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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2860

Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (17:03): I want to make a brief contribution to this debate, in the light of the fact that other senators wish to also speak. I want to make the point that the coalition shares some of the concerns that Senator Di Natale has placed on the table about the pervasiveness and effect of gambling, particularly sports betting, on Australian society. We acknowledge that there is a proportion of the community which will be susceptible to messages about gambling which will lead them to make decisions unhealthy for themselves and their families. As a community, we need to be cognisant of that harm, we need to be able to develop a response to that harm and we need to constructively change the environment in which that harm occurs so as to minimise the likelihood that people are placed in that position.

Having said that, like Senator Stephens, who has spoken in this debate already, we share a sense of concern at the response exhibited in this motion by the Greens to simply regulate this area in order to be able to solve this problem. It seems to be the case with the Australian Greens that there is no social problem too big or too small that is not capable of being remedied or cured with a healthy dose of regulation.

We acknowledge that sometimes some regulation is necessary, but we take the view that the case needs to be made, based on evidence, for that to occur. With great respect, Senator Di Natale in this debate has not demonstrated that case. He has pointed to a number of attempts that have been made in the Australian community to rectify these problems, but he is happy to dismiss those as being ineffective, even though—for example, in the case of the gambling industry's own attempts at self-regulation, only recently beefed up—the evidence is not yet available as to whether that is an effective means of dealing with these problems.

The Greens, I think it is fair to say, from the very outset of this debate have supported and promoted regulation as almost the first line of defence or the first line of attack in this area, and they are prepared to ensure that that agenda is prosecuted, notwithstanding the lack of evidence that it may be the solution to these problems. I say this as a representative of a party which has a proud record of action in the area of regulating, if necessary, to prevent social harm. Indeed, it was the Howard government which first regulated the effect of the operation of online gambling on Australian society. Indeed, when it made those decisions to regulate online gambling, it was the first government in the world to regulate online gambling—to the extent that that is possible. I believe it is appropriate for us to consider steps like that, based on evidence—not based on an impulse to want to impose rules on communities that otherwise may be able to find solutions to problems that afflict them and their customers.

Only a little over a year ago the coalition released a discussion paper on gambling reform, which made a number of important suggestions about ways of improving the response to harm in the Australian community relating to gambling. One of those suggestions was to do with restricting access to live betting odds—action which has, of course, since been taken up by the industry through self-regulation. Senator Di Natale, in his remarks, I think somewhat underplayed the extent to which the industry itself has been prepared to pick up these issues and address them through a self-regulatory approach, backed by ACMA, the communications agency, to make sure that there is an effective means of protecting the Australian community.

In the course of his remarks, Senator Di Natale made the point that a licensed person can come on air, during a live-broadcast game, and announce odds. Senator Di Natale would perhaps not be aware that the recent draft code of practice that has been developed by the industry—by the industry, not by government—has made it very clear that that cannot occur. The code allows for licensed people to make announcements about betting odds before a game, or during scheduled breaks, but not while a game is in play. That, again, is an initiative of the industry itself.

Senator Di Natale's motion makes reference to the need to ensure that we ban 'the paid promotion of sports betting services by sporting commentators and their guests during sports broadcasts'. He may also not be aware that the code makes it clear that the commentators cannot make such comments.

Senator Whish-Wilson: They can! Have you watched the Footy Show?

Senator HUMPHRIES: You will have your chance to wrap up this debate later on.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): Order! Senator Humphries, don't engage across the chamber; just ignore the interjections.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I will do my very best, Mr Acting Deputy President. So the very issues that Senator Di Natale raises in his motion are in fact being addressed by the Australian sports betting industry. And so it should, because this industry depends upon a measure of goodwill by the Australian community, by the punters who participate in these services, and I believe they want to play in a way which gives people a sense that they are honourable and decent players in a marketplace. I would submit that it is in their interests that they provide for that kind of self-regulation where appropriate, and I believe that is what they are attempting to do.

I note that the draft code of practice, which I referred to a moment ago, is presently out for public comment. The opportunity for public comment closes on 21 May—next week. Once a code of practice through that process is determined then it has to be registered by ACMA. So, again, it is an initiative of the industry but it has the backing of Australia's media regulator—and that is an appropriate arrangement.

Senator Di Natale made reference in his speech to the corrosive effect of sports betting and advertising of sports betting odds to children. I would agree with him that we need to take special care to ensure that children are not adversely impacted by such advertising. But, again, I think we need to be careful not to exaggerate the effect of that kind of phenomenon. Information presented to the recent inquiry into gambling reform by Free TV suggested that children aged between five and 17 made up less than 12 per cent of the total viewing audience of any of the top-10 sporting events in 2012, excluding the Olympic broadcasts. Of those children who were watching, the majority were co-viewing with an adult—around eight in 10 in the five-to-12 age group—so there is an opportunity there for parental guidance of children who might see that kind of advertising.

ASTRA, representing the pay-TV industry, in its own submission to that inquiry said that, on the basis of evidence they were able to produce, children under 18 comprised a very small proportion of the audience for live sporting events on subscription TV. They said that, of the 50 most-watched live sports broadcasts shown on STV in 2012, children under 18 comprised just 11.3 per cent of the total combined audience for those broadcasts, with less than one-third of those—or 2.3 per cent of the total audience—being children under 18 watching without an adult present.

Now, I accept that that still represents a large number of children who may be exposed to this kind of harm but, as is always the case, it is important to make sure that we do not deal with the problem in a disproportionate way. The restriction on the freedom to impart information to people able to maturely and carefully accept and use that information is a right that people have—one we should be very careful to withdraw merely because we have identified that some people may suffer some harm from that fact.

The coalition, as I have said, has demonstrated a concern about this by putting together a discussion paper from its working party. The working group on coalition reform has that information available online, and I suggest that those people who are looking for some innovative approaches look at that report. We welcome recent moves by the commercial television and radio industries, and the subscription television industry, to address community concerns regarding live odds in sports through a revised code of practice which prohibits the promotion of live odds while a sporting event is in play. The code deserves to be considered by the public, and for comment to be made and considered, before a final version of the code is promulgated.

We take concerns about the promotion of live sports odds very seriously. We are concerned about making sure that children are protected, but we also believe it is important not to rush to conclusions. With the greatest of respect, the motion that Senator Di Natale has put forward today does rush to a conclusion before all the evidence is available. The coalition would not support the motion which is before the Senate tonight.