Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:47): I am pleased to rise to speak to the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. As some will recall, a couple of years ago I did bring a motion of urgent public importance to this chamber in relation to Crown. Now, it may not have been successful then—in fact it absolutely was not successful then—but it was clear at the time that there was insufficient oversight of Melbourne’s casino and it was not free from criminal influence. There was no doubt about that. It was questionable whether gaming was being conducted honestly, and it was very questionable whether problem gamblers were being protected as the act required them to be. It has taken some time since then—well, it has taken a royal commission here, but I think that was certainly instigated by the inquiry in New South Wales—and it has taken effort from people in this chamber and many others outside this chamber. I would also like to make note of the federal member for Clark, Mr Andrew Wilkie, who has been quite tireless in fighting and in advocating for better regulation of gambling, not just in Victoria but around the country. So I am pleased to stand here and speak in this context.
The bill responds to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. It strengthens the regulatory oversight of the casino by establishing the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission. The bill provides for oversight arrangements via the appointment of a special manager to oversee the casino and for the cost of the oversight to be recovered from Crown Melbourne. The bill provides for the automatic cancellation of that licence at the end of the special manager oversight period, unless the regulator determines Crown has become clearly suitable to hold the licence. I suspect there are many of us in this chamber and in this state that would possibly be surprised if Crown ever was suitable to hold that licence. However, this bill sets out a way to regulate that and a way for that decision to be made.
It also strengthens the powers of the regulator and the obligations on the casino operator to reduce the risk of wrongdoing. In so doing the bill acquits the first nine of the 33 recommendations of the royal commission. It is a very good start, but still we are hopeful that we will see the rest of those recommendations acquitted through legislation very early in the new year.
When I spoke to the Alliance for Gambling Reform, they too were of the view that this legislation adequately responds to those nine of the 33 recommendations. However, like me, they are acutely aware of that until the second round of legislation is put in front of the Parliament next year not a great deal will change to assist problem gambling and the harm that that causes not just those people but their families and the community at large. So in my mind, as I say again, it is crucial that the legislation due in the new year is presented swiftly and effectively, particularly in regard to things like mandatory precommitment.
In the meantime—and again I would like to thank the alliance for their advice—Minister Horne can and should overwrite the existing responsible service of gambling code of conduct to decrease the number of hours people can use a poker machine uninterrupted and do so via ministerial directions. This could be done now. This could be done in the interim while we wait for that legislation to pass the Parliament next year. Put simply, this would decrease the harm at the casino whilst the remaining legislation is under development. I think is a very simple and elegant solution that would assist us right now in reducing the harm that gambling causes many people and many families in our community.
As I have said previously in this place, this is something it has been of great interest to me for a number of years. It is why I brought on debate. It is why I released the whistleblower video testimony with Andrew Wilkie the year before last, and that was quite a unique collaboration between state and federal Independents. Certainly we are starting to see more of that, and I welcome the collaboration of Independents and small parties working across parliaments, across state jurisdictions but also working within federal and state.
The public needs to have confidence, and right now it does not. Now, I do not know, but I suspect Crown is probably speaking to any number of entities, or maybe just one entity, that may be interested in taking over that licence going forward. But when—as we keep hearing, and we keep hearing it because it is true—Crown is the largest employer in our state, we have an obligation to ensure that it is acting and operating ethically, morally and legally.
I am not sure that we can get there. I am not sure when you are talking about a monopoly on such a large business that that can ever be perfectly right. I quipped outside one day that maybe we need two licences. Maybe that is the way to bring Crown into better regulation, by having more casinos, which seems incredibly and completely counterintuitive. But I think we should be considering, when we provide a monopoly to one business, the impact that that does have and the difficulty that we have seen to date in ensuring that that business acts ethically, morally and legally.
I would also like to note that I will not be supporting the Liberal amendments to this bill. I did consider them in great detail. If I thought that they improved the regulation of the casino—if I thought that that was the intent of them—then they would have had my support. But it seems that they are still considering the special manager that this bill introduces as an administrator, and it is not. It is a manager. It is there for oversight; it is not an administrator.
A member: It’s not?
Ms PATTEN: Sorry, the special manager is an administrator, not an investigator—pardon me.
This idea that we are reporting—it is not an investigator’s report. It is not an investigation that they are doing. They are administrating. They are administrating the casino. I certainly understand that neither does the special manager, Stephen O’Bryan, QC, support the Liberals’ amendment. But anyway, give it your best shot.
Mr Ondarchie: So you don’t want Parliament to know about it. You don’t want accountability.
Ms PATTEN: I would prefer—
Mr Ondarchie: The candidate for Pascoe Vale does not want accountability.
Ms PATTEN: This is not about accountability, this is actually about—
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Order! Ms Patten is entitled to be heard in silence.
Ms PATTEN: The Liberals’ amendment does nothing for accountability. It does nothing for better scrutiny. It flips the process. It does not enable the special manager, in fact it detracts from the special manager’s job. It detracts from the special manager’s job, which is why the special manager does not support these amendments. But it appears that those shouting to my right are ignoring the special manager’s expert opinion on this. They apparently know better, and this would not—
Mr Ondarchie interjected.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Order! Mr Ondarchie, it has been a long week. I am not allowed to have coffee here. Can we keep it down a little bit, please.
Ms PATTEN: Acting President, I understand that the standing orders still allow you to ask others to go and have a cup of coffee. But that may not help you in your coffee deprivation.
Look, I support this bill. It certainly goes to nine out of the 33 recommendations that were made. There is a lot more work to be done. As I have also said, I would encourage and I will advocate to the minister that she also considers the gambling code and amends it herself—she can overwrite that gambling code of conduct—to ensure that we start to protect problem gamblers at this gambling behemoth in the middle of our city.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan
Second reading speech 2/12/21