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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1461


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications and Minister for the Arts) (20:29): Unless there are any other colleagues who want to contribute, I will close the debate on the second reading of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. I thank colleagues for their contributions and for the spirit in which they have been made. I know this is an area that is of concern to most colleagues.

As colleagues know, the government is committed to strengthening the regulatory enforcement of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 and protecting Australian interests from illegal offshore gambling operators. This bill is the first stage of a three-stage process aimed at protecting Australia's wagering, racing and sporting industries, problem and at-risk gamblers, consumers and the integrity of Australian sport. I do not think anyone here pretends that we can stop 100 per cent of money going offshore, but the government is confident that the measures in this bill will have a significant disruptive impact on illegal offshore wagering. That is the aim of this legislation—to stop as much of the illegal offshore wagering activity as we can so that where wagering by Australians takes place it does so with properly licenced onshore operators with stronger consumer protections.

The legislative amendments will prohibit a person providing regulated interactive gambling services to Australians unless the person holds a licence under the law of an Australian state or territory. The bill will clarify the licensing requirements for interactive gambling services in Australia and will provide a simple-to-establish key criterion for enforcement agencies when investigating whether to take action against unlicensed services. This bill will introduce a civil penalty regime which will be enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. This amendment will allow for a quicker and more focused response as formal investigation or prosecution will not depend upon the priorities of other agencies. Civil remedies for the provision of prohibited or unlicensed interactive gambling services to Australians will carry a maximum penalty of $1.35 million per day for individuals and $6.75 million per day for organisations. The criminal provisions of the act will be maintained for more serious offences and now carry a maximum penalty of $900,000 per day for individuals and $4.5 billion per day for organisations. The reforms will enable the ACMA to notify the Department of Immigration and Border Protection of the names of directors or principals of offending gambling services so that they can be placed on the movement alert list and any travel to Australia can be disrupted.

These enforcement actions will be combined with a number of measures to build relationships with international regulators and raise awareness of Australian gambling laws and the risks associated with illegal gambling services. The bill will also, importantly, prohibit click-to-call in-play betting services. The government is committed to closing down these services, as they undermine the intent of the Interactive Gambling Act to limit the scope of problem gambling in Australia.

In addition to the bill and at the core of the government's response to the O'Farrell review is the development of a national consumer protection framework for online wagering in Australia. Can I take the opportunity of again thanking Mr O'Farrell for his work. This is indeed one of the largest reforms to the online wagering industry since the introduction of the Interactive Gambling Act in 2001. On 25 November last year Commonwealth, state and territory ministers gave in-principle agreement to key aspects of the national consumer protection framework. This includes a national self-exclusion register for online wagering, a voluntary opt-out pre-commitment scheme for online wagering and prohibition of lines of credit being offered by online wagering providers. This government will continue to work with the states and territories to develop the framework to ensure that there is a strong, robust set of national standards for online wagering that will provide greater protection for Australian consumers. The government will also be consulting with internet service and financial payment providers around disruption measures to further reduce illegal offshore gambling activity.

I would like to turn briefly to some of the issues that senators have raised in this debate so far, some of which will no doubt be the subject of amendments moved in the committee stage. Firstly, I will turn to Labor's second reading amendment that has been circulated. The government certainly does acknowledge that there is a level of community concern in relation to gambling advertising. This is something I have raised with the broadcasters. It is important for the broadcasters to ensure that their advertising is conducted in a way that reflects community standards. Indeed, this is the objective of the co-regulatory framework of codes of practice that is in place and which the government supports. I note that the opposition also supports the co-regulatory framework. Suffice to say in relation to Labor's second reading amendment, we do not agree with making policy by way of second reading amendments, so we will not be supporting that put forward by the opposition.

I will turn now to the Greens' amendments. The amendment in Senator Di Natale's name is in relation to gambling advertising. For similar reasons, the government will not be supporting Senator Di Natale's amendment. Senator Rhiannon's amendment was on expansion of gambling. The government will not be supporting Senator Rhiannon's amendment. It is not correct to allege that this bill will lead to an expansion of the Australian gambling market as the amendment suggests. The bill only preserves the status quo and clarifies the act; it does not enable activities that were not previously permitted. Far from leading to an expansion of the gambling market, the bill in fact achieves the opposite through its closing of the click-to-call in-play betting loophole. The government also rejects the slur in the second part of the amendment.

I will turn now to the NXT amendments. NXT colleagues have raised a number of issues in their contributions. I think it is fair to characterise many of the NXT amendments as foreshadowed as largely seeking to implement elements of the government's response to the O'Farrell review, which we are seeking to implement as part of the national consumer protection framework with the states and territories. The government believes that it is important that we work with the states and territories, as much of the regulation of wagering is in state and territory legislation. It is states and territories that license wagering operators, and it is state and territory regulators that are largely responsible for compliance and enforcement. The government is absolutely committed to implementing the national framework. There has already been a meeting of the Commonwealth with state and territory gaming ministers and in-principle agreement was reached to implement the elements of the framework. So, while the government agrees with much of the substance of the NXT amendments, we will not be supporting them, as we feel it is more appropriate to pursue those elements through the process that is already well underway with our state and territory counterparts.

In terms of Senator Kakoschke-Moore's amendment in relation to place-based betting services, there has already been some concern expressed around the bill's clarification of in-play betting being permitted in licensed retail venues on electronic terminals. The bill that is before the Senate seeks to do nothing more than preserve the status quo. The Interactive Gambling Act was not intended to regulate activities in retail venues. It is about regulating the online space. In-play betting is currently permitted and takes place in retail venues on electronic betting terminals. In some venues, these are fixed terminals; in others, customers can load money onto a tablet. As I said, the bill seeks to do nothing more than preserve the status quo. It will not be permitted to offer in-play betting on personal devices—I should make that very clear. Nor will it be permitted to offer in-play betting by electronic means via a customer's online account. The establishments that we are talking about here are monitored by staff trained in the responsible service of gaming and alcohol. These establishments can only be accessed by adults. They do not permit intoxicated persons to remain on the premises. They have set opening and closing times and only accept cash payments. These elements provide a level of harm minimisation that would not be available in a private dwelling, using a personal device.

The bill reflects an important distinction between equipment that is provided in a regulated environment, which is available to all customers, and gambling on personal devices used in the home or other private places which would not be subject to harm minimisation controls. As stated in our government response to the illegal offshore wagering review, we are not expanding the range of gambling products in Australia. The bill is simply clarifying the services that are currently permitted under Commonwealth, state and territory laws. Further, the Commonwealth's legislation only deals with devices on which in-play betting is permitted. Other than for the issue of in-play betting, the legislative framework and regulations for betting on in-venue devices is a matter for each state and territory. If there are concerns about portable devices, it is open to each state and territory to limit their use or prohibit them in retail venues, if they see fit.

I turn now to Senator Leyonhjelm's amendment relating to online poker—a further matter which has been raised in the context of this bill. The government is aware that a number of Australians currently access online poker sites. Online poker is and always has been a prohibited service under the IGA. It has always been the intent of the IGA to prohibit this service being offered to Australians. That is why there are no Australian licensed operators of online poker, but because the law has been ambiguous overseas operators have been freely offering these services to Australians. With the law being clarified, it is evident that a number of these operators have begun withdrawing their services from Australians. Whilst I appreciate that this is not welcomed by those individuals who have been using these services, it is a fact that online poker has always been a prohibited service under the act. It is not something that this bill is enacting. Whether online poker should be legal in Australia or not is a separate debate. I indicate that the government has no plans to liberalise online poker, and in terms of this bill the government has merely sought to ensure that the original intent of the legislation is upheld.

I should also acknowledge that One Nation have flagged an intention to move an amendment in relation to Lottoland. I thank One Nation for making contact during the second reading debate to indicate that they would be doing this. Let me just say at this point that, in relation to that foreshadowed amendment, the bill before us is intended to tackle illegal offshore wagering. Lottoland is, at present, neither illegal nor offshore. It is a licensed service in the Northern Territory. So it would be fair to say that that foreshadowed amendment is beyond the intended scope of this bill, but, as always, when colleagues put a proposition before us, we will always take on board what is put before us. But I think on this occasion, in the time available to us and given the scope of this bill, it is not possible for us to examine it and to support it in the context of this legislation.

In conclusion, since the introduction of the bill in November last year, a number of major offshore gambling operators have ceased providing or indicated that they will withdraw their prohibited services as Australia will no longer be a grey market when it comes to gambling laws. This bill does send a clear message to overseas operators and regulators that Australia is serious about compliance with its online gambling laws. International experience has shown that illegal offshore betting cannot be eradicated in its entirety. However, a combination of clearer laws, an active regulator, stronger enforcement measures and awareness activities can significantly reduce illegal gambling activity.

The bill has been developed in consultation with many stakeholders across the wagering, racing and sporting industries, academia, responsible gambling organisations, consumers and governments. I look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders to progress the National Consumer Protection Framework.

I should indicate that I will be working closely with my ministerial colleague Mr Tudge, who has put a tremendous effort into this area, and it is appropriate that I acknowledge that. There is more work to be done. As indicated, it is a three-stage process. I commend the bill to my colleagues.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator O'Neill be agreed to.