Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Problem gambling; border protection; Afghanistan

PM: Good afternoon. I’m here today with Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families and Community Services. We’re here to announce the Government’s policy on problem gambling. Many Australians enjoy gambling, which means they like to place a bet, it’s harmless fun, it’s part of a good night out and there’s no damage done. But I know and we know as a Labor Government that there are too many Australians that struggle with problem gambling, and that that problem gambling can literally wreck lives and tear families apart. We’re here in Melbourne today, I represent an electorate in Melbourne’s west and I know firsthand that there are people who live in my electorate, who live in Melbourne’s west who start the day with all good intentions they’re not going to do any gambling that day, but they jump in the car, they drive past a gaming venue and it’s just too hard to not drive in and to walk into the venue. And then they sit in front of the machine and they’re full of good intentions about limiting their losses and then they find at the end of their session what they’ve actually done is put all of the money that would have paid for the mortgage or the rent into the machine, and they’re in the circumstance where they have to go home and tell their husband or tell their wife or tell their children about the damage done. Problem gambling is a very big issue for too many Australians, putting a lot of pressure on them and their loved ones. And in those circumstances it’s the right thing to do to act. As a Labor Government we understand that and that’s why in 2008 we asked the productivity commission to look at this area and to make recommendations to Government.

Today I can confirm that the Government will be bringing to the Parliament legislation to address problem gambling, the key features of that legislation will be a trial of mandatory pre-commitment to see whether or not it can work. This is the approach that was recommended by the Productivity Commission, and that trial will start of the 1st of January next year. Whilst the trial is underway it will be compulsory for new gaming machines to be fitted with pre-commitment technology so that the technology will be rolling out while the trial is underway. From the 1st of January next year too there will limits on the amount of cash that people can get out from teller machines in gaming venues, clearly if people can keep getting more and more cash then they can be more and more at risk of putting that cash down the machine and losing it. So the amount of cash available from machines will be limited to $250 per day with appropriate exemptions for some country areas where ATMs are limited.

In addition this approach will mean machines are also fitted with dynamic warnings so that as you’re playing the machine you can see warnings that advise you about the costs and consequences of what’s happening as you play.

We will also be investing in new resources to support counselling for problem gambling so people can get a helping hand, and we are also working to address interactive gaming, the gaming that comes with new technology, including what I view to be a real problem for the community which is the increasing showing of live betting odds during sports coverage, during sports events.

We will bring this legislation to the Parliament and I believe we will get this legislation through the Parliament.

I’d like to make some reflections about the Parliament in which we work. The Parliament in which I’m Prime Minister is a parliament which has been able to get big reforms done. Last year we got very big reforms done, nation changing reforms like carbon pricing and like the introduction of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. In order to secure those big reforms we needed to work with others, we needed to get everybody on the same page to get page. The response is the same with problem gambling, we need people working together on the same page to get change and the package of reforms we are announcing today I believe will get that support in the Parliament.

What that means is you don’t necessarily get everything that you would have envisaged at the start. That you do have to have discussions, that you do have to make compromises, that’s the nature of politics. But it also means you can get some very big reform done, we’ve done it already in some very significant areas, and I want to get a big reform done in problem gambling. To not take this approach means that you don’t get change, and not getting change is too big a risk for those Australians and their families that struggle day to day with the pressures that problem gambling puts on their shoulders.

I want to also, before handing to Jenny Macklin, just say a few words about Andrew Wilkie. I’ve spent a lot of time with Andrew Wilkie, I’ve spent a lot of time with him this week, but I’ve spent a lot of time with him since he was elected to the Parliament in 2010. He is a passionate advocate for change in this area, he has been absolutely tireless in his pursuit of change. He cares deeply about the circumstances of people who have got gambling addiction problems, he knows a number of them personally and his heart has been touched by their story. It is a real tribute to Andrew Wilkie that the nation will move to a full trial of mandatory pre-commitment on the 1st of January next year. I’ll turn to Jenny Macklin for some comments and then we’ll take you questions.

MINISTER MACKLIN: As the Prime Minister has indicated we have been working comprehensively over the last 18 months to bring about real reform for problem gamblers. That’s really what this is all about. We do understand the pain and suffering and the devastation to families lives, to individual lives, that comes from problem gambling. And that concern is very widespread. It is the reason why we asked the Productivity Commission to do the major inquiry that the presented to the Government on problem gambling. It is the reason that we got an agreement from the states and territories in the middle of last year to introduce pre-commitment technology across Australia because all of us understand how important it is to act on problem gambling.

It’s also the reason that we have widespread support for a major trial into mandatory pre-commitment. Many of you would be aware that the Productivity Commission recommended that we introduce mandatory pre-commitment and we do so after a major trial of this technology.

We now understand that the support for mandatory pre-commitment legislation in the House of Representatives does not exist. It does not exist to get that through the House of Representatives as it is currently configured.

The most important thing for us is to get real action on problem gambling. To get the reform that we can through the Parliament that we have. We have no intention of walking away from those people, those problem gamblers, who depend on us to act. So the legislation that the Prime Minister has outlined here today will be the first time that the Federal Parliament has acted on problem gambling. Never before have we seen problem gambling addressed in this way. We will put legislation into the Federal Parliament to make sure that pre-commitment technology is available for poker machine players right around Australia. We do recognise that this is a useful technology and we want to make sure that it is available. We want to see it on every machine around the country by 2016, with a longer time for smaller venues.
We also do recognise that cost of play display warnings are useful and that will also need to be done on machines around the country by 2016. As the Prime Minister indicated, we do want to see limits on the amount of money that people can take out of ATMS in pubs and clubs and that will be $250 per day per venue.

One of the other very important parts of our reform package is of course the trial of mandatory pre-commitment. Yesterday I made a substantive offer to the clubs industry in the ACT and I’ve spoken to the ACT Government about a trial in the ACT. That offer has been viewed as serious and substantive by the clubs industry in the ACT and by the ACT Government. If we get the agreement of the clubs industry in the ACT we hope to start this trial as soon as possible next year. There is of course a lot of technical work that will have to be done, machines will have to get ready and the whole system will have to be geared to have this trial. This is a major program of gathering the evidence to show the effectiveness of mandatory pre-commitment and I’d like to thank the clubs industry in the ACT and the ACT Government in anticipation of us working together on this very important reform.

PM: Thank you, we’re happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what (inaudible) have you offered Andrew Wilkie (inaudible)

PM: Well we’ll let Mr Wilkie speak for himself, I think that’s appropriate. Obviously Mr Wilkie has been very passionate about problem gaming reform and continues to be very passionate about reform.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what do you think about Tony Abbott saying that if the Coalition wins government that they’ll use Navy ships (inaudible) asylum seekers?

PM: Well yesterday Tony Abbott was joking about lives being lost at sea and today he’s outlining a plan to put Australian lives at risk, to put the lives of Australian Navy and Customs personnel at risk. It’s been absolutely clear from the statements of senior officers in Navy that this is a dangerous and reckless approach that puts young Australians at risk and my view is a very clear one: turning a boat around is not worth losing an Australian life.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s cruel turning them back in that way?

PM: I think it puts lives at risk, I mean you’ve used the world cruel, it’s putting lives at risk, the lives of the Australian personnel involved and the lives of the asylum seekers both can be at risk through this kind of reckless approach and it’s been made very clear by senior Defence officers that there are dangers associated with this approach.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of his quota system (inaudible)

PM: Look the Government’s obviously, in the area of border protection and dealing with asylum seekers and refugees said that we want to have an approach of protecting our borders, an approach where we extend compassion to people who are genuine refugees. We’ve been in discussions with the Opposition about securing the legislation through the Parliament that would enable offshore processing, the Malaysia arrangement that the Government has entered into and what Tony Abbott has said is his policy which is a processing facility on Nauru. My understanding is that those discussions are ongoing.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister (inaudible) is this another broken promise and if not why not?

PM: Well let’s very clearly address that question. The circumstances in this Parliament are clear, I have spoken to every member of the cross bench and it is clear from my discussions with them that there is not the support in the House of Representatives for the Andrew Wilkie plan, for the full mandatory pre-commitment arrangements that Mr Wilkie and I discussed after the last election, very clear that there’s not the Parliamentary support. That is also very clear from the public statements made by members of the cross bench. So the circumstance in which we find ourselves are as follows: we have to do something about problem gambling, not getting legislation through the Parliament is not good enough, it means nothing would change, we have to do something about problem gambling. We also have to recognise that to get legislation through this Parliament we need to get people on the same page, prepared to support change. With the changes that we’ve outlined today we will be taking to the Parliament for the first time ever a national approach to problem gambling in the laws of our country and I believe we can secure this through the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: When I discussed matters with Mr Wilkie following the last election and indeed the other discussions I had with cross benchers, we obviously worked through issues of concern to them and of concern to the nation, but all of us understand that in this Parliament we need to get people to work together to achieve major change. Let’s look at the huge example from last year, the example of putting a price on carbon, reducing carbon pollution and making sure that we see appropriate investments as a result in clean and renewable technologies. In order to do that we needed people to work together, what they meant is no one got everything that they wanted but we worked together for a reform that will change our nation and reduce our carbon pollution. It will mean that we’ve got clean energy jobs of the future.

The same approach applies here with problem gambling, I believe there is general concern across the Parliament about people who have got addiction issues with gaming, too many local members would have seen exactly what I have seen, seen people coming into electorate offices begging for emergency relief, where can they go and get a cash handout so that they can go and buy what the kids need, so that they can make sure that there’s literally food in the house. Every local member would have seen that, and when you’ve seen that you do know that action needs to be taken. What we’ve outlined today is the action that should be taken that will make a real difference, and that can be secured through this Parliament. So we’re not talking about ideas, we’re getting things done.

JOURNALIST: But how does a trial, which may or may not be implemented further down the track actually affect right now those very people you’re talking about who can’t afford to feed kids or put a roof on their heads? How (inaudible)

PM: Well let’s be very clear, we’ll be trialling this technology, full mandatory pre-commitment, to see if it works. That was the approach recommended by the Productivity Commission, the experts we went to as a Labor Government and asked for their recommendations. What will people see change in gaming venues? Well as a result of this legislation they’ll see things change including their ability to get cash out of the ATMs, so that in itself creates a circumstance where people can’t just keep going back and back and back, more cash, more cash, more cash, more losses. They will see more machines with pre-commitment technology, those machines will ultimately be linked into a state-wide scheme, they will see dynamic warnings coming on display on machines so that they can understand the full cost and consequences of keeping gaming, what it will mean for them and the amount they’re going to lose and what that can mean for their family. They’ll also see more support, more counselling available for people with problem gambling so that they can get a helping hand.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister why do you wait until next year to implement that $250 limit for ATMs?

PM: Well we need to legislate of course, so the legislation will come to the Parliament during this Parliamentary session, and then there’s the set up time about changing the way in which the machines work.

JOURNALIST: Just on an Afghanistan question, Nicolas Sarkozy’s threatened to withdraw troops after four were killed. Has our position changed about our troops in Afghanistan at all?

PM: Look our hearts do go out to the people of France, we know what it’s like to lose soldiers in Afghanistan and so our condolences go to them, they are grieving their losses today. President Sarkozy remains committed to the mission in Afghanistan, I am certainly committed to the mission in Afghanistan. It’s in our national interest to be there, to make sure that we don’t see Afghanistan again become a place where terrorists train and those terrorists then go and wreck violence around the world including the taking of Australian lives.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) happened to us and then happened to them?

PM: Look these are dreadful, dreadful incidents and when they have happened to our soldiers I’ve said that they are very corrosive of trust, I believe they’re aimed to be corrosive of trust and that weighs heavily on people, but we need to see the mission through in Afghanistan. We’ve got a very clear mission and a very clear timeframe and we are going to see it through.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister why didn’t you start planning for a pre-commitment trial after you’d struck the deal with Andrew Wilkie, why did we wait 18 months (inaudible)

PM: Well that’s not the chronology, I’ll get Jenny Macklin to take you through it.

MACKLIN: In fact we’ve been working on the trial for some time. The trial was a recommendation of the Productivity Commission. There has been detailed work done by my department and questions of technology and other detail have been worked through with ACT clubs over the last period. We do understand how important it is to have this trial and I’m very pleased that we’ve now been able to make a substantive offer and I hope we’ll be able to proceed as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well I’ll say something about that first and then go to Jenny Macklin for the details. I think it needs to be understood that in the agreement that Andrew Wilkie and I entered that moving to full mandatory pre-commitment would have been after the next election in any event, that is in Mr Wilkie’s agreement with the Government. As I’ve made clear we’re here today because we’re concerned about problem gambling but we’re also here because we recognise that in this Parliament to secure reform that we need to take a different approach and so the approach that we’ve outlined today is the one that can go through the Parliament and make a real difference in peoples’ lives. I’ll get Jenny also just to address those timeframe issues.

MACKLIN: Just in terms of the original time frame we have which is 2014, the technical advice we have is that would not be achievable. The Productivity Commission did recommend that the introduction of pre-commitment technology be done over the period to 2016 and that’s what we will put in the legislation.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister (inaudible) and secondly you’ve said that $1 are off the table, why exactly is that?

PM: Well I’ll get Jenny Macklin to take you through some considerable detail about $1 bets, on the ATMs and casinos that’s a recognition by us as there’s been a recognition by states as they gone around dealing with problem gaming issues that casinos are in a different circumstance to other gaming venues. They are a major tourist attraction, they bring people into our country, into our cities, they’re a destination place where people go for entertainment across all of the things that happen across those very large venues. In those circumstances they are in a different position from clubs and pubs in other parts of the country.

MACKLIN: Just on the $1 maximum bets issue, just to remind you that the Productivity Commission recommended that the best way to deal with problem gambling was to provide pre-commitment technology, that’s what we intend to do and that’s why we are conducting the trial of mandatory pre-commitment.

That said, we have done some technical work on the feasibility of low intensity machines and maximum $1 bets. The work that my department has done on this issue demonstrates to us that this is not the simple solution that some people are claiming. Simple solutions rarely are. The technical advice we have is that if we were to have $1 maximum bets that all the games that are played on poker machines would need to be changed. So all the software would need to be changed. Many of the machines would also need to be changed. And the estimate we’ve been provided with as to the cost of introducing $1 bets is $1.5 billion.

Our desire is to see whether or not we can try low intensity machines as part of our trial in the ACT, we’re getting some technical advice about that. But as to the path we intend to pursue to help problem gambling, pre-commitment technology, the introduction of pre-commitment technology on all machines around the country and a mandatory pre-commitment trial we think is the way to deliver for those people who need our help.

JOURNALIST: And who provided the details of that?

MACKLING: The department has got that information, I can get that for you.

JOURNALIST: In your discussions with the ACT, how confident are you that the industry will be accepting of this?

MACKLIN: They’ve certainly been positively received and I’m very pleased that both the clubs in the ACT and clubs elsewhere think that we should have a trial of mandatory pre-commitment, so I certainly hope we will be able to pursue this trial.

JOURNALIST: The Productivity Commission started its inquiry in 2008 and now we’re looking to not see any comprehensive nationwide action until 2016. Is eight years a reasonable timeframe to deal with such a crucial issue as this?

MACKLIN: And of course that’s exactly what the Productivity Commission recommended. It realised that to introduce the technical changes that are needed to make pre-commitment a reality would take time, they recommended that it would take until 2016, they have also recommended that we do this major trial and that too means we have to set up the trial, of course we need to conduct the trial and then we need to properly evaluate the trial. As the Prime Minister has indicated we want to make sure that the evaluation of the trial is done

PM: I just it should also be noted too that until the Labor Government asked the Productivity Commission for its advice and report no one had ever stepped up to the plate and said that this was the business of national government, attacking a big issue like problem gambling.

Ok thank you very much.