Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Pokies advertising campaign by clubs and hotels, liquor licensing in the Northern Territory – Doorstop, Hobart

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JOURNALIST: The advertising campaign that’s been launched today against Federal Government plans to limit poker machines – what’s you opinion of that campaign?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think most Australians would say that it’s not right for businesses to profit from other people’s misery. Our whole effort to deal with problem gambling, is just that. We want to make sure that Australians can enjoy having a flutter, playing the pokies, but we don’t want to see Australians losing their homes, spending all of their money on poker machines or not having anything left to look after their families. So I would say to the clubs and the hotels, as I said to them on Friday, this is really jumping the gun. We want to sit down and work through the detail with the industry, with those who are concerned about problem gambling to make sure that we address what is a very serious social ill in this country – problem gambling. On average we have Australians losing $21,000 a year on the poker machines. $21,000 a year is spent, on average, on pokies. That’s a lot of money that’s not going on to the kitchen table or being spent on people’s mortgages.

JOURNALIST: $21 million is a lot to spend on the campaign. Do you think the campaign is a bit misleading?

JENNY MACKLIN: The campaign is misleading, and I pointed this out to the clubs and hotels on Friday when I met with them. I asked them not to proceed with the advertising. One, because I thought we had a lot of work to do, but secondly because the ads are misleading. We’re not about a licence to gamble. There won’t be a card that has anybody’s photo on it. We want to make sure that if you want put five dollars into the pokies you can do that. But what we don’t want is to see people gambling their mortgages away.

JOURNALIST: Is this issue turning into another mining tax saga with the advertising blitz? Do you think it’s going down that road?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think the important thing that most Australians would say is that you shouldn’t base your business model on other people’s misery. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. We want to deal with problem gambling. We want to work with the pubs and clubs, with the churches, with the community sector and get a solution to problem gambling in this country. That’s what the Government wants to do. That’s our responsibility. I think the community expects Government to stand up for the vulnerable. That’s exactly what we want to do.

JOURNALIST: What about the criticism that poker machine limits won’t stop or affect problem gamblers from gambling anyway?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we asked the Productivity Commission to conduct a major enquiry into problem gambling. They recommended that we introduce this system of full pre-commitment. And that’s because they advise us, the experts advise us, that if people have to think about what they’re going to gamble before they start playing the pokies, they’re much more likely to stick to that limit rather than just sitting down and pouring money into poker machines. So we want to introduce a system of full pre-commitment to assist poker machine players to set their own limits. This is not about the Government setting limits. This about individuals setting their own limits before they start gambling, and sticking to those limits.

JOURNALIST: What about some compromise options? Andrew Wilkie’s spoken about making low bet pokies exempt.

JENNY MACKLIN: This is an issue that was raised in the Productivity Commission report that was made available to the Government. We’re certainly looking at those options as well as a system of full pre-commitment. We understand that for many occasional gamblers, putting five or ten dollars into the pokies every now and then is not the same as gambling away your mortgage.

JOURNALIST: Would voluntary pre-commitment be as effective as mandatory?

JENNY MACKLIN: The evidence is that voluntary pre-commitment is not effective. It doesn’t do what full pre-commitment does, because those people who have problems with gambling don’t set the limits that they need to set.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Wilkie said that he’ll withdraw support from the Federal Government if changes don’t go ahead. Is that a reasonable demand?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have an agreement with Mr Wilkie. We understand how important it is to deal with problem gambling. That’s why we’re pursuing this. We asked the Productivity Commission to undertake this major inquiry for us a couple of years ago. At the time, we had the support of the Federal Opposition, to get the Productivity Commission to undertake this work. They recommended that we introduce a system of full pre-commitment to assist problem gamblers. Mr Wilkie agrees that this should be done, and we want to see that this change is implemented.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that the change will get the Parliamentary support that’s needed?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s certainly our objective. We want to get this implemented for one reason. We want to help problem gamblers deal with what is a very, very serious issue in their lives. We know that individual gamblers lives are ruined by problem gambling. We know that family’s lives are ruined. That’s what this is all about. We want to make sure that we help problem gamblers and we don’t support those businesses that base their entire business model on the misery of others.

JOURNALIST: Could a reduction in income from pokies affect the Federal Government or State Governments’ taxes and money that they acquire from it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t think any of us should be basing the way we budget on the misery of others – whether it’s government or industry. So that’s the first thing. The second is that we’ve indicated that we recognise that there are many small venues, many rural venues who wouldn’t be able to make these changes quickly. So we’ve already said that we’ll be willing to sit down and work through the detail for small and rural venues. That will be done. We also understand that clubs and hotels around the country have been around for a very long time. Been around before poker machines and they’re places that many, many Australians like to go and have fun with their family and friends. So I think they’ll be with us for that reason for a very long time to come.

JOURNALIST: So you are confident that there is the support in parliament to get these changes through?

JENNY MACKLIN: I am because I think that across the board, people want to deal with problem gambling. I think most Australians understand that this is a very, very serious issue. They want to provide a way in which problem gamblers can deal with their addiction. We do have too many people who are pokie addicts in Australia. We want to do something about it.

JOURNALIST: If I could ask you about the recent liquor licensing decisions in the Northern Territory. Apparently the Commission has not taken on board the recommendations of the Reference Panel. Office of the Reference Panel’s saying that the Commission’s putting public opinion ahead of people’s lives.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I’ve only just been informed of this matter, so until I see the detail I can’t comment any further, on the specifics of the issue that you raise, but we certainly are aware that alcohol abuse is a serious issue in many parts of Australia, particularly in remote communities. So, we, with the Northern Territory Government are intent on making sure we do everything possible to address the scourge of alcohol abuse, but I can’t comment on the specifics. I’ve only just heard about it.

JOURNALIST: In terms of using your statutory powers, would you use them to alter the conditions of a license?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as I say, I’ve only just heard about this particular decision so I’ll have a look at the detail.