Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Pre-commitment technology and gambling reforms – Doorstop, Canberra

Joint Doorstop with: Bill Shorten MP, Assistant Treasurer

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone for being here today and I’m very pleased to be joined by my Ministerial colleague the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten and the Independent Member for Dennison, Mr Andrew Wilkie.

We want to give you an update on how we’re progressing with the Gambling reforms that the Government has committed to because tomorrow we’ll be having another meeting of the Select Council on Gambling that the Council of Australian Governments has established. Tomorrow’s meeting here in Canberra will in fact see four new Gambling Ministers join that Select Council from the different States and Territories and for the first time Western Australia will be joining the Select Council which I’m very pleased about. Tomorrow will be a working meeting. We will go through a number of issues that are of course very important to these reforms. You’d be aware that it is the Government’s intention to continue to progress these discussions to make sure that we get agreement from the States and Territories to introduce a full system of pre-commitment as set out in the Productivity Commission’s report to the Government and as agreed with Mr Wilkie.

We of course do understand that problem gambling in Australia is a very serious matter, a very serious matter. We’ve got up to 160,000 Australians with problems with gambling. Some people are spending anything up to $21,000 on average a year and of course, by anyone’s estimation that is a lot of money. That means money that isn’t being spent on the mortgage, money that isn’t being spent in the interests of children. That’s why we are pursuing these reforms. We have a serious issue with problem gambling in this country and we want to see it addressed.

There are a number of issues that I want to take you through today that indicate where we’re up to with our problem gambling reforms. There’s been quite a bit of discussion in the media and elsewhere about fingerprinting. I want to make it very clear today that the Australian Government will not support the use of fingerprinting or other biometric information being used as we pursue our problem gambling reforms. So there won’t be any fingerprinting or biometric information collected as a result of the reforms that we intend to implement. We do understand just how important it is to respect the privacy of the Australian people. I would also recognise that where pre-commitment has been introduced in different parts of Australia, we’ve seen the use of cards so I think Australians see the use of cards for all sorts of purposes as a simple way to do business. I think everyone here today would have an ATM card in their wallet or purse. Of course, many Australians who are members of clubs have a club membership card so we think that a card based pre-commitment system will be the simplest for people, and we also think it will be effective.

On another matter, we’re also aware of concerns that have been raised by particularly small clubs, small venues, and that’s especially so in rural parts of Australia. So we do want to indicate today that we’ve both heard the message from the Productivity Commission, they too raised this issue, and we’ve heard the concerns raised by rural communities that they’d really like us to consider other options as we progress the introduction of a full pre-commitment scheme. So I intend to discuss that with my State and Territory colleagues tomorrow.

The final issue I wanted to raise is in relation to the commitment that we’ve given to introduce a $250 withdrawal limit on ATM machines inside clubs and pubs. Once again, we recognise that in some rural venues this may be the only ATM in the town or in the small community, so we will be making sure that we take account of those issues as we develop our commitment to deliver that financial limit on ATMs. I’d now turn to Mr Wilkie to make some further remarks.

ANDREW WILKIE: Thank you Minister. Now, I’m standing here today not as the Chairman of the Gambling Reform Committee, but I’m standing here as Andrew Wilkie Member of Parliament and the man who signed an agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard just after the August 2010 election, including in that agreement that there be a mandatory pre-commitment system rolled out nationally in 2014. Now I want to emphasise one thing up front. My agreement with the Prime Minister that there be a mandatory pre-commitment system nationally in 2014 is carved in stone. I am immovable on that and I will never compromise on that. But what I have said right since the day I signed that agreement, is that I’m quite open-minded about what the mandatory pre-commitment system might look like, how it might operate, what features and so on. So what we’re seeing today is some of that detail starting to be fleshed out. And I’m happy to stand with Minister Macklin, who I’ve been working with cooperatively now for well six months and I’m pleased to say the Government generally has been very cooperative and is showing every sign of goodwill and determination to make this reform happen. And I’m happy to stand here with Minister Macklin and say I think it’s a good idea at this stage, to rule out any sort of technology that relies on biometric data. So I’m happy to rule out fingerprinting, retinal scans, any other sort of biometric system that might be out there. And I agree with the Minister, Australians are very comfortable with cards, we’ve all got wallets full of cards, of all sorts of things, for the bank, for the video library, ah, loyalty cards for the casino, the clubs and so on. It does seem to be the way to go. I’m also very happy to back up the Minister here and say that the Productivity Commission’s finding that smaller venues need special consideration. That’s been borne out by the evidence I’ve heard in committees, by conversations I’ve had with any number of people. I visited with Senator Xenophon a club in north-west New South Wales late last year, and clearly the smaller pubs and clubs, particularly in remote and regional areas, you know, they do it differently to the big clubs and pubs in the city, and we do need to show some special consideration to them both in regard to their ATMs, particularly in a town where it might be the only ATM in the town, and in regard to the whole implementation process. Now I don’t want to talk any more detail about what special considerations we might make because that’s what we’re still working out. But I suppose we just want to put people’s minds at ease in these small communities that we hear your concerns. Your concerns echo the findings of the Productivity Commission which are guiding me personally very much and we will try and accommodate those concerns. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: You say you want special consideration for the implementation, does that mean that it’s concrete that you do want pre-commitment mandatory scheme for all those smaller clubs still? Is that still concrete?

ANDREW WILKIE: Oh look the essence of my agreement with the Prime Minister that there will be a mandatory pre-commitment system rolled out nationally in 2014 is for all venues, be it a pub, a club or casino of any size. There is no suggestion here that we’re backing off from mandatory pre-commitment in small venues. All we’re saying here is that the Productivity Commission recommended and the evidence we’ve accumulated already in these six months is that they do have special considerations, and we do need to be mindful of those as far as exactly how we go about implementing mandatory pre-commitment. And the other issue of course is the ATM because it is a fact that in some small communities the ATM in the pub or the club is in fact the only ATM in the community. So the $250 cap that we’re placing on ATMs in all pubs and clubs nationally, you know, we need to show a little bit of flexibility when it comes to those very small venues in very small communities.

JOURNALIST: Mr Wilkie, is it true that if the Government does put up a mandatory pre-commitment scheme and it’s defeated by the Independents and the Opposition in Parliament that you will still renew your support for (inaudible)?

ANDREW WILKIE: Look, I don’t want to turn this media event into me threatening the Government. Because I want to emphasise very, very strongly that since Julia Gillard and myself signed that agreement six months ago, at every turn the Government has demonstrated good will, has cooperated with me willingly, has met all of my needs. The Government met its first milestone to have obtained it’s legal advice by the 1st February just gone. The Government is on track to have an answer from all the States by the end of May this year and whether or not they’re going to cooperate or not with the Federal Government. And I have a great sense of optimism that the Government will achieve its next major milestone and it is a big milestone of course, that by the Budget 2012 legislation will have been passed through the Parliament enabling the Commonwealth to act on poker machine venues that aren’t cooperating. Now it is conceivable yes that there’ll be problems getting that legislation through the Parliament, but frankly I’m not seeing any evidence that it will be a problem at this stage, and I, you know, I’m already speaking to my cross-benches and I can say with some confidence that we’ve got the numbers. That I believe we can get this through the Parliament. Yes, my support for the Government hinges on it achieving that, and some of you would have seen in the newspaper this morning my comment, it’s a test of leadership for Julia Gillard. But I think she’s up to the task.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin on another issue. The Productivity Commission is releasing its draft report on the Disability Insurance Scheme next Monday, it’s been suggested that it’s going to cost $5billion extra a year in public funding, economic modelling has said that. Is the Government committed to providing the extra money immediately and rolling out the scheme if that’s what the Commission recommends?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think you’ll have to wait till Monday. The Productivity Commission as you rightly say will be releasing their draft report on Monday so I think if we wait and see the report on Monday and then we’ll make some comments then.

JOURNALIST: Mr Wilkie what did you think about (interruption)

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten are you pleased that a secret report into the Election has endorsed the removal of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister?

BILL SHORTEN: I haven’t read the secret report to which you’re referring. The ALP’s conducted appropriately a review after the Election and I know the Party’s considering all the reports and all the recommendations. No doubt, a lot of these reforms that are proposed will be considered seriously and implemented if that’s what the Party wants to do.

JOURNALIST: Mr Wilkie what are your thoughts on Julia Gillard’s carbon price proposal?

ANDREW WILKIE: Oh look this is great news in the Parliament today. Now while we Independents we obviously have to you know see the legislation and see the detail, I’ve been calling for as long as anyone that we have to put a price on carbon and that we have to move, even if it’s alone, Australia has to do something about climate change. So I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s announcement today that we will have a price on carbon by mid next year I think it is. And I’m certainly one of the Independents she can count on so long as the detail is right. But at this very early state she’s heading in the right direction and I think its good news for the country.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, we’ve heard in Senate Estimates today that the Government won’t be reappointing Catherine Deveny as a disability ambassador. Were you aware of her controversial comments before you appointed her to the role when you were Disability Minister?

BILL SHORTEN: Which controversial comments are you referring to? I mean she’s a comedian and she had an act in the Comedy Festival, I think she’s doing it again this year. The Melbourne Comedy Festival starts in April. In terms of particular controversial remarks you’d have to tell me which ones they were.

JOURNALIST: Remarks in some of her columns referring to spastics, her Christmas spastic function and referring to people living in suburbs as retards for example in her columns. Those comments that caused outcry after her appointment last year. Were you aware, had you been briefed?

BILL SHORTEN: No, I’m not aware of the particular comments you refer to, no. I know that Catherine Deveny has dyslexia and I know that she’s campaigned to get more attention to the issues confronting people with dyslexia. You have the advantage of me if you’ve got a date of a comment before we appointed her but I wouldn’t have been aware of that, no.

JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed that she won’t continue in that role this year?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, the Government’s made a decision. What I think is important is that if we’re going to have a discussion about people with a disability getting a fair go, you can either focus on comedians and their comments or we can focus appropriately on all the issues around promoting the rights, and empowering the lives of people with disabilities and their carers. Let’s be very clear. The Government’s has been the only serious political party who’s tried in its first term to promote issues of disability and we continue to do so in our second term. For us it’s about how to include people with disability. Discussions about Ms Deveny’s comments as a comedian or otherwise aren’t going to resolve the issues around disability.

JOURNALIST: Mr Wilkie, with the pre-commitment scheme ruling out biometric data, will it make it any less effective?

ANDREW WILKIE: Um, no. This is obviously a decision we made very carefully. We are satisfied at this stage that there are card technologies out there that do have sufficient integrity to enable an effective pre-commitment system. Remember, you know, the banks use them for bank accounts. We now find smart chips in passports. They are increasing, that sort of technology is increasingly being used in all sorts of ways where you need the highest level of integrity. So I don’t think there is any doubt at all now, and I know there’s no doubt at all, that you know, a well designed system with an effective type of card, probably a smart card I’m speculating at this stage, rather than one with a magnetic strip. It will have both the storage capacity and the integrity that you know it will be effective for our purposes. Of course, any system you know is vulnerable to the most clever people rorting it, and whatever we were to roll out there would probably be someone somewhere who would rort it. But I am satisfied that these sorts of technologies, that even the banks use, they will provide the level of integrity that we need for the job.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin, the new Gambling Minister in Victoria seems pretty rigidly opposed to mandatory pre-commitment. Given the legal advice you had recently, how prepared are you to enforce your preferred model?

JENNY MACKLIN: My preferred approach is to get an agreement with the States and Territories and of course, it was the case before the Victorian election, that the Victorian Liberals said that they too were very concerned about problem gambling and so I intend to keep working very closely with them. They like me are concerned about the very significant number of people, Victorians included, who do have a problem with gambling. We want to address that problem. That is what this is about and I intend to work with my State and Territory colleagues to get an agreement.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask with the casual gambler, how would they sort of work with a smart card sort of. If I go down to the Kingston hotel and play the pokies, today I don’t need a card now, I don’t need to be a member or anything like that I can just go in and start putting my dollars in the slot. How would they sort of be looked after those sorts of people?

JENNY MACKLIN: All of these are practical issues that we’re having to work through, the issue of the nature of the card, the issue of rural venues, the ATM issue, the cost of play displays, the casual player. All of these are matters that are on our agenda and we’ll pursue them carefully.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you highlighted privacy as a reason for ruling out fingerprint technology. Does a card system not raise some serious privacy issues as well?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think every single person who’s standing here today has an ATM card in their purse or wallet and we understand that there’s a lot of privacy protection built into the use of those cards. We understand how important it is so that people’s privacy is protected and that will be an important part of the design.