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Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
23 October 2015

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. The Victorian Greens support the bill, even though it barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done to tackle problem gambling.

I am unashamedly antipokies. I believe there need to be fewer of them and greater control of the ones already out there. They have had a devastating impact on Victoria and our most vulnerable communities. Electronic gaming machines and poker machines have thrown fuel onto the fire of problem gambling, taking an enormous toll on Victorian families and our health system. We have seen the financial stress that it brings — family breakdown, job losses, depression and crime. More than $13 million was lost on poker machines in the Prahran electorate in 2012–13, with losses rising every year. Overall Victorians lost more than $2.5 billion on the pokies last financial year, with most of these losses concentrated in low socio-economic areas, often in our outer suburbs and regional Victoria.

We know people enjoy a bet, but when people can lose thousands of dollars on a poker machine, something needs to be done. The type of electronic gaming machines we have in Victoria are infamous. They are carefully engineered to be highly addictive, to disguise losses as wins and to efficiently empty the pockets of those who are using them. Some of these machines can turn through thousands of dollars in a single hour, and they can be found in high numbers across all communities but again concentrated in some of the places that can least afford them.

We have heard some talk about the voluntary precommitment technology, as if that is somehow progress in addressing problem gambling. But it is a sham; it is a fig leaf. The voluntary precommitment technology will do nothing to reduce problem gambling and next to nothing to assist problem gamblers and reduce the devastating effects of pokies on our communities. What is worse, to back this up, one can look at the budget papers, which show that the government does not expect any reduction in losses as a result of voluntary precommitment. Page 165 of budget paper 5, the statement of finances, estimates that revenue from poker machines will increase by $20.5 million between 2014–15 and 2015–16, and will increase by over $215 million over the forward estimates, and this is when we know that problem gamblers make up around 35 per cent of spending on poker machines.

The government, the opposition and the community all know that problem gambling through poker machines is out of control, but there seems to be a refusal to implement a workable, evidenced-based solution that could significantly reduce this problem. Instead we let the powerful gambling industry sidestep important, realistic measures designed to control and limit problem gambling. It does not affect just those who are problem gamblers but also the 300 000 Victorians who are affected by someone else's problem gambling.

The bill contains some positive steps and small reforms. It makes several amendments to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Act 2011. The most important of these is to give the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation an advocacy and policy role, which is a useful amendment in that it gives the foundation the scope to provide advice to the minister, and I am sure it will be very interesting to see what that advice will entail. It also makes a technical amendment to the definition of interstate exclusion orders under the Casino Control Act 1991 that will ensure that all interstate exclusion orders are captured regardless of how they are made. A number of amendments are also made to the Gambling Regulation Act 2003. We support these amendments in so far as they ensure the provision of responsible service of gaming training that incorporates the latest research and industry best practice to those who are on the front line of the gaming industry.

Lastly, the bill amends the precommitment provisions in the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 to provide that a person must not disclose information obtained from a precommitment system to a court. This is all well and good, but it is not enough to seriously reduce the harm of poker machines. The idea that a precommitment will work has no basis. There is no evidence that a non-binding precommitment system on pokies will be effective in reducing the losses on problem gamblers, yet we seem to be told that this is somehow a real solution. A player can choose whether or not they register for precommitment; they can have a non-binding or partial precommitment, if they choose to register and set a limit; and they can choose not to enter their card when playing. We know this is ineffective because high-risk gamblers are often categorised as having impaired control and as chronically spending beyond desired playing limits with significant negative consequences. This non-binding, partial program provides a number of means in which a problem gambler can get around this system, and it does nothing to ensure control and spending when a gambling addict cannot do this for themselves.

The Victorian Greens have had a long history of taking strong and consistent action aimed at reducing the harm of gambling. We have shown that, unlike the current government and previous governments, we are committed to taking real steps — and I acknowledge the work of a member for Western Metropolitan Region in the other place, Colleen Hartland, who is the Victorian Greens gambling spokesperson, for all the work she has done in this area — towards negotiating the removal of ATMs from gambling venues, rejecting the voluntary precommitment legislation that was brought in by the previous government and instead proposing our own bill that would implement dollar bet limits, which would have effectively targeted problem gamblers, limited their losses and made real differences to their lives and the lives of their families.

We have heard the call for more research, and that is all very well, but the proposal for dollar bet limits is based on hard evidence published by the Productivity Commission in its 2010 gambling inquiry report which showed that dollar bets are the cheapest and most effective, straightforward option for reducing the harm of pokies. Given that 88 per cent of recreational gamblers do not bet more than a dollar a spin, it would have had a small impact on recreational gamblers whilst targeting those who need support to stop problem gambling. But the bill was voted down by the government — voted down by the Liberal Party, voted down by The Nationals and voted down by the Labor Party. Again a real solution to address problem gambling was rejected. The Liberal, Labor and Nationals parties have shown that they are hopelessly compromised when it comes to regulating the gambling industry and taking action on problem gambling.

We saw it last year with the remarkable Crown Casino licence extension, which included a clause that prevents future state governments from implementing public health reforms such as maximum bet size or smoking bans in the high-roller lounge without compensating Crown. We have seen it in the donations made to political parties for 2013–14. We will not be able to see results from the last financial year until next February, unfortunately, but it is worth having a look at those donations for a moment. We cannot have a situation where there is an industry that is harmful and dangerous to the lives of so many in our community and that needs to be addressed by strong and effective legislation and at the same time that industry is making donations to political parties. It creates a conflict of interest that is against the interests of Victorians.

Let us look at who is donating to those political parties. There is the Australian Hotels Association, which has been very generous indeed to the Liberal and Nationals parties. There is Crown Resorts, which has been very generous to the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. There is Tabcorp, which is donating to political parties. This is outrageous. These business interests should not be donating to political parties, otherwise they are hopelessly compromised in effectively addressing problem gambling. It is absolutely ludicrous. The High Court has recently ruled that it is entirely constitutional for political donations to be banned from certain industries, and it is time we got on with banning political donations from gambling companies. Maybe then we will see the other parties come to the realisation that to take effective action on problem gambling, the gaming industry needs to be highly and further regulated and we will see dollar bet limits placed on gaming machines.

The bill before the house purports to action the government's commitment to developing programs and policies to address problem gambling, but it just skims the surface and does not acknowledge an evidence-based approach that can have a real and genuine impact. In themselves, these measures are useful but completely lacking. With the social costs of problem gambling, it cannot go on, and the current arrangements perpetuate it just because there is some benefit from the gambling industry, which seems to be very generous in its donations to the other parties. We have safety standards — —

Ms Victoria — You are jealous, aren't you?

Mr HIBBINS — Some of the donors are actually from addresses in Prahran; obviously I do not mix with the right people.

Safety standards are being implemented in other potentially harmful industries, such as tobacco and asbestos, so it is about time the gambling industry was regulated and real reforms were introduced to limit problem gambling. If this government was serious about pokies reform, it would introduce legislation like the Greens' dollar bet legislation. This would have a real impact on limiting the losses by problem gamblers on poker machines and have a positive impact out there in the community. The Greens will be supporting this bill, but so much more needs to be done.

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
23 October 2015




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