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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1456


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (20:05): I do not mind admitting that I was not intending to speak on this bill until I was in the position a little bit earlier that you are in now when a number of the contributions made by other senators discussed the impact of problem gambling. It caused me to have another look at the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. No matter how you might like to dress it up, this bill is not about dealing with problem gambling, save for perhaps one clause in relation to the call-to-bet or click-to-call procedures.

This is really more about tax revenue for the government and they are dressing it up as purporting to solve a problem gambling issue because there are unregulated gambling operations that are taking bets from Australians. They can do it very easily, and they essentially pay no licence fees, turnover taxes or anything else that is attached to it. I am not standing in the way of that, but what I have listened to is people coming out with sob-story after sob-story about individuals who have been impacted by gambling. I will have a bet with anyone in this place that no-one is closer to the issue of problem gambling destroying individuals' lives than me, not because I have a problem with gambling but because someone very close to me does. I have seen millions of dollars disappear. I have seen families get destroyed. I have seen businesses get destroyed. I have seen people at the pits of despair as a result of gambling. And yet I do not blame the gambling operators; I blame the individuals for making those determinations themselves.

Having said that, there are things we can do, and this is where I am going to depart from the bill a little bit. There are things we can do and that we should be doing to ensure the integrity, the efficacy and the ethical conduct of gambling operators in this country. That is why I support this bill and I told the minister that. At least if you are dealing with a licensed and regulated gambling operator in this country, you can be sure that they are subject to Australian laws. You cannot guarantee you are going to be remunerated. If you are dealing with an overseas operator, you do not know about the transparency or accountability of it. Your money could be just disappearing into a black hole.

And yet there is a part of me that heard Senator Leyonhjelm's speech earlier and thought, 'We cannot be there to protect everyone from making dumb decisions themselves.' No matter how many times you have warnings from ASIC or one of the other regulators that you should not send money to unscrupulous cold callers in investments or any other form, people still do it. Then, when they lose their money, they come back and say the government should do something about it. I do not always subscribe to that. I think that ultimately people are making these decisions for themselves. Our job and the education system's job is to make sure that people are equipped to deal with the issues they are going to face in life, and that is something we have walked away from as the nanny state seeks to take away any risk from any individual.

But I do not think this legislation is going to be effective in stopping problem gambling or stopping people developing gambling habits that lead to catastrophic consequences in some areas. I wanted to speak a little bit from experience. One of the problems we have got with domestic operators is the fact that there are a lot of young people—14, 15 and 16—who have seen the odds on the screen about sports betting in particular and are lured to the websites. They input their details at a website and, although they do not have a verified account, they can go in and look at the odds on the next no-ball being bowled or who is going to kick the first goal and things like that. Children today are interested in that and go and register on it.

But imagine my surprise when I found out from some of my son's friends that, when they do this online, they suddenly get a phone call from their new friend 'Bill' or 'Bob' at one of the sporting agencies, asking them why they have not funded their account yet, never verifying that they are actually of legal age. They just ring up and say: 'Hello, John. Thanks for putting your name in. We noticed you haven't made a bet or sent any money through yet. It might be a good idea to.' The only reason I found out about this was that I was in the car when one of my son's friends took that phone call. I said, 'Who was that?' 'Oh, that was my mate at XYZ Betting agency.' You can imagine a couple of days later I rang XYZ Betting Agency, asked to speak to the general manager and told him that what they were doing was thoroughly unethical and inappropriate. I received assurances that that would not continue and they would amend their programs, but I would lay London to a brick that that same sort of marketing and online campaigning is happening at many of the regulated gambling firms in this country. It is not right. That is one way you can get it fixed.

The other aspect of regulated gambling, bet-takers and sports bookmakers was raised with me by a constituent just the other day. They said, 'The problem is they only want to deal with losers.' I can understand that: you want to make sure you are making a profit. But, if you are actually a successful punter and you ring XYZ Betting Agency, they look at your track record and they do not offer you the same odds. They say, 'No, we're not taking your money.' You no longer get the accelerated bet or the other benefits, perks and accoutrements that they advertise as a way of getting ahead. And we all see those ads on television. And so they are allowing losers to get the benefits because the chances are they are not going to win, but, if you are actually a winner, their business model says, no, you are no longer allowed to deal with them or you are going to deal on such unfavourable terms that it is unscrupulous. It is not even adhering to or providing the odds and the services that they market so readily.

The third aspect if you want to clean up problem gambling in particular in the sports arena but also in any regulated arena is to outlaw credit betting. People cannot borrow money through any regular financial agency, whether it be shares, a bank or anywhere else, without going through a plethora of checks. We say this all the time to the banking industry. You want to have a royal commission into banking because of lending practices, but you ought to look at the lending practices of some of these online gambling agencies. They do not care. 'Yeah, sure, we'll lend you $100. We'll lend you $1,000. We'll lend you $20,000, $30,000, $50,000'—until they send the bailiffs in because they know that, chances are, you are going to lose that. And so, if you said no, there is no longer credit betting for 'unsophisticated' punters, if you want to put it in the investment parlance, where people have to meet a minimum criteria where they are meant to be adult enough to look after themselves—if you said there is no more credit betting available to individuals that did not meet those criteria, you would limit the ability for individuals to get involved in gambling out of their financial depth.

This brings me to the fourth point. If you think gambling is becoming a compulsion and people are just chasing from one bet to the next to the next, the only thing that allows them to do that is either the instant transfer of money into the bookmaker's account or the ability to access credit from that bookmaker. If you have outlawed or prohibited the provision of credit to non-sophisticated or non-professional punters, however you want to describe them, and then say it is going to be a 72-hour waiting period or thereabout—48 hours or whatever you want—you are breaking that ability to cycle from one bet to another and continue to chase your losses. That is the same principle that is attached to how we deal with people who have gambling addictions, or addictions of any nature, in fact. You take away the ability for them to participate in that addictive behaviour, and you give them a chance to gather their thoughts and have a sleep on it. As our mothers always said, 'It will feel better in the morning.' Generally, it does feel better in the morning, after you have had a good night's sleep. You say, 'Okay, I have a problem. I have got to confront that. How am I going to deal with it?'

If we are serious about dealing with problem gambling in this country, and particularly online gambling, those are practical steps that perhaps this Senate and the government should consider. But the bill before us is not about problem gambling. It is about tax revenue and, in some ways, giving some level of confidence to the Australian people who want to gamble online that they are doing it with a 'reputable operator'. Once again, I put air quotes around 'reputable operator', because the problem with parts of this legislation is that ACMA is going to be providing a list of licensed bookmakers, or licensed or approved gambling service providers. I think that is fraught with danger, quite frankly. I am not sure that anyone is going to go to the ACMA website and say, 'Who can I place my Melbourne Cup bet with today?' What they will do is a Google search, and whoever has paid for the highest ranking on Google will probably get their business, if they have not already got an account.

I think it opens up the government to a bit of a problem. What if one of those gambling operators does the wrong thing? Yes, they will be held to account for it, and other things, but will the government be blamed by the punter who will say, 'This is one of your approved service providers'? I wonder about the wisdom of that intervention. I do not think it is necessary. It probably will not do any harm, but, nonetheless, if you are thinking that is a way of stamping out the problems involved with sports betting, I think it is paying lip-service to it, quite frankly.

I do support the click-to-call provision, because there is clearly a loophole. The intention is that you cannot place in-play bets online, for the reason that you could do it very, very quickly as you did not have to speak with an operator, and it led people into what could be a cycle of addiction. This provision is designed to circumvent that, because the call comes from a robot which repeats the information that you have already put into your betting app, and the bet takes place in a very short space of time. If people want to bet in-play, I do think it is reasonable for them to be in a place of gambling frequency. If they are in their local TAB, or their local pub, watching a game on TV and they want to go and place a bet on it, I really do not see a problem with that. People who are in licensed premises should have the ability to do that. If individuals want to call up and place bets, it is another way of circumventing or delaying the instant gratification response of putting a bet on, getting an immediate result and then waiting for the next one. It is that intervention period, which I talked about earlier, and how that can help break the cycle of addiction.

In the end, I will support this legislation, but I do not want it to pretend to be something that it is not. That is why I have put on the record tonight my thoughts about how, if we want to tackle problem gambling, we have to start to approach it in a better way than, and in a different way from, this bill and what it is supposed to deal with or has been characterised as dealing with. Let us see how the amendments play out. I am not sure about which amendments, if any, I will be supporting. I do want to put on the record that I am absolutely mindful of the potentially catastrophic consequences of problem gambling and what it does to individuals and families, but I am also mindful that it is not our responsibility here to protect everyone from their own inanity and foolish behaviour, and that extends to not only the process of placing bets but who they can place bets with. This bill does not really deal with any of the substantive problem-gambling issues. I do believe it is a revenue bill, albeit one dressed up in some moral guidance.