Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

COAG Select Council on Gambling Reform meeting, pre-commitment on poker machines, live odds and online gambling – Doorstop

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JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone for joining us today. I’m very pleased to be here with my colleagues, Senator Conroy, who will speak in a moment about some announcements that he is making today. Our other colleague, Bill Shorten, is at the Press Club so he too has joined us this morning at the Select Council on Gambling.

We had a very successful meeting this morning with all the gambling Ministers from the states and territories, and I am very pleased to be able to announce that we have agreed that pre-commitment technology should be available to all players, in all venues around Australia. It is recognised that there may need to be special consideration for smaller venues, but the very important news from today is that everybody agrees that pre-commitment technology is a very useful tool for helping problem gamblers.

The other areas that we discussed today were access to digital cost of play displays and making sure that we had some more work done on dynamic warnings. That will be done between the Commonwealth and Queensland and we’ll do some more work with them.

It was also agreed to continue to work together on ATM withdrawals in venues. Different states and territories are at different points on that issue so we agreed to do some more work on that matter.

But today was very important because it was recognised that pre-commitment technology is a very useful tool for people who are playing the poker machines. I think it’s also very important to note that this is a positive step forward, that we can continue to work together.

It was agreed that all the States and Territories would remain with us as part of the Select Council on Gambling and the Prime Minister will recommend that to the Council of Australian Governments when she meets with them at the next meeting.

We’ll continue to work together. In the meantime the Commonwealth will begin to prepare Commonwealth legislation on this issue as agreed with Mr Wilkie. That will take place over the next six to nine months and we will at the same time continue to work with the states and territories.

Before I take questions, I’ll hand over to Mr Conroy.

STEPHEN CONROY: Well thanks Jenny. Today’s state and territory Ministers have agreed two important steps forward in dealing with some of these problem issues. The first is the Commonwealth will conduct a review of the Interactive Gambling Act. There’ve been issues around enforceability, issues around changes in technology, and issues around jurisdiction. And everyone welcomed that very strongly.

The second announcement is that all of the Ministers have agreed that we should put forward proposals, ultimately possibly legislation, to reduce and control the promotion of in-game betting. There’s a very insidious culture starting to develop that is targeting the vulnerable and the young as they’re attending sporting events, as they’re watching on television sporting events, and all Ministers felt that this was a very necessary step for the Commonwealth to take.

There are a variety of issues that we will seek to have discussions with the industry about, to discuss the scope of this. And all Ministers also agreed the racing industry should be exempt from this process as the betting goes to the whole integrity of what the racing industry does, how it raises it funds, how it provides its money. So racing is exempt and all Ministers were very in agreement on that. So we’re going to give the broadcasting industry twelve months to resolve these issues, to introduce self-regulation. And if they are not able to or are unwilling to, we will be introducing legislation dated from today, the start date will be today, to reduce and control the promotion of live betting odds.

JOURNALIST: Senator Conroy what does mean in practice? Does that mean that if I’m watching the cricket or the footy on TV or the netball or whatever sport it is …

SENATOR CONROY: You won’t need to have Richie Benaud telling you and urging you that here’s the odds on who’s going to get out next or who’s going to bowl the next no-ball, and telling you to go online and start betting. That’s the practical impact. That sort of advertising which is being pushed into people’s faces. Things like, and this is where the States have agreed that they want to show leadership on this issue as well, promotion inside a ground where you have ground announcers announcing odds, where you have promotions on scoreboards saying here’s the odds and who’s going to kick the next goal in a game of footy. All of these sort of practical things, all of the Ministers felt were very, very important to step forward in a very practical sense.

JOURNALIST: But is it a reduction or a ban?

SENATOR CONROY: Ultimately it will be a ban. There may be existing contracts and obviously in a situation where the companies have existing contracts with TV stations, but from today there’ll be no more new contracts signed. So it will be a prohibition into the future, taking into account that there may be existing contracts.

JOURNALIST: Jenny Macklin you say that you will be drafting legislation as per your agreement with Mr Wilkie, when will you bite the bullet and introduce that if you’re unable to get agreement with the states?

JENNY MACKLIN: What I’ve agreed with the states and territories is that we will continue to discuss and negotiate the reforms that we’ve agreed with Mr Wilkie, so that will continue to take place. At the same time we will now start to draft Commonwealth legislation. We’ve only just agreed to start that process so we expect to have that through the Parliament by this time next year.

JOURNALIST: But they’ve made it pretty clear that they’re not going to change their mind on this?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve made it very clear to the states and territories that my preference is to get an agreement so I will continue to negotiate with them. But equally, they understand that we have an agreement to deliver mandatory pre-commitment by 2014. We will pursue that either through an agreement with the states and territories or through our own legislation.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that the untested use of banking legislation, telecommunications legislation, to interfere in state gambling laws will survive a legal challenge from the states?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you’d be aware, I released Commonwealth legal advice in February this year which made it very clear that the Commonwealth has a number of heads of power, Constitutional power, from which we could legislate.

JOURNALIST: Minister are you somewhat conflicted in this given that the ACT Labor Party owns four sort of pokie barns that are contributing $600,000 a year into ALP coffers and some of it I believe going to the Federal Party?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it would be very obvious to everybody here and everybody watching and listening, that the Commonwealth is intent on pursuing these reforms because we are concerned about problem gambling. So it’s perfectly obvious that the matter you raised is not influencing our policy.

JOURNALIST: Has Mr Wilkie raised that at all with you?

JENNY MACKLIN: No he hasn’t.

JOURNALIST: And would you like to see those pokie establishments gotten rid of?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s a matter for them.

JOURNALIST: Minister you say this is an important step forward but just looking at a document here you’ve agreed that it’s a useful tool, you’ve agreed that it should be available to all players. There’s no agreement here on whether it should be voluntary or mandatory. So is this really an important step forward what you’ve agreed to today, and if the states don’t agree with you will you just go straight ahead and override them?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve made it clear that we will now proceed to draft our legislation. That is the agreement that we’ve made with Mr Wilkie, and we will honour that. We want to see a full or mandatory system of pre-commitment introduced in Australia by 2014 so we will proceed in that way. I would prefer to get an agreement with the states and territories and I do think today is a very significant step forward. It is the first time that all of us, the states, the territories, and the Commonwealth, have agreed that pre-commitment technology is a very helpful tool to people who are gambling on the poker machines.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Michael O’Brien from Victoria’s tweet that the Federal Government is weaker than Victoria on this issue?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what I’d say to all of the people who are concerned about problem gambling is that we want to make sure that if we introduce pre-commitment it’s used, that it’s not something that 1 per cent or 2 per cent of people use. It’s something that’s used by people who have a problem with gambling. That’s why we intend to introduce a full or mandatory system.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do any of the states have their hand out to make up money in Federal Government grants from lost revenue from these poker machine reforms?

JENNY MACKLIN: The issue of compensation was raised by a couple of states today but it wasn’t pursued so, yes it was raised.

JOURNALIST: What sort of order of compensation?

JENNY MACKLIN: There were, no figures were raised.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any contact with Karl Bitar yet over these reforms?

JENNY MACKLIN: No I haven’t.

JOURNALIST: Just on the sports side of this issue Senator, when you say during coverage, do you mean the entire broadcast or just during the play. I mean will they be able to update the odds at half time or before the game?

SENATOR CONROY: Well those when I said we wanted to consult with the sector about the scope that’s the exact issues we want to talk through with them. Is it reasonable to just say, here’s what the odds are at the beginning of a match, that’s an issue, have the odds changed at half time. The particular concern of all the Ministers was this practice of commentators reading out scores, reading out odds, and encouraging people to get on. So that’s the exact issue we want to negotiate, talk with the sector about that question of scope. Is it before, half time, during, is it after every goal’s kicked? All of those sorts of things we want to have the conversation with. But this insidious practice is normalising our culture for some of our vulnerable, the young. This is not the sort of culture that we want people growing up with, and that’s why all of the Ministers were very strongly supportive of the Commonwealth’s initiative.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) practice then, well shouldn’t you just rule it out altogether?

SENATOR CONROY: Well there’s a Commonwealth legislation that potentially could be required but we don’t want to override existing contracts. We want to see it phased out reasonably. We don’t want to create legal issues. But we’re sending a very clear message that from today there’ll be no more new contracts. We are absolutely being very clear about this. This insidious practice is not something that we believe, all of the Ministers believe, represents the sort of view that Australians want to see being pushed down people’s throats, into people’s faces, on television, and on other forms like if I could also make sure I reiterate, this is about platform neutrality, it’s about radio, it’s about internet, it’s about live streaming, it’s about mobile phones. These are the issues we want to talk with the sectors about to ensure that we’re able to get the best outcome.

JOURNALIST: What about action on exotic betting options, you know like…

SENATOR CONROY: Well this is about the promotion at this stage. The Commonwealth has jurisdiction on promotion. That’s clear under the Constitution. So this is about promotion of the sort of in-game betting. The question of types of bets, that’s why we’re saying we need to review the Interactive Gambling Act. As I said there are questions about its jurisdiction, there’s overseas companies that we can’t regulate, there is questions around the enforceability of the existing legislation, and there is questions that we want to address in this review. So we will be taking into account the Joint Parliamentary Committee that’s looking at some of these issues but we believe that we need to review this Act because there have been a range of criticisms, and we accept that with modern technology changing, then we need to address and work our way through those issues.

JOURNALIST: Is there any consistency between the two measures, in that are you’re happy to take action against poker machine companies and the profits they make that could damage their contract, but you’re not happy to damage existing profits and contracts with online betting companies with sport?

SENATOR CONROY: Well, we believe that there’s a whole of range of issues that we need to negotiate our way through. We know that there are companies that are uncomfortable with the level of promotion. They were already looking to terminate or buy back rights. There are organisations that want to buy back the rights from some of these companies because it is becoming so insidious. So we’ll be working with them extensively on this. I don’t think we’re taking away any property rights by wanting to change the way that the gambling is taking place. We’re not saying stop. We’re not saying stop to poker machine users. There is a clear difference between banning something outright when there’s legal existing contracts and saying here’s the way in which you will conduct the acts when it comes to poker machines. So I don’t believe from a legal perspective they are the same thing.

JOURNALIST: You are closing down a revenue stream though for sporting organisations …

SENATOR CONROY: Well I think if you look at the NRL, the NRL and the AFL and we’ve been working with Mark Arbib and some of the sporting associations on that, they are increasingly concerned about this. So I believe that we have the support of sporting organisations, and we want to sit down with the broadcasting sector and work our way through these issues.

JOURNALIST: So you wouldn’t be looking at compensating those organisations at all?

SENATOR CONROY: Well not at all. That’s a point of making sure that we don’t terminate things in mid contract. But no, we don’t believe that there’s a compensation issue here if we say you can’t do something from this point forward.

JOURNALIST: The advice to gamble responsibly goes hand in hand with these kind of announcements. Are you satisfied with the level and prominence of that kind of advice or is it just ineffective?

SENATOR CONROY: Well that’s not an issue I’d deal with directly. That comes under State jurisdictions, but I’m sure there’s always more that can be done. I mean we have a Parliamentary Committee that’s looking into a whole range of these things. There’s always more that can be done to raise these issues which is exactly why we are, with Jenny and the Government are moving down the path that we’re moving down. So we believe more can be done and these are concrete practical proposals that deal with that.

JOURNALIST: Why does the Federal Government have to take into account, just for Senator Conroy, existing profits for companies and protecting those profits when you’re the Federal Government, you can change the regulatory framework?

SENATOR CONROY: Well the Constitution and we don’t want to be involved in unilaterally making changes that could be in breach of the law. So we are going to be very careful to ensure that from this day forward there are no new contracts but where there are existing contracts there would be legal compensation questions. And it’s not our intention to start creating legal debate. What we want to do is set the standard and we believe that, all Ministers there were very, very supportive of this, to go down this path. I think the New South Wales Government have got some matters that they’ll be raising separately which are all consistent with what we’re doing and a range of other jurisdictions are very strongly behind what we’ve put forward today.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin which were the two States have raised the issue of compensation.

JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t think I should go through the detail of what was discussed today. I told you it was raised, we’ll leave it at that.

JOURNALIST: You said this morning that you hoped that given there was some agreement that ,you know, that at least a voluntary pre-commitment scheme could be introduced that you wanted the States to start moving on getting the technology in place. Is there any agreement along those lines or are they still holding off on pushing that through?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well in fact many States are already proceeding to introduce pre-commitment technology, as you’d be aware in Victoria…

JOURNALIST: Universally though, across the state?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s certainly what’s happening in Victoria. It is being introduced universally across all venues and for all players. So that is happening in Victoria. It’s happening in different ways in different parts of the country. But what was significant today is that every Minister agreed that the technology should be supported.

JOURNALIST: Just on the special consideration for smaller venues, what was the, I suppose the support there for what sort of consideration and what sort of measures?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s a little like the answer to the previous question, different states wanting to do different things. So if you take the Victorian example again, Victoria only has a small number of little venues, so they don’t intend to have a particular measure for small venues. They intend to introduce pre-commitment across all of their venues. But of course in other jurisdictions there’s very large numbers of small venues. The Commonwealth’s position is that we think that small venues should be defined as those venues with fifteen machines or fewer, and we want to give them four years more to introduce pre-commitment technology. So we’ve agreed to continue to discuss how that might be delivered.

JOURNALIST: Will some states have a larger definition of a small venue?

JENNY MACKLIN: This is an area that we agreed to continue to discuss but the Commonwealth’s made its position clear.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that any legislation would actually get passed given the concern of some of the Independents?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’ll continue to discuss this issue with the Independents. We understand that they have a range of views but we’ll keep those discussions going.

JOURNALIST: Mr Windsor has specifically said that he’s concerned about TV sports betting, he’s concerned about online sports betting and that was part of the reason he didn’t think he’d support your poker machine legislation. Do you think these new measures you’ve announced today will win his support for the poker machine legislation?

SENATOR CONROY: Look I haven’t had a chance yet to talk with Tony about today’s proposals. I look forward to constructive dialogue as I have with Tony on a range of issues, but we haven’t consulted with Tony on these matters at this stage.


JENNY MACKLIN: On that note, thank you.

SENATOR CONROY: Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Is baning (inaudible) to do wit the odds or is it actually in regards to directing…

SENATOR CONROY: No, it’s promotion.

JOURNALIST: But is it in regards to directing commentators to a certain website? Can they say well, can you head that way?

SENATOR CONROY: We want to stop the promotion and I think that actually falls under the definition of promotion. Tell him to go there to make a bet, rather than directly reading it out. I think all of that falls into the same category of promotion. And it’s not just commentators as I said. Ground announcers are announcing these things. When you walk up to some venues at the moment, you’re being handed betting coupons. When you open the footy record, betting coupons can drop out, or ads for betting coupons are in there. So there’s a whole variety of issues around promotion. Some of those as I said are state-based responsibilities but the sense of the meeting this morning was the states were very much keen to have a comprehensive package that would see all of this promotion, whether it be a verbal direction or it’s an ad in the footy record, or a ground announcer, all of those issues will be captured in the concept of promotion.