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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 3717


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:39): We are here today to comment on the report that was tabled in parliament this week by the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, entitled The design and implementation of a mandatory pre-commitment system for electronic gambling machines. The reason that this committee has conducted the inquiry is that we have a problem. We have a problem with pokies addiction, and it is real. It is a public health issue, it is a family issue, it is a workplace issue and it is an economic issue. It will not go away as a result of the hysterical speeches of those who sit in the chamber opposite me. It will go away because members in this place have the courage to do something about it.

The reason we have an obligation to do something about it is that governments license the existence of gaming machines. We derive revenue from them. Therefore, we have an obligation to ensure that they are operating safely and in line with community values. I can tell the members opposite and everybody else that the community simply does not accept the proposition that any business, organisation or government should profit from the misery of others. Our objective in bringing these reforms forward is to ensure that we are able to properly regulate this form of gambling which is proven to have an addictive and damaging effect on so many Australians.

Throughout the 1990s there was a liberalisation of poker machines throughout Australia. It led to what the Productivity Commission has recently described as the maturation of the industry. In common speak, that has led to a growth in the number of machines in clubs, pubs and many other venues around the country. So we have the situation today where there are close to 200,000 electronic gaming machines in this country, and nearly half of them are in my state of New South Wales.

As I have already mentioned, we have an obligation to do something about this because governments derive a source of revenue from gaming and poker machine revenue. States derive about $5 billion per annum from gambling—about 10 per cent of state revenue—and a significant proportion of that comes from electronic gaming machines. The total gaming revenue in the economy as a whole was $19 billion in 2008-09, which is about $1,500 per adult.

As members opposite have indicated, Australians do not mind having a punt. I do not mind having a punt myself. I am amongst the estimated 600,000 people who play poker machines. Unfortunately, about 115,000 people have a problem with gambling. While these 115,000 people make up only about 15 per cent of the total gambling population, they contribute somewhere between 26 per cent or 40 per cent of gaming revenue. So we have a problem, particularly when you consider that hotels derive about one-third of their revenue, clubs about 60 per cent of their revenue and casinos about 78 per cent of their revenue from these machines. We have a problem and we have to deal with it.

We can stick our heads in the sand, like the member for Moncrieff, opposite, begs us to do and say that what we are doing at the moment is good enough. But we on this side of the House do not believe that that is fulfilling our obligation to the communities that we represent. We have put in place a proposition which says nothing more than this: we do not give up on problem gamblers and we do not think that people who play poker machines, as the member opposite seems to suggest, are somehow mad and bad most of their lives. We understand and the evidence before the committee was quite simply that, yes, when problem gamblers and many other gamblers are in a gaming environment and sitting before a poker machine they lose control and are not operating on the basis of reason that most of us would operate on normally. But even these people have moments of lucidity and moments of reason when they go home and they have to explain to their wife, their husband or their kids, or when they have to go to work the next day and explain why they are asking for an advance in their pay, or when they have to go and cash in their television or their video recorder. They have moments of reason and they understand that the behaviour they engaged in last night, last week or for the last 10 days when they were on a binge—'chasing the losses', as the member opposite has pointed out—was wrong. The tools that we are proposing to put in place will give them some control over that gambling addiction.

Mr Ciobo: But they are not rational.

Ms Rishworth: They're not irrational all the time.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: As the member for Kingston has pointed out, these people do not have a problem all the time; they have a problem when they are in a gaming situation. They have moments of reason, moments of lucidity.

Mr Ciobo interjecting

Mr STEPHEN JONES: The evidence before the committee was quite clear on this point. It might have been evidence that was delivered on some of the many days when the member opposite who is interjecting so much was not there, but it was very clear that the expert evidence before the committee—

Mr Ciobo: I rise on a point of order. I have a reasonably wide tolerance for being verballed, but statements of factual inaccuracy like that one should be withdrawn. I find them offensive.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): The member for Moncrieff has made his point.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: The second reason we do not give up on problem gamblers and we believe the precommitment technology that has been the subject of this inquiry has a very good chance of solving or helping to resolve problem gambling is that it will prevent people who have been identified by experts as at-risk gamblers converting to problem gamblers. They will avoid doing that by using the precommitment technology to effectively set themselves a budget to punt, a budget to gamble, so that they know on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis how much of their family income they are going to be able to put through a poker machine—how much they can afford to lose.

So we have very good reasons to believe—we are not as cynical as those members opposite—that the technologies and the systems that we are proposing to put in place will work. We believe they will work because they will stop the conversion of at-risk gamblers to problem gamblers and they will give problem gamblers who have already crossed the Rubicon some tools, in those moments of lucidity and reason, to take control of their gambling addiction. Of course in and of itself it is not the complete solution. It has to be part and parcel of a package of solutions. The recommendations put forward by the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform go to a combination of solutions.

Some objections have also been raised throughout the course of the inquiry about the egregious costs that this is going to visit upon the industry. We have listened closely to this evidence, and the report points out that for the most part these claims are widely exaggerated and these technologies can be introduced for a fraction of the cost that is estimated and a fraction of the revenue that is generated by one of these machines over its life span. With that comment made, we do make the concession and we do understand that there is going to be a need, particularly for small clubs, for us to have a phased introduction of these technologies and we have recommended exactly that.

I will make the point that the member for Moncrieff was alluding to and then going to quite pointedly in his contribution to the debate. I enjoyed his cross-examination of witnesses throughout the inquiry on this particular point. It goes to the issue of privacy and intrusion, that somehow the introduction of this technology is going to be the visitation upon every Australian citizen of some mammoth Big Brother database which is going to intrude upon every aspect of their private, social and working lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have ruled out quite early the use of biometric technology, despite the fact that many pubs are already introducing biometric technology as a condition of visiting their premises here and now. Many pubs in the state of New South Wales and elsewhere, I am reliably advised, are already introducing, beyond the pale of regulation, biometric technology—fingerprint scanners, retina scanners—as a condition of entering their premises. I believe, and I am sure that many right-minded citizens—and I suspect the member for Moncrieff—would agree with me, that this sort of activity should probably not be occurring outside the realm of regulation; but perhaps that is a matter for another day.

The second point that I would make on the issue of privacy and intrusion is that it is a condition of the establishment of a club that they set up and keep a membership register and ensure that anybody who enters the premises of a club, at least in New South Wales or Queensland and I suspect everywhere else, has proof of identity which satisfies the requirements of the legislation and is able by one means or another to satisfy the occupiers of the premises—the licensees, the club owners and managers—that when they enter those premises and intend to use the facilities, including the electronic gaming machine facilities on those premises, they can show that identity. That is to say, the database already exists. Not only does it exist but it collects information about the gaming habits of individual club members and visitors and the clubs already use that data to market to those patrons they know who are frequenters of electronic gaming machines. They do such things—and I make no value judgment about this whatsoever—as send free tickets for meals and a courtesy cab around to a regular punter's home and say, 'Come on down, we've got a special deal for you today; we will put on a meal and free drinks and we've got a special pokies promotion going on.'

I make no value judgment about that whatsoever. Clubs are entitled to market, but they are already using this data and we believe that the introduction of the mandatory precommitment technology is no greater intrusion on a club member or a club patron's privacy than already exists. In fact, through this mechanism we might serve to tidy up some of the practices that many within the community think are not meeting community standards and expectations.

We are far more optimistic than those opposite. If their real issue is problem gambling and they think that we should do something about it and if their real objection is this just ain't the problem, we are a bit more optimistic. This ain't the solution. We are a bit more optimistic than that. One of the recommendations of the committee, as the member for Moncrieff knows, is that there shall be a trial. I am quite confident that, as a result of the rollout of this technology and the trial that we intend to put in place, any of the teething problems that the member for Moncrieff is so passionately concerned about will be able to be dealt with. I am sure the member for Moncrieff and those he represents will get plenty more opportunities—

Mr Ciobo interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Moncrieff has had his opportunity.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: to run his scare campaign around his alleged concerns about privacy. But I end my contribution where I began. Gambling addiction is real, it is a public health issue, it is a family issue, it is a family issue, it is a workplace issue and it is an economic issue and we cannot sit idly by and just identify all of the problems—for those of us who have the gumption and the courage to try to do something about it—without proffering some of the solutions that will make a real difference.

Debate adjourned.