Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you everyone. The Government welcomes the report that’s just been released today from the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Gambling Reform. As the report has just been tabled today, it has 43 recommendations, the Government will not be responding in detail today.

We will of course consider all of the recommendations of the report and respond as soon as possible. I do, however, want to make a few remarks about some of the key recommendations in the report. As you would know the Government has indicated before today that we are concerned about the way in which recommendations to introduce full pre-commitment will impact on small, and particularly regional venues. We understand just how important small pubs and clubs are in regional communities and we have been keen to look at options to make sure that the introduction of pre-commitment can be done in a way that maintains these important community facilities. I certainly do welcome the recommendations from this report that would see the introduction of full or mandatory pre-commitment take longer, in fact take up until 2018 before they’re implemented.

I do think that this is a reasonable approach given the pressure on small and rural venues, compared to venues in the city. This will be especially important in regional areas. Around 60 per cent of venues in regional areas would have an extra four years, up to 2018, to introduce the system of full pre-commitment.

The Committee also recommends that a different approach be taken for international tourists. I think the proposals in the Committee’s report are reasonable. They certainly will be seriously considered by the Government because we do know that many overseas tourists come to Australia to gamble in our casinos, particularly, and we know how important that is for our tourism industry.

The Committee has also recommended an approach which has come to be known as the ‘hybrid’ model. This is to have a different approach for those recreational players who do not want to participate in a full or mandatory system of pre-commitment. The idea of low intensity machines is not a new one. It’s been around for a while. It’s certainly part of the Productivity Commission’s considerations, when they looked at the way in which full pre-commitment would be introduced.

The model that is proposed in the report that has been released today would give venues the choice of offering those who want to play recreationally the option of choosing a lower intensity machine that had a $1 maximum bet limit. If people wanted to play these lower intensity machines they could. If they wanted to play on higher intensity machines, that would be their choice. The Government’s view would be that if this arrangement was put in place then people playing on higher intensity machines would have to be part of a full or mandatory pre-commitment scheme.

The option that’s presented in the report today is certainly one option responding to concerns that were raised with the Committee about the need to make it easy for recreational players to have a bit of a gamble on the poker machines every now and then and not need to be part of a full pre-commitment scheme.

It is the case that recreational gamblers are already betting at a lower intensity than those who are addicted to poker machines. In fact, around 88 per cent of recreational gamblers are betting at less than $1 a spin. So those players would not even notice the difference if this scheme was introduced.

Of course we will look at all of the recommendations of the report. We’ll discuss them with the states and territories, and of course with our Parliamentary colleagues.

Finally, I just want to make a few remarks about the Opposition’s Minority Report. It is very disappointing to see the way in which the Opposition is approaching this issue. It does seem from the Opposition’s Minority Report that they are not prepared to take problem gambling seriously.

The Opposition is saying exactly the same as the clubs are saying. That is that they want a system of voluntary pre-commitment. If we were to have a system of voluntary pre-commitment in Australia, it would cost almost the same to change all of the machines as it cost to introduce mandatory pre-commitment. So cost is not the major issue that the clubs or pubs, or the Opposition are using to oppose these changes.

Full pre-commitment was recommended by the Productivity Commission after their very extensive inquiry. I think we need to take these recommendations very seriously, if we are about addressing a very, very significant social problem in Australia, and that is problem gambling. Unfortunately the Opposition seems to just want to oppose everything and they do not seem willing to deal with what is a major social ill in Australia and that is problem gambling.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST: When is the Government likely to be in a position to work though the recommendations?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll do that as soon as possible. We will be meeting with the states and territories by the end of May, so we’ll certainly be wanting to discuss these issues with the states and territories, but we’ll do it as quickly as we can.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of mandatory – of these 43 recommendations, how many are mandatory for Mr Wilkie?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s a question for Mr Wilkie. The Government has indicated that we will be introducing a system of full pre-commitment. We have made it very clear that we won’t be using fingerprinting or other methods that take away people’s privacy. But we do want to deal with problem gambling. We know that this is a serious issue in Australia. That is why we are determined to introduce a system of full or mandatory pre-commitment. We do also though recognise that there are issues for small or rural venues, so I particularly welcome the recommendations from the report today that would give the smaller or rural venues a longer period of time to introduce a system of full pre-commitment.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the antagonism that you might be receiving from clubs and small venues there. How likely do you think is it that you’ll get these reforms through?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think that the recommendations in the report today will be welcomed by small venues. I think it does recognise that the Members of Parliament who are on this inquiry did listen to the concerns raised by small venues. As the recommendations say if they’re adopted, it would give small venues an extra four years to introduce a system of full pre-commitment. I think the report also recognises that there are recreational players who just want to play the machines occasionally. Eighty-eight per cent of recreational players in Australia bet less than a dollar a spin. So they won’t notice any difference in the way they play the poker machines if the recommendations from this report are implemented.

JOURNALIST: Inaudible…is there something in place in the system that says a player can’t afford $150? Are they setting themselves a trap? Is there something to stop that?

JENNY MACKLIN: An important mechanism for pre-commitment is that it really does enable each player to set their own limits, and once set, to stick to those limits. That’s the advantage of a system of full or mandatory pre-commitment. So that when you go out of the house and decide that you’re going to go to a club or a pub and you only want to spend $150 that day, you don’t end up spending $2000, spending all the money that you have put away to spend on your mortgage, or that week’s food. You stick to your betting limit and you don’t go above it.

JOURNALIST: Would the Government be prepared to subsidise the cost of transferring machines to mandatory commitment systems, and also for some of those smaller venues, pay for new machines?

JENNY MACKLIN: These are all issues that the Government will consider in looking at the recommendations from the report today.

JOURNALIST: Now there’s no upper limit recommended. Is that a problem, and what stops people from setting unrealistic limits?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Productivity Commission recommended that individuals set their own limits and that the value in full pre-commitment is that it does require everybody who wants to play the poker machines to set their own limits. The action of setting your own limit is effective is making sure that people don’t then go and spend a lot more than they intended to.

JOURNALIST: But what if, could they then go and spend it on gambling in some other form? What’s to stop them from doing that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the evidence from the Productivity Commission is that this will certainly help those people who are addicted to the poker machines. This is all about addiction to poker machines. We know that this is a serious problem in Australia. We have a lot more people in Australia spending a lot more money on poker machine addiction than other countries of the world and the recommendations before us are about dealing with that poker machine addiction.

JOURNALIST: What are your views on the campaign by Clubs Australia?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve asked the clubs and the pubs not to proceed with the advertising campaign because we have a serious problem to address in this country. We have a lot of people seriously addicted to poker machines, spending a lot of their money. I don’t think any business should profit from other peoples’ misery. I think it’s incumbent of all of us – governments and the industry to work together to make sure that we address this serious social ill of problem gambling.

JOURNALIST: Inaudible… target online gambling?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly recognise the problems of online gambling. At the last meeting with the states and territories, we have agreed to do more work together on how the Government might pursue the issue of problem gambling. We’ll be doing more work in this area.