Debate resumed from 28 November; motion of Mr JENNINGS (Special Minister of State).
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:42:57) — I am rising to speak to the Gambling Regulation Amendment (Gaming Machine Arrangements) Bill 2017. I note that the bill states that its objectives are responsible gambling codes of conduct, self-exclusion programs and standard conditions of agreement, all relating back to responsible gambling. This bill really does quite the opposite in my opinion.
This bill, amongst other things, extends poker machine licences from 10 years to 20 years; fixes EFTPOS withdrawal limits in poker machine venues at $500 a day; permits the doubling of gaming machines per venue from 420 to 840; and permits cashless gaming. It is a bill that deals with licences that are barely halfway through their current term — they are not due to expire until 2022, almost a full election cycle away — and yet we seem to be rushing this bill through. The government has yet to be able to provide any cogent reason why, and I fear that this bill will actually be of great detriment to our community. Certainly that is the concern in the emails I have been receiving from my community and my constituents.
As I go forward in regard to this bill I do not want to sound like a wowser — I mean, gambling is a personal choice. I am rarely accused of being a wowser, and I have certainly played on poker machines and I will have a bet from time to time. I support the rights of Victorians to gamble and I do not want to feel like I am shaking a finger at them like a nanny. But the rules need to be fair, and I think with the poker machines they are not — they are just not fair — and as a consequence we are seeing so many Victorians suffer from what has become quite insidious.
A few weeks ago I spoke at the first Women Against Pokies rally here on the steps of Parliament House. I took part because playing poker machines these days is nothing like having a bet on the Melbourne Cup or playing two-up on Anzac Day. The other speakers included four women — Anna Bardsley, Gabi Byrne, Joanne McKenzie and Libby Mitchell — all of whose lives have been severely damaged, as well as the lives of their families, by an addiction to poker machines. Unbeknownst to them when they started that is exactly what these machines are designed to do, and I know that we have all read the media reports and seen the documentaries on this. These machines are designed to addict and are programmed to mentally reward you even when you are losing.
Poker machine losses in Victoria exceed $2.6 billion each year. The pokies industry has drained $50 billion from Victorians over the past 25 years — $50 billion. My electorate of Northern Metropolitan Region is particularly affected. We have some of the highest gambling losses in the state. The residents up in the north of my region, in Whittlesea and Hume, together drop more than $200 million a year on poker machines. In the City of Darebin the losses amount to $84 million per year. Other councils in my region, such as Moreland, have written to me expressing similar concerns about the losses that their constituents and my constituents cannot afford to hand over to conglomerates like Woolies and Coles.
We saw that the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation issued a report last year and it was illustrating the harm of gambling addiction, especially in relation to poker machine use. It pointed out and noted the significant financial stress that related to this, but also the mental health, anxiety, depression, reduced work performance and family violence. It also noted that women suffer disproportionately from pokies, whether that is from family violence or addiction itself, or of course financial abuse. Very sadly, in this country we see 400 gambling-related suicides every year.
No-one in this chamber, I think, will oppose the suggestion that gambling can be addictive. We know that it damages individuals and families. In fact we spend millions of dollars each year addressing the harms of gambling. So I think we should be seeking to try and minimise those harms before rushing into this bill, which is going to double the licence lengths and also double the number of machines per venue, and this is all happening long before these licences are even due to expire.
The Tasmanian government conducted an inquiry into this issue quite recently. What I was really surprised about is that in Victoria we have never done an inquiry into gambling. I found that really quite surprising given the concern that our community has about gambling. The outcome of the Tasmanian inquiry was a recommendation for significant legislative reform.
On 3 November I asked the minister a question about this. I asked the minister why we were going ahead and extending these licences when they will not expire for another five years and why we were going to not only give them the licences but double their duration to 20 years. They confirmed that the reason for the early allocation of entitlements is to provide gaming businesses with the certainty required to make decisions about long-term investments, with particular reference to borrowing to finance venue refurbishments and renovations. Refurbishments and renovations — new carpets that they need to have 20 years security to purchase! This industry is thriving; I do not think they are having any trouble affording renovations in those businesses. Twenty-five per cent of Victorian losses go to Woolworths. I am pretty sure that they will have no issue with financing renovations, so I do not accept that that is a legitimate reason or basis to rush to 20-year contracts, certainly not with the levels of family violence and suicide relating to gambling we are seeing.
Gambling tax revenue in Victoria is forecast to be $1.9 billion in 2017–18, and it is expected to grow at an average of 1.8 per cent per year over the next four years. Some $1.1 billion of the revenue for this year is derived from pokies, and that is before the introduction of these proposed reforms, which will only increase that return. I get that that is significant in budgetary terms, I get that we need this and that it may be significant to our AAA rating. I understand that from a fiscal position we may want to lock in raising that money for a further 20 years, and I am not calling for a ban. I am just asking that we consider harm minimisation measures, which is almost what this bill says its objective is, for community safety, but this bill does not do that. I know it is a cliché, but prevention is the best cure, and it is often the most effective, particularly cost-effective. Early intervention will help Victorians before their issues escalate, and in doing so we are likely to reduce the spend flowing from gambling-related harm at the back end. If we can stop people from becoming problem gamblers, we are not going to have to spend millions of dollars on dealing with them once they are problem gamblers.
Today I will call for two things. I will call on the house to refer this bill to a parliamentary inquiry to be conducted by the Legal and Social Issues Committee. Principally that inquiry would consider poker machine-related harm reduction measures and look for solutions. If that motion is unsuccessful, I will move amendments in the committee stage. The amendments that I have drafted have been formulated on the advice of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, and I thank the Honourable Kelvin Thomson, the Reverend Tim Costello and Stephen Mayne for their advocacy in this area.
The amendments that I would seek to move have five key purposes: to provide for gambling entitlements to expire after 10 years, not 20; to provide for a clear prohibition on cashless gaming; to introduce a daily maximum EFTPOS withdrawal limit of $200 rather than $500; to reduce the maximum poker machine bet per spin from $5 to $1; and to reduce the poker machine venue maximum daily trading hours from 20 hours a day to 16 hours a day. These amendments retain Victoria’s 10-year poker machine licences rather than extending them to 20 years. I feel by doubling the length of the licences we fetter our ability to reduce gambling harm in the future. Ten-year licences have not deterred industry involvement in this state, and I do not think they will in the future. In fact this industry is thriving, and I do not believe that the government has provided a good case for extending licences to 20 years.
The government did remove ATMs from gambling venues, but EFTPOS has been used as a means of sidestepping that. We removed ATMs that had a $400 daily withdrawal limit, but we are now putting a $500 daily limit on EFTPOS withdrawals. It is nonsense that this will in any way go towards reducing harm from problem gambling. That is $500 a day — $3500 a week — that we will allow people to take from a Visa card in a gaming venue. I am suggesting a $200 limit, which is $1400 a week; it is still considerable. The $200 limit has been adopted in Tasmania and it is regarded as best practice.
My amendments also limit the maximum bet per spin to $1. It is a measure that was recommended by the Australian Productivity Commission, which found that very few people without gambling problems bet more than $1 per button push. Limiting the rate of loss is regarded as an effective harm minimisation strategy that is supported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. We are also suggesting that poker machine venues, instead of being open for up to 20 hours a day, be open for up to 16 hours a day. I do not think that is too much to ask. At one of the early-opening venues in Sydney Road I have seen a queue of largely older women standing outside that venue waiting for it to open at 8 in the morning, and they are probably there for the rest of the day until they go home to cook dinner.
These amendments do not prevent the use of gaming machines, but they will deliver evidence-based gambling harm reduction measures. These amendments are for the victims of family violence and those driven to contemplate suicide. I think it is hypocritical not to accept these harm minimisation measures when you look at the extraordinary investment this government has made into reducing family violence and suicide in this state. In the absence of support for referral to a committee so we can consider harm minimisation, I implore members of this house to support my amendments, which will go some way to implementing some harm reduction measures.
Ms PATTEN — Far from being a hypocrite on this issue, I actually support harm minimisation, which is why, as you quite correctly put it, I do support decriminalisation in other areas — because it is a harm minimisation and health measure. Ms Hartland asked what harm minimisation measures were being included, and the only one I heard was the $500 EFTPOS limit. Can you confirm whether that is the harm minimisation measure in this bill?
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:47:42) — I move:
1. Clause 1, page 2, lines 1 and 2, omit all words and expressions on these lines.
2. Clause 1, page 2, line 17, omit “20” and insert “10”.
I move these amendments in my name, which I understand have been circulated. These first two amendments provide for a 10-year licensing framework for gaming machines, rather than the 20-year licence that the government is proposing in this legislation. I do not think any of us know what gambling and poker machine technology and what the systems and the harms of gambling may be like in five years, let alone 20 years, and I think providing for such a long-term licence really fetters and disables us from having a much more active hand on these clubs and organisations. Keeping it at a 10-year licence, which I do not think is a small amount of time — 10 years is a good long period, and I certainly have not felt like the industry has been stymied by a 10-year licence — enables us to keep a watch on this. If we do want to make changes to licensing at any time we feel there is a need to change licences, I would prefer we keep it at 10 years rather than have to wait for two decades before we are able to make changes to licensing arrangements.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:41:20) — I support Ms Hartland’s motion and amendments. We know it is the problem gamblers who are doing $5 spins at the moment. Just slowing down the loss rate for people will alleviate a lot of pain and suffering in our community.
Motion agreed to.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:32:06) — I appreciate the speakers on the motion. As Dr Carling-Jenkins said, there is no rush for this legislation. We are about to issue 20-year licences to organisations whose licences do not expire for another five years, so there is no reason to rush this.
If the minister and the government are so confident that this is a model piece of legislation, the best in Australia, then let us have a look at it. Let us hear the community’s position on this. I see no reason to rush this through. The minister keeps telling us that this is model legislation and that this is going to improve things. That is not what the community is telling me and it is not what the community is telling most of us. I certainly have not had any correspondence congratulating the government on this model. In fact, far from it, I have had quite the opposite. People want an opportunity to discuss this issue. We have never had an inquiry into gambling in Victoria, and I really think that the time is right. We have seen $200 million from two councils in one year in Northern Metropolitan Region given to those gambling organisations. That is a $200 million loss in two of the poorest councils in Victoria. I think this warrants an inquiry. I am disappointed that the government will not support that.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:18:52) — I thank the minister for his summing up, although I did feel thou dost protest too much in your rampant defence of this bill.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Melhem) — Ms Patten, I ask you to formally move your motion.
Ms PATTEN — I move:
That the Gambling Regulation Amendment (Gaming Machine Arrangements) Bill 2017 be referred to the Legal and Social Issues Committee for inquiry, consideration and report by 29 March 2018 and, in conducting its inquiry, the committee should consider the impact of —
(1) the duration and terms of licences for various gaming activities;
(2) cashless gaming;
(3) unlimited daily maximum EFTPOS withdrawal limits;
(4) maximum bet per spin limits;
(5) daily poker machine venue trading hours;
(6) harm minimisation measures and their effectiveness; and
(7) how other jurisdictions have undertaken to regulate these matters.
After listening to the minister summing up, this inquiry would be very, very useful in looking at the evidence around harm minimisation. Maybe the minister and the government are correct, and this is a wonderful model of harm minimisation for gambling. I am not convinced of that; neither is my community. Speaking about hypocrisy here, I remain consistent in my thinking that we should be looking at harm minimisation when it comes to gambling. This inquiry will allow us to look at the evidence that has been collected and the reports and studies that have been undertaken not only in this jurisdiction but in other jurisdictions around Australia and internationally about getting the balance right between allowing people to enjoy gambling while ensuring that we protect those problem gamblers and those people whose lives are pulled apart, sometimes leading to death by suicide, as a result of gambling. I hope everyone supports this motion.