Gambling Harm Reduction (Protecting Problem Gamblers and Other Measures) Bill 2014

Gambling Harm Reduction (Protecting Problem Gamblers and Other Measures) Bill 2014

Text of bill

Explanatory memorandum

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (10:20): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill would see that mandatory pre-commitment is implemented for all poker machines in Australia, that one-dollar-maximum bets were introduced, that a withdrawal limit of $250 was imposed on all automatic teller machines and EFTPOS devices in poker machine venues, that jackpots were restricted on poker machines throughout the country to $500, that the maximum banknote that can be inserted into any poker machine at any one time would be $20, and that the maximum credit that any poker machine could accrue would be $20.

The timeline for these reforms is that all machines sold must be capable of complying with all of the above by 31 December 2015 and that all machines sold must comply with all of the above criteria by 31 December 2019. Moreover, venues with five or more poker machines must be compliant by 31 December 2019, but there is consideration for smaller venues and the limited resources that they have, so that the venues with five or fewer poker machines would need to be compliant by 31 December 2021—an extra two years.

My private member’s bill is entirely consistent with the work of the Productivity Commission and, importantly, is consistent with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission in 2010, when it brought out this very hefty report—in fact, its second substantial report into poker machines and problem gambling in Australia. Regrettably, this report was released in 2010 on the day that Julia Gillard became Prime Minister at the expense of Kevin Rudd, and those dramatic political events that day greatly overshadowed what is and what remains Australia’s benchmark inquiry and benchmark blueprint for gambling reform—the best we have ever seen. It is a shame that in 2010 that very good work by the Productivity Commission was overshadowed in the way it was. It remains the blueprint and the best guidance for the way ahead to deal with problem gambling, in particular from poker machines.

Obviously, poker machine reform was a big issue in the 43rd parliament, and some of the spotlight has gone off it in this parliament. But mark my words: poker machine problem gambling remains just as serious a problem in the Australian community as it ever has been, and there is just as much pressure in the community for reform—just as much expectation that people like ourselves in this place and in the other place will finally do something to diminish problem gambling in this country.

The fact is that something approach 100,000 Australians are poker machine problem gamblers. And they are losing in the order of $5,000 million a year. In fact, the Productivity Commission found that something like 600,000 Australians are playing poker machines on a weekly basis Something like 15 per cent of those people are poker machine problem gamblers, and another 15 per cent are at risk of becoming poker machine problem gamblers. In other words, more than half a million Australians play the pokies every week, and almost a third of them are poker machine problem gamblers, or at risk of becoming problem gamblers. So, why on earth is it so hard to get reform in this place? Truly, it beggars belief that when we have a problem as serious as this there is complete and utter disregard in this place for the cost to the community.

Those approximately 100,000 poker-machine problem gamblers—yes, it is a big figure, but it is not just a figure. Every one of those nearly 100,000 Australians is a human being with a very human story. They are all losing more money than they can afford. As a direct result of that, some of them are losing their relationships with their families, some of them are losing their jobs and some of them are losing their houses. Some of them are pinching from the till in their workplaces, and their employers are in financial difficulty because of these thefts. At the very worst, some of those people are taking their own lives. They are taking their own lives because they can no longer live with the cost to them of poker-machine problem gambling.

And what has this place done about it so far? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The only reason we had the prospect of some reform in the previous parliament was that the then Prime Minister and the then government were forced by the challenges of a power-sharing parliament to sign a deal for meaningful poker machine reform. But what did previous government do the first opportunity it got, as soon as it could move Peter Slipper into the Speaker’s chair—as soon as it had the numbers? It ditched those reforms. That will be forever a shameful black mark against the Labor Party and the other people concerned in the 43rd parliament.

But I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta: no-one is covered in glory in this place on this matter, because, as soon as there was a change in government and the Liberal-National coalition came to power, what did they do? They overturned the modest reforms that we did get in the previous parliament, the very modest reforms that the Labor Party was forced to implement if only because of the public pressure that had built up over that period of time. What did the new government do? It overturned those reforms. How did the new government get the overturning of those reforms through the Senate? With the support of the Labor Party.

I am going through the history of this because the Australian community needs to understand and needs to be reminded that the Australian parliament and the major parties have consistently let the community down when it comes to meaningful poker machine reform. After all of the carrying-on in the 43rd Parliament and the repeal of the reforms in this parliament, what are we left with? Nothing—absolutely nothing. There has been no action by the Australian parliament to clamp down on a dangerous product that is adversely affecting about 100,000 people. By the way, the research shows that, for every one of those 100,000 people who are poker-machine problem gamblers, between five and 10 other people are affected. Their mums, their dads, their brothers, their sisters, their sons, their daughters, their friends, their work colleagues, their employers: they are all adversely affected. In other words, there could be a million people in this country adversely affected by poker-machine problem gambling. But what is this parliament done? Nothing—and that is to the enduring shame of this place and the people that have populated this place during the 43rd and the 44th Parliaments.

I am pleased that my colleague the member for Melbourne is here to second this bill and I applaud the Greens for being the only other party that has covered itself in any glory when it comes to pushing for the need for poker machine reform. I thank the member for Melbourne.

The industry thinks it has won this fight. Mark my words, Mr Deputy Speaker: the industry has not won this fight. Yes, it has paid off the Liberal Party. Yes, it has paid off the Nationals. Yes, it has paid off Labor. They are all on the take; they all take general donations from the poker machine industry. In fact, the Labor Party even operates poker machine venues in the ACT. They are all on the take. Why, at the time the 43rd Parliament was considering these matters, Packer gave Katter’s party hundreds of thousands of dollars, and no-one batted an eyelid: ‘What’s unusual about that?’ The fact is we have a cruel and dishonest industry trading on the misery of Australians, and just about all of the parties are in cahoots with the industry and on the take. That is how we find ourselves in these circumstances.

Again, mark my words, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta: reform is coming, because a wrong like this in the community has never been allowed to go on forever. Sooner or later, a government with a bit of backbone, with a bit of integrity, will come along and it will drive reform. It will be the community that will make that happen because the community will keep insisting that this place finally do something to help those people and to stop people taking their lives. Change will come eventually; it is just a matter of when. I encourage the community to keep up the good fight.

In closing, I commend my bill to the House. I would like to thank a member of my staff, Alex Moores, who has done a really good job on crafting what I think will be an exemplar for poker machine reform in the future.


Posted on

November 24, 2014

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