Gambling Reform Committee 2012 - Second Report

As the deputy chair of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, it is a pleasure to speak on the tabling of the committee's fourth report that covers the National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 and related bills. The government takes seriously the need to act to make poker machines safer. We need to help protect problem gamblers, whose addiction is hurting not only themselves but their families and others. The bills intend to reduce the harm caused by poker machines. They are based on the evidence and recommendations of the Productivity Commission.

In May 2011 the Council of Australian Governments Select Council on Gambling Reform agreed to support the required infrastructure for precommitment technology in all jurisdictions in every gaming venue. The committee heard that an extensive consultation process with industry and community stakeholders occurred in early 2012 after the exposure draft was released. In addition, consultation on specific issues was undertaken by the department, the minister and her office outside the formal consultation period. Precommitment is a tool that poker machine players can use to set a budget and limits around their play, and the system can assist them to remain within those limits. The system is voluntary and its use is free for players.

The bill requires that all gaming machines in larger venues are part of a state-wide precommitment system by the end of 2016 so that those who choose to set limits can ensure they apply wherever they play. We recognise that small pubs and clubs, many in our regional areas, just are not the same as the big gaming venues in the city. The bill gives longer time frames for small venues to make the changes, and more than half of all venues nationally have more time. The bill establishes minimum requirements for the system, but states and territories will be able to impose stronger measures. The committee makes a number of suggestions in its report for enhanced functionality to assist players, based on evidence from previous inquiries.

While concerns were expressed to the committee about implementation, the committee heard that the bill is not prescriptive regarding precommitment technology. The bill sets parameters, and the technical solutions to meet those parameters can be determined by each state and territory. This recognises that states and territories have different monitoring systems in place and allows them to choose from the range of technical options available. Technology options range from network options to machine based options. Multiple systems are also possible.

Allowing jurisdictions to determine their own systems encourages innovation by industry. I also note there are already a number of precommitment systems operating in Australia which may be compliant with the legislation. The government has been working to minimise the cost to industry and minimise the regulatory burdens. Regarding the time lines for venues, there has been consultation with industry as well as independent work around that aspect which found that the initial time line and extended time line for smaller venues are achievable. Mindful of the concerns expressed around smaller venues, the committee recommended that the Productivity Commission review this aspect when conducting its review of implementation, to take an evidence-based approach to whether any additional time should be provided to very small and regional and remote venues. The committee called for an education campaign, and it is the government's intention to implement a campaign, in collaboration with the regulator, industry and other key stakeholders. Education within gaming venues will be an important component of initiatives to support the introduction of the gambling reforms.

The bill introduces complementary reforms to further support problem gamblers. There is a $250 per day ATM withdrawal limit for gaming machine premises other than casinos and exempted premises in smaller communities where access to cash is not readily available from non-gaming outlets. Taking into consideration the self-imposed moratorium throughout the Christmas-New Year period and technical issues, the committee did not oppose extending to the end of 2013 the time frame of May 2013 to achieve this measure.

The bill also establishes the Australian Gambling Research Centre within the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which will start in July 2013. It will help address the current lack of robust evidence and consistent data available to inform problem-gambling policy development. The centre will receive ongoing funding from the government of $1.5 million per annum.

This is the first time the Commonwealth has legislated to help problem gamblers and their families. Recognising that there is no single solution to address problem gambling, the measures outlined in the bill form part of a suite of measures announced by the government on 21 January this year. I would also like to note in this context, separately from the recommendations of the report, the ACT trial of mandatory precommitment will be independently reviewed by the Productivity Commission upon completion.

In closing, I want to thank the member for Denison for very capably chairing the committee and for running this inquiry very smoothly. I thank the committee members for their contributions and I thank the witnesses who provided evidence to the committee. I also wish to express my sincere appreciation of the excellent and dedicated support given by Lin Beverley from the secretariat—often on weekends and often late at night. I commend the report to the House.

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