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Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs
06/12/2019
Age verification for online wagering and online pornography

QUIXLEY, Ms Margaret, Campaigns Director, Alliance for Gambling Reform

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

[11:29]

CHAIR: I welcome Ms Margaret Quixley from the Alliance for Gambling Reform. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as a proceeding of the House. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to a general discussion.

Ms Quixley : Thank you, Chair. The Alliance for Gambling Reform is a national advocacy organisation and a registered health charity formed out of an urgent need to address the harmful and unfair impacts of gambling and its normalisation in Australia. We are a non-partisan alliance of 60 organisations who share our objective of preventing and minimising gambling harm. We take a public and health approach to gambling reform.

Sorry, I'm just getting a little bit of feedback in the background—I can hear myself.

CHAIR: We will try to reconnect you, so if you hang up we will call you back.

Ms Quixley : That's a lot better. We take a public health approach to gambling reform, centring those with lived experience of gambling harm at the core of our work, based on the principle that those closest to the harm are closest to the solution. Sorry, I can still hear myself.

CHAIR: I think we'll just have to push through it, Ms Quixley.

Ms Quixley : Sure. This evidence draws upon testimony from people and families impacted by gambling harm. In most cases testimony has been provided on the condition of anonymity because of the shame and stigma that still surrounds people experiencing gambling harm, who remain concerned about the impact that being known will have on their jobs, relationships and standing in the community. The Alliance for Gambling Reform strongly supports a review of the age verification measure introduced under the national consumer protection framework for online wagering. We welcome the introduction of this important reform and the opportunity to comment on its effectiveness with a view to first and foremost protecting children from online gambling harm.

The alliance is interested in the outcome of this review given the rise in online wagering in Australia and the growing risks to young people who are exposed to high levels of sports gambling advertising. National gambling statistics released earlier this week found that Australians lost $1.2 billion on sports gambling in the 2017-18 financial year. This is an increase of 16.3 per cent on the year prior.

The question of advertising is indeed relevant here, because we know from research that this leads to a normalised view of the relationship between gambling and sport and is having a particularly acute impact on Australian children. Research also published earlier this week from the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that one in six 16- to 17-year-olds reported having gambled in the past year. Despite legal age restrictions around race and sports betting in Australia, approximately five per cent of 16- to 17-year-olds reported having gambled on these activities. This makes rigorous age verification a crucial part of a suite of measures needed to protect children from harmful and addictive products online.

While the alliance strongly supports mandatory age verification, we believe the current 14-day requirement represents an unreasonable delay that poses unnecessary dangers to children online. Harm occurs when children are allowed to gamble. It is irrelevant if the account cannot be paid out or if it is forcibly closed if it cannot be verified. No amount of gambling is safe for children. It is for this reason that we strongly recommend that age verification for online gambling be required at the point of account establishment, just as it would be for other adult products whether purchased in person or online. We would not allow a child to gamble at a poker machine or be exposed to pornography for 14 days before verifying the fact that they are a child; therefore, we should apply the same standards of protection to ensure children are not exposed to gambling online.

We have consulted people affected by gambling harm and drawn on their experiences and recommendations for mitigating the risk of harm to children. We heard resoundingly that age verification must occur before a bet can be placed. A Melbourne man consulted for this inquiry told us that significant harm can be experienced when a person is able to deposit money and gamble before their account is verified. This man lost over $1 million in just 10 days, including $400,000 in a single day. While age verification would not have prevented this man from experiencing this significant level of gambling harm, his story is indicative of the scale of harm that can occur in a very short period of time.

The alliance assert that allowing any window for gambling to occur before age verification has taken place is dangerous and harmful to children. The only way to protect children from this harm is to ensure age verification occurs at the point of account establishment. We hold serious concerns for accounts held by children that remain unverified and yet continue to receive direct marketing from wagering operators by email and text message. This is often invisible to parents. Yet we understand this data is able to be cross-referenced with data held by social media platforms, for example, and used for profiling and targeting of other forms of gambling advertising. It is for this reason that we argue age verification must occur at the point of account establishment rather than allowing any window for the data of children to be entered and retained.

The alliance note that the concern raised by the submission of Responsible Wagering Australia that reducing the age-verification period would result in a push factor to Australians using illegal offshore gambling operators. We welcome recent news from the Australian Communications and Media Authority that it will begin to use its powers to have Australian internet service providers block illegal offshore gambling websites. Given there are currently over one million active online gambling accounts in Australia, we see no compelling reason why age gating would act as a significant barrier to adults seeking to establish a new account online.

The alliance welcome a recently passed bill establishing the National Self-exclusion Register, which we understand enjoys bipartisan support. We note that the current 14-day age-verification window will, however, undermine the effectiveness of this register by allowing those experiencing gambling harm to establish new accounts and gamble for 14 days before their account is closed. This will act as an effective loophole to the register and undermine a measure that is an important tool for reducing extreme gambling harm.

When governments decide to age-restrict products, they do so because they pose unacceptable risks to children. Similar to gambling, tobacco and alcohol are products that, in physical being, require proof of identification in order to purchase. Both have the potential to cause long-term harm to developing brains and bodies. With mobile technology making it easier than ever for children to hide their purchase and use from parents, it is essential that point-of-sale age gating is instituted uniformly whether in person or online. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to our submission. I welcome questions from the committee.

CHAIR: Thank you for that detailed opening.

Mr RAMSEY: I'll only ask one question. It seems to me that you are relatively happy with the compliance measures at the moment; it's more about the 14-day period before the person has to be verified. There is some discussion that, following the review, that may be able to be brought back to 72 hours. Obviously that would help, but I was very surprised to hear that somebody under the age of 18 years was able to get their hands on $1 million to lose in the 14-day period before they proved their age.

Ms Quixley : Sorry, to clarify, the man I spoke of in my testimony wasn't under the age of 18. I was just using it as an illustrative example of the scale of the problem.

Mr RAMSEY: I suspected that was the case, but I just wanted to clarify it because it is slightly different. Nothing's going to stop that, probably. If they had worked out who he was, he could have still lost $1 million if that was his choice to do so. I certainly have some sympathy for your point of view on shortening that time frame, or maybe even eliminating it. Thank you for clarifying that.

Ms MURPHY: Is there any research that you're aware of on whether the problem is the activity of gambling or the paying out of the money? Does that make any sense? I didn't ask it very well.

Ms Quixley : Yes. There's no research that I'm aware of off the top of my head. But what I would say is, when it comes to children, our position is that all gambling is harmful and that children should not be exposed to gambling at all, and the only way to ensure that that occurs is to ensure that they're verified before a deposit or a bet is able to be placed.

Ms MURPHY: Could you elaborate on your concern about children trying to get on and it taking 14 days—or however long—to verify their ID and that information being able to be used to target Twitter and Facebook and social media? We've had a lot of evidence about security and privacy. Could you talk about why you're concerned about that?

Ms Quixley : Yes. There are a number of variables to consider. If a child is able to set up an account potentially using a wrong date of birth, our concern is that their email address and contact phone numbers, particularly, will be retained even if the account remains unverified—so they're able to be contacted even if they're not verified and are unable to continue betting after the 14-day period. Our concern is that the information that is held could then be cross-referenced, so if their email address is used on an online platform it's possible for that to be cross-referenced and for more information or more data to be connected to build a profile of that person without their knowledge.

Ms MURPHY: And that concerns the information going to the gambling organisation rather than a third party age identifier?

Ms Quixley : Yes, so it's really about the wagering provider being able to amalgamate the data that they hold with the data that's held online.

Ms MURPHY: My last question relates to your written submission, where you talk about online alcohol sales and age verification, as with gambling and pornography. I genuinely don’t know the answer to this. What's the situation, as you understand it, with age verification in relation to purchasing alcohol online?

Ms Quixley : I have been working closely with our colleagues at FARE, so I'll allow them to speak to more detail. But my understanding is that there is, I guess, a variable regulatory measure. When alcohol is purchased, it's often required at the point of collection rather than at the point of sale, and their primary concern is that children are also able to purchase. It's a similar situation with tobacco and vaping, to be honest—that children are able to purchase online using Visa debit cards, for example, and then bypass age verification at that point.

Ms MURPHY: Thank you for that.

CHAIR: Ms Quixley, I don't have any further questions for you. So, on that note, I'd like to thank you for your attendance at today's hearing. I'd like to thank you for your detailed submissions and your statement. If you've been asked to provide any additional information, could you please forward it to the secretariat. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. Thank you very much.

Ms Quixley : Thank you, Chair. Thank you to the committee.