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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 64

Senator HUMPHRIES (5:39 PM) —I do not propose to speak for very long. I simply want to indicate that, in the view of the coalition senators who took part in this inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, the question of the social harm and economic harm done by addiction to poker machine use is unfinished business as far as Australian government is concerned. The coalition senators who took part in this inquiry do accept that to make good public policy it is important for us to look carefully at the best available data about the incidence of problem gambling and effective possible solutions to the problem that presents. As such, we support the recommendation in the majority report that there ought to be an updated Productivity Commission report to the Australian community on this issue.

We do, however, take the view that it is important for pressure to remain on the gambling industry in Australia to step up to the mark with respect to ensuring that every measure is taken, in the way in which gambling products are made available to the Australian community, to minimise the harm that occurs to those individuals who cannot use those products temperately. We do acknowledge the point made a moment ago by Senator Fielding that to some extent state and territory governments have moved a certain distance but perhaps not far enough in being able to ensure that these products are available in carefully controlled circumstances to members of the Australian public who may be at risk. We recommend that a number of measures in the Poker Machine Harm Minimisation Bill 2008 which was put before this place by Senator Fielding ought to be considered separately and perhaps with a degree of urgency to ensure that across Australia there are a raft of measures, simple but hopefully effective measures, to minimise the impact on problem gamblers of the availability of these machines: things like devices which limit the size of bets placed on gaming machines in certain circumstances; measures like limits on the use of other devices which might stimulate a gambler’s interest in placing further bets, such as repeat bets available electronically on the machine; and limits on the size of jackpots. It is very hard to understand why jackpots should be much greater than, for example, $2,000 in any one instance.

They are the sorts of measures that we feel have already been adopted by some jurisdictions, could be rolled out consistently across the nation on the basis of best available evidence and could have an immediate impact on some aspects of problem gambling even in anticipation of the report of the Productivity Commission in the near future. We feel very strongly that it is important for the Commonwealth government to play a leadership role in lifting this debate to that level, so that state governments understand that the Commonwealth will be a participant in the debate about how to reduce the effect of problem gambling in this country. The Commonwealth government should provide services which impact on the failure to some degree of state and territory governments to adequately deal with this issue and as such would have a very strong and direct interest in ensuring that further steps are taken to minimise the effect of problem gambling. We accept that this is a process which has to proceeded with on the basis of good evidence. That good evidence at this stage is to some extent ambiguous or blurred, and a Productivity Commission update would be a very welcome new piece of evidence in the armoury to look at this problem. But without even that evidence available, I believe a signal needs to be sent to Australian state and territory governments to lift their game. That is why we support a measure of the kind referred to in the additional comments made by coalition senators in this report.