PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: It is very easy as an Independent to take the moral high ground on gambling issues with some simple propositions, as the member for Lyne has outlined in this motion. But it is frequently more complex than what the Independents would have you believe. As the member for Lyne would be only too aware, poker machine licences are allocated by state governments and not by the federal government. So, if the member for Lyne wants to reduce the number of poker machines—and I will get onto that point in a minute—then I do not think that creating a new bureaucracy at the COAG level is the way to go. I would rather suggest that the member for Lyne take it up in his own state, the state government of New South Wales and, indeed, he could even go directly to clubs in his electorate and ask them to be the first demonstration cases and reduce the number of poker machines.
I do not support this motion for some of the reasons I have outlined. I would support a reduction in poker machine numbers in Australia, but this needs to happen on a state-by-state basis. In my own state of Victoria I think we made a mistake in the early 1990s by allowing the proliferation of poker machines in every club and pub across the state. With hindsight, we probably should have kept poker machines to a few key destinations, such as the casino, so that it became a recreational destination rather than a part of people’s everyday lives.
Of course, we cannot turn the clock back on this. The state governments could reduce the number of licences over time as they expire. I think that the state governments should explore this possibility and the federal government could have some contribution towards that end. From the federal perspective, we should be taking some sensible actions to curb problem gambling. But in my view there is no easy solution. I am part of the coalition’s gambling task force, and we have been looking at various steps that we can take including precommitment technology, extra counselling assistance and slowing down spin rates. But I am not convinced that any one of those alone would solve the problem.
Let me touch on the online environment which is also spelt out in this motion. This is only a small portion of the total gambling industry at present. But it is growing rapidly and will be the source of problems in the future. I am concerned that we are normalising gambling in our daily lives through the ready access of gambling on our iPhones and iPads. How to think about, and deal with this is a difficult balance for Liberals. On the one hand we support individual responsibility and individual freedoms, while on the other hand we need to think about those people who are more vulnerable and the impact their decisions can have on the lives of others.
I therefore suggest three measures which should be taken in relation to online gambling. Firstly, I do not believe that online gambling companies should be able to offer credit to their customers for the purposes of betting. I have spoken at length on this in the House. My views were informed by an unemployed constituent who was given $80,000 in credit by sportsbet.com.au; I do not think this should be allowed and I have made that point very clear previously. Secondly, I think that advertising should be limited. Online gaming is a legal product for adults and it is a source of recreational activity for many. But it is a product for adults only, and there should be some sensible restrictions on advertising where children are typically watching. Finally, I think governments should be putting in some regulations to stop in-play betting and microbetting. If we go down this path and there is a proliferation of in-play and microbetting, that will lead to corruption in our sport, as we have seen in other countries.
I do not think for a moment that the three measures that I have outlined will be the panacea to stop all gambling, in the online environments or the poker machine environment. But they should assist and hopefully they will provide the right balance between allowing people to enjoy a punt while putting reasonable protections in place.