Gambling Reform Committee 2012 - First Report

As the Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform I have the pleasure to speak on the tabling of the committee's third report today. The focus of the reports is the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

The government takes seriously the need to address problem gambling in Australia. This committee's report recommends a number of ways to continue to improve prevention measures and treatment services in Australia, recognising that there is no single solution to address problem gambling.

I draw the House's attention to the committee's view, set out in the early part of the report, that a public health approach to tackling problem gambling is needed. A public health approach aims to prevent problems arising from gambling. It involves the promotion of community and individual wellbeing, including alternatives to gambling behaviour—for example, through information and awareness campaigns. A public health framework also takes the focus off individual personal responsibility, which can be stigmatising, and broadens responsibility for preventing program gambling across the community and industry.

To help drive a public health approach to gambling, the committee recommends prioritising gambling research under the banner of health research. This could be done by designating gambling as a National Health Priority Area under the National Health and Medical Research Council, and as an 'associated priority goal' under the Australian Research Council.

The first part of the report looks at prevention measures to reduce the rate of problem gambling. The committee heard about the mixed messages being broadcast to the community about gambling. Currently, it is promoted by the industry as a harmless form of entertainment but this is not balanced by clear information about the possible risks. Changing public attitudes to gambling is important. Current messages around 'responsible gambling' reinforce the idea that the individual alone is responsible if a gambling problem develops and that they have only themselves to blame. The committee heard throughout the inquiry that this creates shame and stigma, which then becomes a huge barrier to seeking help for problem gambling. People tend to seek help only as a last resort and feel discouraged from seeking help early. Witnesses provided a number of suggestions about how to improve the messages used in social marketing initiatives—including campaigns, education initiatives and professional training—to address stigma and stereotypes.

The second part of the report considers what measures the gambling industry can take to minimise the harm gambling can cause. The committee heard about the need for the industry to take greater responsibility for the dangers of gambling products, like poker machines. It was concerning to hear that despite showing obvious signs of problematic gambling in venues, none of the problem gamblers who spoke to the committee had been approached by staff. The committee suggests some measures to improve staff training and also recommends strengthening self-exclusion programs to assist problem gamblers. The committee also supports legislation for the forfeiture of prizes by those who are self-excluded, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, to act as a deterrent to breaching self-exclusion agreements.

The final part of the report looks at models of treatment for problem gambling. The committee was pleased to hear from a number of gambling treatment services across Australia who provided details of their work. It was heartening to hear about effective treatment services for those afflicted by gambling problems, including flexible models of help and treatment like online and phone counselling.

Services for culturally and linguistically diverse groups are also available for problem gambling and the committee was glad to hear of the existence of targeted information resources and treatment services for people in these groups, who may already be experiencing social vulnerability.

The committee also heard a number of suggestions from those in the gambling treatment sector about ways to improve treatment systems. For example, the need for integrated treatment services to deal with the complications of treating people with comorbid conditions, like mental illness or drug and alcohol issues, was raised with the committee. The committee also recommends ways to embed awareness of gambling addiction across the broader health profession in order to ensure better referral pathways between health services.

The report concludes with a chapter on gambling research and data collection challenges, an area where there are still serious deficiencies and gaps. The evidence base for gambling treatment services and evaluation methods are also covered.

Since becoming deputy chair of this committee in April 2012, I have learned a great deal about problem gambling and it is a privilege to see the tabling of the committee's third report. I want to thank the member for Denison for very capably chairing the committee and for running this inquiry very smoothly. I also want to thank the secretariat for their commitment and professionalism.

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