13 February 2012
Andrew addresses Independent Rob Oakeshott’s motion on gambling reform.
Mr WILKIE (Denison) (20:24): I would like to start by commending the member for Lyne for his interest and involvement in the important issue of gambling reform. His motion clearly has merit. Even more significant, perhaps, is that here we have another member of the federal parliament standing up and arguing for reform in another sign that problem gambling is now a national issue warranting a federal response. If there is anything in the motion of the member for Lyne that I might question, it is not in the substance but rather the member’s optimism that state and territory can be trusted to cooperate on any kind of meaningful gambling reform. After all, these are the same governments, with the admirable exception of Western Australia, that have grown fat on the tax revenue off the $12 billion lost each year by poker machine players and in particular the $5 billion from poker machine problem gamblers. No, state and territory governments are part of the problem. It is my belief that gambling reform is now very much a federal issue and that it is the responsibility of the federal parliament to deliver a solution.
Indeed, the Australian government will soon introduce legislation into the federal parliament in an unprecedented move to finally do something about poker machine problem gambling, albeit one disappointingly short of the meaningful reform agreed to by the Prime Minister after the 2010 federal election.
I would also like to commend the member for Lyne for addressing the issue of tax reform in his motion. Currently, the tax collected by the states and territories is not counted as revenue when GST is calculated. This gives a disproportionate advantage to the big gambling states, in particular New South Wales and Queensland. Reform in this area is not only sensible but something that would be to the great advantage of small states like Tasmania that have lower pro rata revenue from gambling taxes.
I have been greatly heartened by the number of my parliamentary colleagues who have expressed a deep interest in problem gambling and its impact on Australia. They know that when a person has a gambling addiction they bet away their money, their family’s money, the money to send their children to school and the money that they plan to retire with. In many cases, problem gamblers even steal from their parents or employers. In fact, some 60 per cent of problem gamblers commit crime to support their addiction, according to one study. The percentage of prisoners in Australia with a gambling addiction varies between 17.4 per cent for Queensland and 33 per cent for South Australia.
After borrowing and stealing what they can, problem gamblers are left with no money and no job, so they are likely to lose their marriage and their family. They may lose their house if they have not sold it already. The time it takes varies, but eventually most problem gamblers hit rock bottom. They run out of money, out of options and out of friends and family. Some manage to fight the habit and start their life anew. But others tragically end their lives. Up to 17 per cent of suicides in Australia are thought to be gambling related. There are currently more than 100,000 problem gamblers in Australia. Each one affects between five and 10 other people, so it is not so much to say that gambling adversely affects millions of Australians. That is why I remain focused on this issue.
Australians are among the biggest gambling losers in the world. Gambling addiction causes greater harm to our communities than in other country in the world. On balance, I support this motion and certainly will support the parliament discussing gambling reform at every other possible opportunity. The federal parliament is now the place to tackle gambling reform. I urge each and every one of my colleagues to look for opportunities to take real action to stop the loss of money, the loss of jobs and ultimately the loss of lives. Frankly, we owe it to the Australians who are hurting, the most vulnerable Australians and the Australians who this government is meant to work for and who we are elected to represent.