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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12715

Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (20:47): I am pleased to rise to speak to the third report of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, The prevention and treatment of problem gambling. I will say at the outset that coalition members of the committee, like all members of this parliamentary joint committee, have very real and serious concerns about the incidence of problem gambling in Australia. It is not only the incidence of problem gambling that concerns us; it is also the severity of problem gambling.

The focus of this particular inquiry was to look at the extent to which the issue of problem gambling exists as well as measures that could be undertaken to reduce the incidence and severity of problem gambling. In many respects, the committee's inquiry on this particular issue dovetailed quite nicely with a lot of the evidence the committee previously took on mandatory precommitment of electronic gaming machines.

What is clear is that problem gambling is a very real problem in our community. We know that it affects thousands of people. We know that it indirectly affects tens of thousands more. It is important to recognise—and this is certainly the view that to some extent I had at the outset but which was further reinforced based on testimony and submissions that were made to the committee—that unfortunately problem gambling is not unlike aberrant behaviour that we see in a number of other fields. We have, for example, an alcohol industry which also sees incidences of problem drinking. As well as that, I think it is worth recognising those who have a problem with their calorie intake. I might even be among them—although not too severely, I hope. That notwithstanding, there are people who have a problem with the amount they eat. There are those who have issues when it comes to controlling their spending. There are people who reach a stage where they simply spend too much money. That also has a highly detrimental and negative impact on others. Indeed, there are also those who exercise too much and have a problem because of the endorphins and dopamine released—problem exercising, for want of a better term.

I do not raise these points to be flippant. There are some who would make the attempt to characterise highlighting problem behaviours across a variety of fields as in some way belittling problem gambling, but I make it very clear that I am not tempting to do that. What I am striving to do is to illustrate that there is, thankfully, a small percentage of the community who find that a particular activity or activities trigger in them urges and impulses which they have great difficulty controlling. Gambling is certainly one of them, eating is another and drinking is another—there is a multitude of such activities. The key issue, though, is how as a parliament and as policymakers we react to concerns about such activities. Coalition members were broadly supportive of the tone and findings of the report, but there were elements of it that we could not agree with and that I certainly could not agree with because they overstated and overly simplified the concerns about the report and the responses contained in the report.

It is important to recognise—and I add this to the Hansard record—the very strong and effective work that industry has undertaken on problem gambling. I know from the good relationship I have with—for example—Echo Entertainment and Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast that they have on their permanent staff full-time people who are in charge of dealing with problem gambling incidents and with those whose lives gambling has overtaken. They have these people on their staff because casinos, like clubs, pubs and clubs and others that operate wagering facilities, have no desire to have a great subset of the Australian population dealing with problem gambling. I sincerely believe that the industry in toto wants to do what it can to reduce the incidence of problem gambling. I applaud efforts made by casino operators, by Clubs Australia, by the AHA and by others to directly tackle problem gambling. We know that their efforts have had an impact because the incidence of problem gambling has declined over time. That is a good sign. It is encouraging. Of course more needs to be done, but it would be incorrect to assert that industry has not played its part, and I applaud and congratulate the industry on it.

There is no shadow of a doubt that there is a lack of important data collection on problem gambling and the synthesising of that of data, and the report touches upon this at significant length. I am fully supportive—and I think I can say on behalf of the coalition members of the committee that they too are supportive—of attempts to collate the increasing amounts of data on problem gambling and to use it effectively. There can be no doubt that to do so is to empower people, both those in the industry and others, who want to make a difference in our community and help reduce the incidence of problem gambling.

I am afraid that it is my view that we will never be free of the scourge of problem gambling. But what we need to do is to work out how we can address it more effectively than we currently are. Certainly we are effective to some extent now in addressing it, but there is scope to be more effective. Industry is undertaking initiatives, and government is undertaking initiatives. Having problem gambling as a public health priority is a step in the right direction. But it is important that industry does not become a pariah. It is important that those who dislike gambling because they have seen some of the very real negative impacts of problem gambling take a deep breath and recognise that they need to work with industry to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes which are both sustainable in the long term and can be effectively implemented by industry itself. In many respects it is the staff of gaming houses and pubs and clubs with poker machines who are at the front line when intervening with problem gamblers. That is why I stress to those who would like to turn the industry into some kind of pariah that they need to recognise the importance and value of working collaboratively with industry to ensure that industry does its very best to weed out and identify those who have gambling problems and to help them and provide them with the direct forms of assistance and intervention that they require.

It was good to be part of this committee. I am pleased to recognise the bona fides of all members on the committee and their desire to make a meaningful difference in this area of policy. I want to acknowledge, as I said, the great work the industry has undertaken. It is also worth stressing that this is an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people. This is an industry that provides vital infrastructure across communities. This is an industry that helps to drive support for small sports and Aussie kids being involved in sports. This is an industry that helps put lifesavers on our beaches. This is an industry that helps to drive apprenticeships and TradeStarts and all manner of different occupations, both vocational and professional. This is an industry that provides significant dividends to our community. Sometimes that is lost in the debate, and coalition members made some attempts to balance the ledger in that respect. We are certainly pleased to be part of this report. As I said, there are elements that are overstated in their zeal for an anti-industry, anti-problem gambling approach that is not sustainable long term, but we have made our position clear in our supplementary comments to the report. I commend the report to the parliament.

Debate adjourned.