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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13769

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (17:45): I rise to follow the member for Wannon's eloquent explanation of how the reforms in this bill will adversely impact rural and regional Australia. He is an expert on such parts of Australia, and his words are a prescient warning to the government and all of those intending to vote in favour of this bill that it will have consequences for all parts of this country. I will talk the culture of clubs in our great state of New South Wales, which is the premier state of Australia, and particularly about clubs in Western Sydney. Registered clubs have formed the nucleus of communities in Western Sydney ever since I grew up there, and they had been doing so for a long time before I was born.

The problem with the perversion of the public policy process—I might say the perfidious perversion of the public policy process—represented by this bill is that when you put in place badly designed and ill-thought-out legislation such as this on the basis of a promise to an independent you adversely affect the civic society in Western Sydney and places like it around the country, particularly places in New South Wales. The member for Denison, whose speech on this bill I was here for earlier, fails to understand the reality of the culture that has grown up in Sydney and in New South Wales in general. I note the presence of the member for Robertson, and I think it is very good that the member for Robertson is here to defend clubs in her electorate against this bad legislation. I am sure that she is here to do so, because she knows that clubs in her electorate, like clubs in Western Sydney, are saying that the minimum compliance costs of this legislation will be unreal.

Just this week in the papers in Penrith—which is in the electorate of Lindsay, a prominent part of Sydney—it was stated that, by 2016, Western Sydney clubs will have to find up to $123 million, the sum demanded of the clubs by the federal government in this legislation. This $123 million has to be found somewhere. Are wages going to be cut? Are jobs going to be cut? Are direct grants to community groups going to be cut? The member for Robertson would understand that such direct grants constitute a vital flow of funds to so many voluntary groups in her electorate, as they do in Western Sydney. The $123 million will be used to convert gaming machines so that they can be used in mandatory precommitment schemes, and the use of the money in this way is going to mean a great loss of funds to clubs in Western Sydney. In the article in the Penrith press, which was published on 27 November 2012, the local member for Lindsay, David Bradbury, said:

… he was disappointed to see the gambling industry peddling these alarmist claims about the government's sensible response to problem gambling.

He went on to say:

'I met with and listened to the concerns of local clubs and I made sure their views were well represented in Canberra.'

When I look at the design of this legislation, I cannot imagine a more disingenuous statement from a person who is the Assistant Treasurer of the country than that he has represented the view of clubs in Western Sydney. I encourage any of the members in this place to go and visit the CEOs, the general managers, the club boards and the people who run the clubs in Lindsay or any electorate in Western Sydney—Castle Hill RSL, which is in my electorate, would be a prime example—and ask them their views on what will come out of this legislation. You will hear exactly the opposite of what the Assistant Treasurer said in his own local papers. The clubs are not making spurious claims; they are not, contrary to what the Assistant Treasurer says, 'peddling alarmist claims'. The clubs have to find $123 million somewhere. That is a lot of money when you are running a business, when the margins are small and when the club industry is already hurting from changes that have occurred at state level.

There are a lot of clubs in the electorate of Lindsay—Club Paceway, the Dunheved Golf Club, the Emu Plains Sporting & Recreation Club, the Henry Lawson Club, the Nepean Rowing Club, the Penrith Bowling & Recreation Club, the Penrith Golf & Recreation Club, the Penrith RSL, the St Marys Band Club, the St Marys RSL & Ex-Serviceman's Club, St Marys Rugby League Club and the Hubertus Country Club Ltd. The number of clubs in Lindsay says a lot about the culture of Western Sydney. Penrith, Parramatta, where I grew up, my electorate of Mitchell and Western Sydney in general have clubs all through them. Clubs are nuclei for the community. As a person who grew up in Sydney, I would much rather that young people go to registered clubs and enjoy a drink and catch up with friends than that they go to nightclubs or other places which do not take a similar level of care and do not put anything back into the community. Registered clubs across Sydney put back into the community. That is the point that the government has failed to understand in the design and proposed implementation of this legislation.

The government does not address online gambling. Online gambling companies—whether it be Betfair, which is advertising heavily at the moment, or others—are all registered offshore. All of the profits go offshore. The online gambling industry is not like the club industry, from which much of the money made goes back into the community through direct grants, through taxes and other charges and through employment. Yet the government is absolutely silent on the subject of online gambling. We saw with the alcopops legislation that, when the government acted in one small space to deal with the trend of the day in order to look like it was doing something significant, the settings changed and people moved to other forms of alcohol. Similarly, this legislation will force people to move to other forms of gambling, and government members know it. If you say, 'You can only do $1 on the pokies,' people will go to online gambling and other forms of gambling where they are not monitored, where they do not have access to the right programs, where there is no form of help and where there is no return to the Australian taxpayer or the local community. I know why the member for Denison does not understand this: he comes from an electorate in Tasmania which is already heavily subsidised by the New South Wales taxpayer dollar. He has not only failed to take the time to understand that he is living in a bubble sustained by New South Wales taxpayers but also failed to take the time to understand that clubs are a very important part of the make-up of Western Sydney.

This direct assault on clubs in Western Sydney and New South Wales will have a direct detrimental effect on community life and activity and the coherence of our population in Sydney, not to the benefit of anyone. By focusing just on poker machines as a problem, the member for Denison, who is living in this idealistic and unrealistic world, is deliberately not opening his eyes to the realities. We know there are people who do have problems with poker machines, they do need to get the right help and we do need to design policy that is evidence based, well thought out and rational—but we do not find that in this legislation.

It has been well stated by my colleagues, but the coalition do support voluntary precommitment—'voluntary' being the key word. The government is in love with mandatory forms of policy, imposing, penalising and doing whatever it can to create disincentives; whereas we are all about incentives. Voluntary precommitment is a good thing for us to trial and something worth doing as part of a variety of tools to address the issues related to problem gambling. But cracking down on clubs in New South Wales, who form the nucleus of these communities and the many groups that rely on them, is not going to achieve the desired benefits against the cost. That is where this government fails to do a proper analysis, as always. Many players in the industry, including Clubs Australia, made submissions to the inquiry—and I have a copy here. They expressed their concerns directly about what is wrong with the legislation before us. I will get to some of those in a moment.

There are other concerns. Traditionally, this has been a state issue, and it is still a state issue. The fact that the Commonwealth is seeking to create an extra power over gambling is, to me, unnecessary. Given that the Commonwealth through this legislation will have to rely on the COAG process and use every state and territory in the design and implementation of these measures, and that the mandatory time frames that have been included are so unrealistic, is quite scandalous. It is hugely problematic that there will be rates of noncompliance and that then, of course, this hasty and ill-conceived approach will lead to penalties being applied to registered clubs. The Clubs Australia submission points out that the three-year implementation time frame for venues with more than 20 poker machines is not achievable. It is not something that clubs can absorb in their compliance costs and it is likely to result in widespread noncompliance, especially with smaller clubs and entities. If we know that now—and we do know that—and if we accept that just in Western Sydney the clubs will have to find $123 million from somewhere just to make these changes, we ought to take time and rationally design legislation that targets the problem that we are trying to fix: problem gambling. That is not what is going on here today.

I guess we do not see members from Western Sydney electorates on the government side—the member for Lindsay, the member for Parramatta and others—come in here and decry registered clubs in New South Wales because they know they have a significant problem. I stood as the coalition's representative at the Blacktown Workers Club in front of 1,000 people with Michelle Rowland, the member Greenway. These people—these good, quality Australian people who, through voluntary associations, love the life of their local club—were seriously registering a protest with the member Greenway about all these proposals, including mandatory precommitment. They were sending a signal that (1) they did not want the government imposing unnecessary regulation on them when most of them do not have gambling problems, that (2) they understood that those with gambling problems do need help but that (3) they do not want the government to interfere with the registered clubs' system in New South Wales, which provides the lifeblood for so much genuine community activity. That is what those 1,000 people were saying, and some of them were not saying it politely. Some of them were very forthright, but I understand why those 1,000 people at the Blacktown Workers Club were so forthright. What I do not understand was why the member for Greenway did not listen. I do not understand why the Assistant Treasurer, in his local newspaper, the Penrith Press, says the views of his local clubs are well represented in Canberra, when clearly they are not in this legislation.

Members in Western Sydney of all sides ought to come into this place and send this legislation back to the government to say, 'Do not pass such a bill that will damage the life of registered clubs in the Western Sydney community and Sydney in general. Come back to us with something that is evidence based, is rational, makes sense and will have actually have an impact on problem gambling in Australia.' I note the member for Macarthur has just joined us in the chamber. I am sure he is going to regale us with tales of how clubs in Western Sydney are the lifeblood of his community as well. He is a member who knows his trade, understands his community and realises that registered clubs are the lifeblood of those communities.

It is very important that the government gets the signal on this, and I encourage Clubs Australia and all of these registered clubs around Australia to register their protest more vociferously. This shabby backroom deal between the member for Denison, Senator Xenophon and the government reeks of bad public policy. The member for Denison, who came into this chamber earlier today and said, 'Anybody against this is corrupt and in the pocket of the gambling industry,' could not be more wrong about the motivation of people on this side of the chamber in relation to this issue. I can record for this House that I have never taken a cent from any gambling industry and do not intend to. Further, I am a person who grew up in Western Sydney and understands that this legislation will seriously and deleteriously impact those clubs and our system.

If you want to benefit online gambling—and these companies are all registered overseas, with every cent going to offshore organisations at the expense of local clubs, who have to put back into their football clubs, local communities, sports associations, charities and voluntary groups and pay tax and employ people and do all the good things that they do—let's penalise the Australian outfits to the benefit of offshore interests. Well, I am not up for it and I know members on this side are not up for it. Government members representing Western Sydney ought to have the guts to stand up to the Prime Minister and to their government and say, 'Our communities will not wear this pathetic attempt at public policy.'