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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 12911

Ms MACKLIN (JagajagaMinister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform) (09:02): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

These bills represent the first time that a national government has legislated to help tackle gambling addiction. The reforms they deliver will help problem gamblers take control of their addictions, and help their families take back control of their lives.

This bill, together with the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 1) 2012 and the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 2) 2012, delivers on the government's commitment to reduce the harm caused by gaming machines to problem gamblers and those at risk of harm, their families and communities.

These bills enact a series of reforms to help problem gamblers, including the requirement that precommitment technology be implemented on gaming machines.

When the government announced our intention to legislate on 21 January 2012, we said we would act to undertake a large-scale trial of mandatory precommitment, and that we would expand precommitment technology to every poker machine across the country.

These reforms also build on the May 2011 agreement of the Council of Australian Governments Select Council on Gambling Reform to support the infrastructure for precommitment in every gaming venue in the country.

The bills were released as exposure drafts on 17 February 2012, and are informed by consultations since their release with key industry groups, manufacturers, state and territory governments and community groups.

These bills are based on the evidence and recommendations of the Productivity Commission.

Of course, we know that many Australians enjoy the occasional bet. Gambling is a legitimate industry that provides recreation for many Australians and is a major employer.

For most people, gambling is a form of entertainment that is enjoyed responsibly—whether it's a flutter at the races, buying a lottery ticket, a turn on the pokies or a night out at the casino.

For some people, however, gambling can be highly destructive. Up to half a million Australians are at risk of becoming, or are, problem gamblers.

The evidence is clear.

Problem gambling can—and does—ruin lives and destroy families.

Australians spend nearly $12 billion a year on poker machines.

Three-quarters of problem gamblers play the pokies. And one in six people who play the pokies regularly has a severe gambling problem.

Problem gamblers lose an average of $21,000 a year on their addiction. That's about a third of the average annual salary—hard-earned money that isn't being used to pay bills, the mortgage or put food on the table.

But this isn't just about the money lost. It's the harm problem gamblers inflict on themselves and their families.

Problem gamblers suffer mental and physical health problems, can find it difficult to hold down a job, and struggle to maintain relationships.

People with gambling problems are six times more likely than non-gamblers to get divorced—and they are four times more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse.

The actions of one problem gambler have negative impacts on the lives of between five and 10 other people. This means there are up to five million Australians who could be affected by problem gambling each year—including friends, family and employers of people with a gambling problem.

We also know that the children of problem gamblers are up to 10 times more likely to become problem gamblers themselves than children with parents who don't gamble.

And we know that only about 15 per cent of problem gamblers seek help.

The Productivity Commission estimated that the social cost of problem gambling to the community is at least $4.7 billion each year.

And there is the cost we can't put a dollar figure on. Like the hours problem gamblers spend away from their families to feed their addiction—precious time they can't get back.

We must act to make gambling on poker machines safer, and we must act to help protect people whose addiction is hurting themselves and others.

And this parliament has a duty to act—which is why this legislation is so important.

The bills brought before the chamber today will reduce the harm caused by gaming machines to problem gamblers.

They respond to the Productivity Commission's 2010 inquiry into gambling, into the harm arising through the use of poker machines.

The National Gambling Reform Bill requires that all gaming machines be part of a state-wide precommitment system and display electronic warnings by the end of 2016.

We understand, of course, that small pubs and clubs, many of them in regional areas, just aren't the same as the big gaming venues in the city. So we have provided for longer implementation time lines for small venues.

Venues with between 11 and 20 gaming machines will have an extra four years—until 2020—to bring in precommitment technology on their gaming machines.

And the very small venues—those with 10 or fewer gaming machines—will be able to implement the technology as they replace their machines in their usual replacement cycle.

All new gaming machines that are manufactured or imported from the end of 2013 will be required to have precommitment capability. This means that machines that are turned over from the end of 2013 will already have the functionality required and be 'precommitment ready'.

Precommitment lets pokie players decide themselves how much they are willing to lose, set a limit before they play—and stick to it.

Under these bills, people who play gaming machines can choose to register for precommitment. Once registered, they can set a 'loss limit' on the amount that they are prepared to lose during a chosen period—known as a limit period.

Once the person reaches that loss limit, the person is prevented from using gaming machines in the state or territory within the precommitment system for the rest of their defined limit.

We know that a big part of the problem with gambling addiction is that some people can get into what is called the zone. They sit down with the intention of spending an amount they can afford but, once they start playing, they get stuck in a destructive cycle they cannot get out of.

Getting into the zone can be dangerous—and it can happen quickly.

We know that no-one sits down to lose their whole pay cheque, or the week's grocery budget, or the money for school items for their children. And that is what precommitment helps to protect against. It gives people a tool to help them take control of their own spending.

A player registered for the precommitment system will be able to choose not to set a loss limit, and still be able to access transaction statements and other player information to help them to track and review their play.

The bill also provides that it will be the personal choice of a user whether to register or use the precommitment system. However, it does require that all gaming machines be linked to a precommitment system. If a person does register for the precommitment system, they will also be able to exclude themselves by setting a loss limit of zero.

This will complement existing arrangements currently operational across Australia, which allow some users to exclude themselves from gaming venues.

The bills protect the privacy of players by making clear that biometric processes cannot be used in registration for, or access to, a precommitment system. The bill also makes clear that a national database of player information must not be established.

The bills establish minimum requirements for harm minimisation for gaming machines. States and territories will be able to impose stronger measures, and the minimum requirements can work concurrently with state or territory laws. States and territories will also continue to be able to determine the distribution and number of gaming machines in their jurisdiction.

The bills also introduce a number of complementary reforms to support problem gamblers to take control of their addiction.

In addition to requiring gaming machines to be linked to a precommitment system, the bills require all machines to provide electronic warnings to players about their use of gaming machines, and the potential harm caused. These changes will be introduced on the same time line as precommitment, with the same concessions for smaller venues.

We know that warning messages can be an effective way to change people's gambling behaviour, and that dynamic warnings can have a greater effect on people than posters or stickers. This bill requires warnings to be electronic, so they have a greater influence on player behaviour.

The bills also introduce a $250-per-day automatic teller machine withdrawal limit for gaming machine premises—other than casinos and exempted premises in smaller communities, where access to cash is not readily available from non-gaming outlets. This will take effect from 1 May 2013.

This change responds to the recommendation of the Productivity Commission that a daily limit of $250 could help address gambling harm without overly affecting non-problem gamblers and other patrons. An analysis of ATM transactions shows that 85 per cent of withdrawals from ATMs in venues with gaming machines are below the proposed $250 limit. The Productivity Commission also suggested that the daily withdrawal limit should be adjusted periodically to account for inflation—and this is provided for by the bills.

The bills also provide for the monitoring and investigation of compliance with the new legislation, which will be undertaken by the regulator or their delegate, as outlined.

It sets out enforcement measures, including civil penalty orders, infringement notices, injunctions, enforceable undertakings and compliance notices.

A precommitment provider may contravene a civil penalty provision or have their approval revoked if they provide the precommitment system otherwise than on terms and conditions approved by the regulator.

A person may contravene a civil penalty provision if they make a noncompliant gaming machine available for use. Civil penalties also apply for making or importing gaming machines that do not meet precommitment system requirements.

Defences to possible contraventions are provided where a gaming machine premise operator did not know and could not reasonably be expected to have known that a system or machine was noncompliant. A defence is also provided for operational or technical matters where a failure was not the fault of the gaming machine operator and remedying the fault was not within the gaming machine operator's control.

Offence provisions protect information obtained under the new legislation, including through precommitment systems, from unauthorised disclosure or use. Disclosing and using information is authorised in certain situations, including for the purposes of the new legislation or law enforcement, or with consent.

The bills also provide for two inquiries by the Productivity Commission—one into the results of the proposed trial of mandatory precommitment, and a separate inquiry to assess the progress towards the key reforms contained in the bills.

Further, the bills establish a new Australian Gambling Research Centre within the Australian Institute of Family Studies to undertake and commission research into gambling, and to build the capacity for research into this area.

The centre will be guided by an independent Expert Advisory Group on Gambling, consisting of members of the academic community.

This delivers on recommendations of the Productivity Commission and of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, and it is the first time an Australian government has committed to advancing an independent, national gambling research agenda.

The package of measures outlined in these bills is supported by two levies: the supervisory levy and the gaming machine regulation levy. These two levies are imposed, respectively, by the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 1) 2012 and the National Gambling Reform (Related Matters) Bill (No. 2) 2012.

The bills also provide that the regulator may charge a fee for services, such as for application fees associated with becoming an approved precommitment provider, which would be likely to reduce the supervisory levy.

These reforms represent the first time the Commonwealth is legislating to help problem gamblers and their families.

They will help problem gamblers take control of a harmful and destructive addiction.

They will help the bloke feeding the poker machine instead of spending time with his kids.

They will help the mother who is worried sick about her daughter, and the mounting debt she cannot escape from.

And they will help the people who may fall victim to problem gambling in the future.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.