Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Poker machine reform, the AFL and income management in APY Lands

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone for coming along. I welcome the AFL’s announcement today that they have not joined the $20 million scare campaign that’s being run against the Government’s changes to poker machines and poker machine venues. I think the AFL have demonstrated today that they agree with the Government that we have a duty of care to make sure we do everything possible to support people as they deal with poker machine addiction. I think the AFL have also demonstrated that it’s very important to do everything we possibly can to support those families who are damaged by poker machine addiction. We know there are millions of Australians, particularly the families of poker machine addicts, who are suffering, whose lives have been ruined as a result of poker machines, and that’s why we’re acting.

JOURNALIST: The AFL might not be running a scare campaign but still doesn’t support the reforms. Andrew Demetriou said he wants to negotiate with the Government. Is there any room to move then?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as Mr Demetriou said today, he’s not sure whether or not pre-commitment technology would work. Of course we need to remember that the recommendation for a full system of pre-commitment came from the Productivity Commission. They recommended that we introduce a system of pre-commitment. They are the body that said this is the best way to deal with problem gambling in Australia and that is what the Government will introduce. Of course we do very much appreciate the AFL’s willingness to sit down and work with the Government on how it is we might do other things that will also help problem gamblers.

JOURNALIST: Mr Demetriou suggested that they may support some trials of pre-commitment technology. Do you think the Government should ease into this rather than sort of run at it quickly?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve always indicated that we’d be interested in a trial. We’ve discussed this with the states and territories and with the club and pub industry. Of course we need venues to be willing to put their hands up and say that they’ll be part of a trial. So if we’ve got venues who are willing to part of a trial the Government certainly is very happy to discuss it.

JOURNALIST: But Minister isn’t the problem Andrew Wilkie? He just wants to go into full pre-commitment in 2014, rather than have a trial?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we think that it’s possible to do both. We are as you know drafting legislation that we intend to put through the Parliament before May next year, but we do think it would be useful to also proceed towards a trial and that’s why we have been discussing this with the states and territories.

JOURNALIST: So you’d have a trial before 2014 before the …?

JENNY MACKLIN: You could do it that way.

JOURNALIST: When you say it needs somebody to put their hand up it sounds like you don’t hold out any hope of that happening?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you would be aware the Tasmania Government has in the past indicated that they would be willing to have discussions with us about a trial but the industry in Tasmania refused. So I say to the industry, if you’re willing to be part of a trial, please let us know where that would be.

JOURNALIST: Would you consider offering any financial incentives to clubs if they did participate?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well they are issues that we would discuss.

JOURNALIST: Sounds like you’re not running too hard on it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve had discussions with the states and territories. We got rejected by the industry in Tasmania. It really is in the court of the clubs and pubs to come forward with venues or a location where that would work.

JOURNALIST: So would that mean that the 2014 measures would be contingent on the success or otherwise of that trial?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, we’ve made it clear that we are proceeding with legislation, but of course there’s a wide range of issues that we could examine as part of a trial. The Productivity Commission did recommend that we introduce a system of full or mandatory pre-commitment. That is what we’re proceeding to do.

JOURNALIST: Will you be disappointed …?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well because there’s a lot of issues to be examined and there are different ways of doing things.

JOURNALIST: Like what, which issues?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the nature of the technology, default limits, there’s a whole range of technical issues that could be looked at.

JOURNALIST: How to get it right?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right.

JOURNALIST: About how to do it or not?


JOURNALIST: Will you be engaging in talks with the AFL and the NRL directly to get them on board with the legislation. They seem to think the idea of tackling problem gambling is definitely worth looking at but their one problem is the legislation?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the legislation hasn’t even been drafted yet. So of course we’ll continue to work on drafting the legislation and we will, and I will particularly sit down the NRL and the AFL to go through with them all the details of the legislation and what it would mean for their clubs in particular. And of course with other clubs around Australia. We do understand that Australians like to go to their clubs. We understand that many Australians like to have a bet. But we also know that we face a very serious issue with problem gambling in this country. Problem gamblers on average are spending $21,000 a year – $21,000 a year that is not going towards paying off the family mortgage, not putting food on the table for their kids. This is ruining the lives of millions of Australians. That’s why we’re doing this and I don’t think anyone should ever lose sight of the fundamental issue here. We do have a problem gambling issue in Australia and we, with the NRL and the AFL, want to deal with it.

JOURNALIST: Have any AFL clubs approached you or your office at all, anyone from your office directly, especially Jeff Kennett or Eddie McGuire?

JENNY MACKLIN: I have spoken to Mr Kennett and I’ve spoken to a few of the other clubs. Some of you may be aware I’m a Geelong supporter. So I’m certainly very pleased with the attitude of Geelong footy club. They understand just how important it is to address problem gambling and I’m very pleased for the sake of people in Geelong that they’ve got such a great club down there. I hope we win on Saturday.

JOURNALIST: What do you think the attitude of Mr Kennett and Mr McGuire and do you think the call of a footy tax is damaging for your Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well plainly this is not a tax. That’s the first thing. This is pre-commitment technology. It’s a tool that we want to make available to people who gamble. So that when you sit down to play the poker machines you make a decision yourself about how much you want to spend that night and that you don’t then change your mind once you get caught up in the hype of playing the pokies. This is a tool to help those people who are problem gamblers. It is certainly not a tax.

JOURNALIST: But the clubs are arguing that it is a tax and that if it does go ahead that admission prices could go up and membership fees could rise?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t think anybody, no club, no pub, no footy team, wants to profit off the back of problem gamblers. What everybody is saying to me, what the AFL said very strongly today, is that they want to help deal with problem gambling. They want to help problem gamblers. They understand that millions of Australian family lives are ruined by problem gambling. So let’s make sure we keep that as the central focus and address it in the way that the Productivity Commission recommended by introducing this tool, this technology, of pre-commitment. Make it available to gamblers so that they can address their own issues.

JOURNALIST: What do you make the other night on the NRL broadcast in the final of Ray Warren himself as a self declared gambling addict who’s had problems attacking your reforms and backing the clubs’ line?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I say once again that I think it’s important for all of us to keep very clear in our minds what this is all about. It is all about making sure we provide assistance to problem gamblers, to those people who are addicted to poker machines and that we also support their families. These are families who are losing the money that would otherwise be used to pay the family mortgage and we want to make sure that those families are protected. That’s why we want to introduce these changes.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t the campaign damaging to the Government though?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well once again I think if you just keep focused on what this is all about. This is all about supporting problem gamblers. That’s why we’re doing this and that’s why I am pleased that the AFL today has announced that they too want to do everything they can to support and help problem gamblers.

JOURNALIST: The Federal Government gives the codes a lot of money, millions of dollars in some cases, every year for things like football stadiums and junior development. Is that funding at risk if the codes keep up their opposition to the pokie reform?

JENNY MACKLIN: Oh we haven’t considered that at all. That’s not what we’re on about. We’re on about dealing with problem gambling.

JOURNALIST: Have you got a position on whether or not you will introduce income management in the APY Lands?

JENNY MACKLIN: We might come to the APY Lands in a minute, shall we just finish dealing with this other issue.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Wilkie’s continuing with his threat to pull his support for the Government if this doesn’t go through. Are you confident you can get the numbers for this to pass Parliament?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Government has made a commitment to introduce this legislation. We’re proceeding to draft the legislation and of course we’ll put it to the Parliament sometime early next year.

JOURNALIST: Have you got any support, besides yourself and the Greens, and Andrew Wilkie?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think there are a lot of people in the Parliament right across the spectrum who understand that we’ve got serious issues with problem gambling in Australia. We’ve got of course to go through the drafting of the legislation, we’ll do that and we’ll come to those issues next year.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to the waivering supporters in the caucus, and people like Tony Windsor who believe that, you know, tough measures will ruin clubs particularly in rural areas?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course we have already announced that we will provide extra support to small clubs. We’ve indicated that the requirements to introduce a system of full pre-commitment in smaller clubs which of course are largely, not only, but largely in rural areas, won’t have to be done till 2018. So we’ve already made that announcement. We do understand that it’s harder for smaller clubs to make these investments so that’s why we’ve made that announcement already.

JOURNALIST: Minister, isn’t the real issue here that the states are addicted to the taxes that they get off poker machines and is this an issue that should be considered within the tax forum?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve of course got a particular Select Council that’s been established by the Council of Australian Governments to address the issues of problem gambling. I’ve always made it plain that I want to work with the states and territories to address problem gambling. That’s still my view and I’ll continue to pursue that.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried about Karl Bitar and his involvement in this, (inaudible) trying to discourage them from supporting this Bill?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s a matter for him.

JOURNALIST: Has a decision been made about whether or not to introduce income management in the region and if so when will that happen?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you’d be aware, the Federal Government with the State Government has made some announcements about new reforms in the APY Lands. We do understand how important it is to work with the State Government and work with the Aboriginal leaders in the APY Lands to make sure that children are well looked after. We have had Centrelink staff in the APY Lands for the last couple of weeks making sure that people can sign up to weekly payments, that they can make regular payments to the stores, or other payments made through Centapay which of course is similar to voluntary income management type of system. So we’re getting on with that immediately because we did want to do what we could do quickly to help people who are in financial difficulty or people who are having trouble managing their money in the APY Lands.

JOURNALIST: Sorry Minister, just one more on the problem gambling. You said that millions of people are affected but with only 95,000 problem gamblers…

JENNY MACKLIN: You have to take in account all of their families.

JOURNALIST: And that equates to how many million?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well if you take the Productivity Commission recommendations and their findings, they say that there’s around 160,000 Australians who are already problem gamblers. More than 200,000 people who are in danger of becoming problem gamblers and then you add their families.

JOURNALIST: Minister can I clarify, is there a scheme akin to that in the Northern Territory, a broader scheme of voluntary income management? Is that still on the cards for the APY Lands and when will a decision about whether or not to roll that out in earnest be made?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you’d be aware we’ve introduced a range of different types of income management in different parts of Australia. So there’s one approach in the Northern Territory, there’s another in parts of Western Australia across Perth and in the Kimberley. And of course we’ve introduced a different approach through the welfare reform trials in Cape York. We’re now in the process of evaluating all of those approaches and that work will be done over the next few months. So in the meantime, we did want to get into the APY Lands and provide urgent assistance to people to get onto weekly payments of their benefits if that would help them and to enable them to use Centapay to pay their bills and to have store accounts. That’s exactly what we’re doing.

JOURNALIST: Is it your belief that this stage that stricter income quarantining measures could benefit those communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you know I am a big supporter of income management. We’ll do a proper evaluation, but in the meantime we do want to make sure that we provide this immediate support for people in the APY Lands which is what we’re doing.