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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13897

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (10:35): I rise to speak in the debate on the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and cognate bills. As in most bills brought before this place by the Labor government, there are two sets of consequences in this legislation. There are the intended consequences—and perhaps it is merely a pipe dream to reduce problem gambling—and there are the unintended consequences: the collateral damage to the innocent bystanders who will get hurt by this reckless, dysfunctional government. The government's track record to date is abysmal, and there is nothing in this legislation to suggest that its consequences will be any different to the consequences of other legislation introduced by this government.

Let us look at what will happen when a problem gambler walks into a club after this legislation is implemented. To play the pokies, they will have to register—many of them will go to the effort to do so—and then they will have to set their limit. They can set their limit at whatever amount of money they like: it can be hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. If by chance they set a lower limit and gamble up to it, will they then go home and cook dinner? Or will they go down the road to the TAB, the racetrack or the local casino? Will they go home and play the pokies online? They do not even have to go home to play the pokies online these days; they can do it on their iPad, unrestricted and with all their losses going overseas. Problem gamblers have a problem, and they are not going to have difficulty finding somewhere to exercise their problem if they cannot do so at the local club.

The people who will not go looking for another gambling option are the people who do not have a gambling problem. This pokies legislation is just one link in the nanny-state chain. What right do people in this place have to tell people outside how to live their lives and how to spend their money? If someone has a gambling problem, we should help them rather than hinder the entire country.

This legislation seeks to limit to the tune of $250 the amount of money that people can withdraw from an ATM in a club. A problem gambler will soon work around this limit.

They will bring great wads of cash in with them, stopping at ATMs outside the club. But how far will $250 go for a family that actually goes to the club; maybe dad has a little flutter, spends $20 to$40 on the pokies and shouts the family tea and a few drinks? The major clubs in my electorate have all written to me outlining the problems and concerns they have with this bill. I would like to cover off on a few of the issues they raised. One concern is the time frames in this bill. The Productivity Commission recommended voluntary precommitment be implemented over a six-year period whereas the government is giving them just three years.

Any club with more than 25 poker machines will have the same time frame to comply as one of the big casinos such as Jupiters. Then we have the $250 daily limit, an unnecessary restriction on people's ability to access their money. I am told by the clubs that many of the patrons use those ATMs because it is considered safer and more convenient than using one in the middle of the street. Elderly people particularly go into the club, withdraw their money, go out to the secure car park and drive home. They do not like going into dark streets to withdraw their money. That is one consideration that needs to be taken into account.

What is also not considered is that many clubs, including a number in my electorate, have already installed voluntary precommitment systems in their poker machines. A lot of them are not activated yet but they have that capability. The problem with the legislation is it says we need a nationalised system, a new system. So this technology will need to be ripped out of the machines and new technology put in. The clubs estimate—and it is a conservative estimate—that it will cost $2,000 per machine to put this new nationalised system in. On top of that they have to spend more money for a nation-wide monitoring system. These are all problems with this legislation.

What is going to happen here? It is going to mean more costs for clubs and less money for the community. I will go through that because the clubs in my community generate a lot of money for a lot of smaller sporting clubs and for a lot of other people in the community. Magpies Sporting Club, for instance, belongs to a collective group of organisations that has a primary goal of supporting the community. That is their mission and that is why they exist. Last year Magpies fostered sport in the region by way of providing $750,000 in community benefits, something it is committed to growing in the future. It provided for the upkeep of seven fields used by the sporting codes of cricket, rugby league and soccer and by a dog obedience club. It provided uniforms for these different clubs. It sponsors play equipment. It pays for coaching, and health and wellbeing clinics for players. It donates to reputable charities including CQ Rescue, a vital service that we have in our region, and the Cancer Council. If you strip away that club's means of providing those services, not by reducing problem gambling but by discouraging the occasional flutter and introducing a whole new range of costs, who is going to provide those services to the community?

North Mackay Bowls club provides $300,000 in funding to various community groups in the Mackay region. It has already had hits to its bottom line and still does that. Northern Suburbs Leagues club provides $20,000 annually in funding to junior and senior football teams. It said that these reforms will place a financial difficulty on the club that will probably see that funding reduced.

The Harrup Park Country Club provides $30,000 to affiliated clubs: $10,000 to the North Queensland Cricket Alliance, $9,000 to AFL Mackay. It donates to CQ Rescue and provides free of charge its venue for numerous clubs and affiliates to use to raise funds through bingo—maybe bingo will be the next thing we will see restrictions on from this government. It provides a whole range of different things in the region, not the least of which is the upgrade of the sporting grounds at Harrup Park. The grounds are used for cricket, AFL and for a variety of different sports.

If you strip away these clubs means of income, what is going to happen to this money that they give to the community? It is going to dry up, and someone is going to have to pay that. It is probably going to fall back on the local council, which means ratepayers are going to have to pay more. Really, if this government is doing something which is going to have such a consequence on these clubs and on the sporting clubs then really it should be coughing up the compensation. Will the government step in to the carnage it has created and pick up the slack for all the clubs affiliated with Magpies, Harrup Park and the rest of them? We know the answer is that it will not because it has already maxed out its credit card and cannot spend any more or it will never find Swanie's surplus.

The Magpies Sporting Club provides employment for 90 staff. There are hundreds of staff throughout all of the clubs in the Mackay region. The only way a business can remain in business and employing people is by balancing revenue and expenses. This bill very cleverly manages to drag the business down on both ends: reducing revenue and increasing expenses. The most likely way to restore balance, unfortunately, will be to reduce wages and that means that staff may go. In fact, that is the most likely outcome. It is very sad because there was a time when the Labor Party actually wanted people to have a job. Now Australian workers are just pawns in this political game and just as expendable as the promises of this government. If jobs are under threat in the big clubs you can imagine what is going to happen in the smaller clubs. It will not be the case of losing some jobs; it will be a case of everyone losing their job because the entire club will close down.

I have already spoken with the manager of a large club in Mackay which took ownership of a smaller club as a result of the smaller club finding it difficult to make ends meet.

This club has been in the Mackay community for as long as people can remember.

Another smaller club, the Alligator Creek Bowls and Recreation Club, which is in the northern part of my electorate, has written to me about the devastating effect this reform will have on them. It is a small club with only 10 machines. To meet the upgrade requirements in this legislation, they face a cost of $2,000 per machine—a total of 20 grand. Yes, they have a bit of time to do that, but the fact is that they will not be able to find that money.

I will go through their budget. They have income of just under $400,000 each year. Included in that is the income from those 10 poker machines, which totals about $115,000 a year—over a quarter of their income. Their net profit, before they take out what they need to set aside for depreciation and disposals, is just over $13,000. After depreciation and disposals, they are set back to the tune of $34,000. They do not even have enough money, from their current income, to replace their assets, yet the government is now talking about doing something which will cost them more. This legislation would require them to upgrade each machine—to the tune of $2,000 and an overall hit of at least 20 grand—and in addition they would face the costs of ongoing monitoring.

Their other option is to just get rid of the machines and lose over a quarter of their income. This club will shut its doors for sure and that will be a direct consequence of this bill. It is the only club in the Alligator Creek community, the only place where people can go to socialise with others, have a meal or have a drink with mates—and it is being shut down.

As I said, the secretary of the club has written to me. He told me that they actually make cash donations to many local clubs and groups—usually small donations of about $100 at a time. The letter said:

… our greatest benefit to our local community is providing and meeting all the costs involved in providing the only facility where the large variety of small groups in our area can get together for meetings or hold club/group activities. There is no council community hall, nor any other community facility provided. And, we already struggle to meet this important shortfall left by governments of all levels!

If our club did not exist many groups would fold, as repeatedly happens when groups must meet at someone's home. Pokies machine revenue pays for our many licenses to operate, the bas, super, any major repairs and electricity. If anything is left, we use that to improve our facilities. And while we've been in business since 1994, we still have a dirt car park. This isn't because we like it that way, especially in the wet season—it's because we haven't had enough spare money to seal it. So, we just keep grading it in the dry season, and living with the pot holes in the wet. Dirt car parks are something our more affluent, city counterparts do not have to live with!

The letter goes on to say:

From memory, local groups who have availed themselves of club facilities are: The Alligator Creek Times, Polocrosse, Pony Club, Trail Riders, Horse Club, Playgroup, Neighbourhood Watch, Mah-jong, Fruit & Veg Growers, Craft Group, Tree Growers, Fishing Club, Super Quarry Action Group, Grumpy Old Men, Darts, Bowling Club, Belly Dancing, Rock & Roll. The list of user groups continually changes and reforms as various groups start up and close down. Townsville City Council and both State and Federal Government Departments all avail themselves of our facilities for their own purposes (usually for no cost) on a regular basis. The Club is also where local businesses, lost & found notices, birthday, anniversary greetings etc can advertised on our free on-site and off-site noticeboards. We try to encourage everyone to participate in something, as isolation is a noted cause of depression and a killer in rural areas.

Along with that, it is the only place in the region, other than the local roadhouse, for meals and drinks. The letter continues:

But for socializing, entertainment, weddings, birthdays, wakes and other functions, getting government agency information out, small group and larger community meetings—there are no other local facilities residents could use. We're it. If we have to close our doors, no other local club will be able to pay the bills to keep the doors open …

The club has 10 employees—all of them local. The funds they inject back into the community are not limited to wages, as they support local businesses and groups wherever they can. The club supports a number of charitable organisations. Camp Quality and Legacy are their ongoing, yearlong projects. They donate to the Red Shield Appeal and the Cancer Fund and to organisations such as Clubs Smile for a Child, Lions and the PCYC.

This is a club which faces closure as a result of this bill. They know it. The secretary has written to me, saying that they will not be able to afford to upgrade the machines but that they cannot afford not to have the machines. They will close down and Alligator Creek will go without the only community facility they have. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.