to occur amongst our young people. We certainly need to have a debate about the issue.

The community services in Darwin do a lot of work in this area and they find that there are spin-off effects from gambling. There are the effects on the person with the gambling problem and also the neglect of family, the overlooking of social and cultural obligations, family breakdown and the spin-off effects of people losing their jobs. We certainly need to have a debate on this issue in this country. I look forward to the Productivity Commission’s final report. I commend the member for bringing it to the attention of the House.