Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Ministerial Council on Gambling


JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everybody for being here today. We’ve just had a very successful meeting of the Ministerial Council on Gambling. The first such meeting for almost two years, and what we’ve had today is a demonstration of a cooperative federalism, of the States, Territories and the Commonwealth coming together and being prepared to work together to address what we know is a very significant issue that does require our cooperative effort if we are to address it.

We have today heard from each of the States and Territories about the successful work that’s already underway in each of their jurisdictions to address problem gambling. But each and every one of us understands that there’s more to be done. We do understand that problem gambling hurts individuals, it hurts families and it hurts communities, and that’s why together we recognise that we need to continue working to make sure that people have the services and the support that they need to address what can have very very significant impacts on individuals and families.

We have agreed today to take a national approach. We do understand that there are significant differences across the country but nevertheless we also recognise that we can make a difference by working together.

There’s been significant investment made by the States and Territories to address problem gambling over the last five years, in fact an amount of about $200 million has been spent to really address the issues of responsible gambling and harm minimisation and this includes items like telephone counselling, face to face counselling, campaigning, a range of very very different intervention services that are having an effect.

We’re very pleased today to be able to announce that we will create a single national website for the online treatment of problem gamblers. This service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will provide counselling for people who have problems with gambling.

We certainly expect that this new online service will be very positive in providing the sort of counselling that people need. It will be delivered at a cost of $1.5 million and all governments have agreed to make a contribution to this cost. It will be up and running fairly shortly.

We’re also very pleased to announce today that we’ve agreed to a single 1800 gambling helpline which will also enable people to seek help immediately with a counsellor in each of the different states and territories. The new number is 1800 858 858, and people can ring that number; they’ll be able to speak to a counsellor and get some support for the problems that they may have.

Most importantly today we’re looking forward. We’ve recognised that of course there is more to be done, and ministers have agreed to work in three particular areas together. First of all helping individuals to set their limits, we understand how important it is, particularly for problem gamblers to set a limit before they commence gambling. And this work will include looking at different ways in which access to cash and pre-commitment technologies may be able to help.

Secondly, looking at responsible gambling environments through staff training, problem gambler identification, a number of the states and territories already have some very positive experience in this area. What we’ve asked and agreed is that more work be done in this very important field so that we can take this issue forward.

The third area is gaming machine standards and what we’ve agreed is that we will develop mechanisms for better consumer protection through the gaming machine standards area. All of these issues will be brought back to a meeting of this ministerial council in February. We understand just how important it is to keep this issue moving. We haven’t seen nearly enough action at a national level in this area for the last two years. I’m very pleased to say that ministers today have agreed to come back within six months in each of these three areas so that we can agree on further action.

All of this work will take place alongside the Productivity Commission update which the Council of Australian Governments recently agreed to. The terms of reference have been agreed by the Council of Australian Governments, and States and territories represented here today have all indicated their willingness to not only provide submissions to the Productivity Commission update but to also make sure that the Productivity Commission has access to the data and information and research that each of the jurisdictions has available to it.

It has been a very successful meeting today and if I can once again thank my colleagues for their very positive contribution and for us to be able to come to these specific outcomes today is a testament of their commitment to deal with a very serious issue facing our community, that being problem gambling.

Thank you. Over to you.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

JENNY MACKLIN: Maybe if I could turn to the Victorians to answer that. The Victorian Minister has been very actively involved in establishing this work and I’m sure he’ll give you some more detail.

TONY ROBINSON: Thanks, Jenny. Websites and national numbers are an important first step. There’s no instant cure with someone who recognises that they’ve got a problem, what you’ve got to do is hook them into the appropriate counselling and support services, and getting them to make that first call is the really important task here. And the work of the Ministerial Council in launching both the 1800 number and committing to the online counselling project will enable that first step to be made much more easily by people right across the country.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

TONY ROBINSON: It’s an introduction into the appropriate – yeah. This is the first step they’ll take and it will hook them into the right services. They’ll get direction and contacts and be put in touch with the people who can help them and give them the actual face to face counselling if they require it.

JENNY MACKLIN: I might just get the New South Wales Minister to talk about a specific initiative in this regard that they’ve got up and running in the last few weeks.

GRAHAM WEST: We’ve kicked off a program called the Gambling Hangover program and one of the identifying features of a gambling hangover, the feelings of anxiety and guilt, low self esteem, a bit of depression afterwards, the morning after, particularly young people who are our largest group of problem gamblers. And online counselling is an important part of that because they’re not accessing traditional counselling services. So a new national approach giving online counselling services means they’ve got somewhere they can go, it means they’ll start to get help, and hopefully they’ll transition into other counselling services. And we know that counselling services work. If you start getting assistance you feel better able to manage your gambling.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

JENNY MACKLIN: It varies across Australia, and the useful thing now is we’ll be able to put some extra effort into making sure that this national number is well known, and that people can, we hope, get easier access to immediate help.

TONY ROBINSON: I think the real benefit is that…

Sorry. The real benefit is that it enables national campaigns about problem gambling. So at the moment there’s different numbers in different states, but if there is a common number then that means a campaign can be rolled out across the nation, and the enhancement that we can make to the website service provision is online counselling, and that is live-time counselling with counsellors on the other end of a keyboard for people who want to access those services without the confrontation of talking to someone in person or in fact offline out of a chatroom environment into personal email interaction answering questions back and forth. It helps guide some people into reaching out for services that they might not feel comfortable reaching out for in a face to face or a voice to voice contact scenario.

QUESTION: Will this replace the existing [Indistinct]

TONY ROBINSON: what the national number does is take a call from somewhere in Australia and route you back to the locally-based services to hook you into locally provided services. But the trick is it means obviously that national campaigns about prompting people to seek assistance in the first place are enabled because those calls go straight back to locally based services.

QUESTION: You talked about access to cash as being one of the areas, the three areas [indistinct]. Is – would you like to see over time a national ban on ATMs in gaming venues?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think one of the important things is that we have agreed to look at this critical area of access to cash.

There are a range of different ways that different States and Territories are already addressing this issue. And what’s important is that within six months we’ll come back with what I think will be a smorgasbord of different initiatives to address this issue.

QUESTION: But is that something that you would be moving to…

JENNY MACKLIN: Let’s wait and get the work done. There hasn’t been any form of cooperative effort in this space for the last two years. What we’ve agreed to do is work in this area together. We intend to do that. And, I think you will find that there’s a number of initiatives that we’ll come back with.

QUESTION: The areas that you mentioned working on – [indistinct] set their limits, responsible family [indistinct] – these are all things that have been done before. There is nothing new in any of these approaches.

The anti-gambling services say that the way to tackle this problem is to reduce the numbers of machines in [indistinct] areas, and also wouldn’t it be better to restrict the profits that are being made off these machines if you really want to tackle the problem?

JENNY MACKLIN: What I might do is ask a couple of the different jurisdictions to indicate what they are in fact doing in that regard, because, one of the very useful outcomes of today’s meeting was a sharing of information about the issues that you’ve just raised.

What I’ve found very helpful is that each of the jurisdictions are in fact acting in all of those areas. What we’ve agreed to do here is work in areas where there is a demonstration that they do actually make a difference.

And certainly in the consultations that I’ve been involved with over the last few months in the lead-up to this meeting, we, we have plenty of evidence that those who understand the issue of problem gambling know that it is important to work with people, to help them set limits, that it is important to make sure that the gambling environments actually are there to assist those who may be problem gamblers.

So, I actually think these three areas will make a difference. There’s evidence in some of the States and Territories that there are effective measures where these, where these issues are being addressed, and I think we will get some new proposals forward so that we can act together.

But, some of the jurisdictions might like to indicate where they are in fact addressing the exact point that you raise.

TONY ROBINSON: Thanks, Jenny. Well in Victoria’s case in respect of the profits of the industry, you’d be aware that recently we made a major industry restructuring announcement, and the industry in Victoria has traditionally worked on the basis that the proceeds are shared between venues, the gaming operators – the two big companies – and the government.

The effect of our changes will be that the benefits will be shared between the government, and largely redirected back into the health services, as they have been traditionally, and the venues – the pubs and the clubs.

It’s a fairly profound step, but we think that’s in keeping with what the community’s expectations in this State are.

QUESTION: Has it restricted their profits?

TONY ROBINSON: Well, the gaming companies won’t be making profits out of gaming machines after 2012; after the licence period. They won’t be running machines.

QUESTION: [Indistinct].

TONY ROBINSON: Well, if it’s a community-based club, those not-for-profit entities, the profit stays in those communities. That’s the effect of the change, in a much bigger way than has been in the past.

With respect to caps, or numbers, we have a system in Victoria where we do have caps, and we implemented the second phase of that across a number of targeted municipalities late last year. That has contributed to a, a peaking if you like of gaming turnover, which in real terms – statistics just out yesterday I think – show that that has declined actually now in real terms over the last 12 months.

We think that’s an appropriate fit for our jurisdiction. And the advantage of having the Commonwealth engaged again in this forum is that we have the advantage or the ability now to share the results of those policy changes with other jurisdictions. That’s something that’s been sadly lacking in the last two years.

QUESTION: How do you explain areas like Braybrook, who are now the most socially disadvantaged in the State, and have the highest, one of the highest if not the highest concentration of gaming machines?

TONY ROBINSON: Well we say, the effect of the caps that apply in Maribyrnong and out in the western suburbs, is that it’s keeping a lot more machines out of the area. That the difference between having a cap and not having a cap is several hundred machines.

So we think that’s…

QUESTION: Still got the highest concentration.

TONY ROBINSON: Well we, we have a concentration in Victoria. We said we’ll have a density of no more than 10 by 2010 – 10 per thousand adults. We think that’s an appropriate maximum figure. Of course we’re not expanding the number of machines, so, over time the density figures in Victoria will fall.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be better just to first of all reduce the number, but away from that – sorry is there anybody from WA at all, any [indistinct] from WA?

LJILJANNA RAVLICH: Well I think it’s fair to say, we have a very clear policy, and the policy is that we have only one casino. We have 1,750 electronic gaming machines.

There had been a proposal put forward only a week or so ago, that perhaps we should give due consideration to a second casino. We clearly knocked that on the head. And, certainly, even with the current policy that we have, we also have problem gambling.

And so it is really great to be a part of a national approach to this issue of problem gambling. And we welcome the opportunity to work so closely with the Commonwealth and the other States and Territories in respect to this matter, because we can always do more in this area. And that’s exactly what, what we worked at at this particular conference.

QUESTION: Ms Macklin, do you share the Prime Minister’s dislike of poker machines?

JENNY MACKLIN: What I share with the Prime Minister is a dislike of problem gambling. What we understand is that problem gambling hurts families, problem gambling hurts individuals. And that’s why we’ve come together as a group of ministers today, committed to work together to address problem gambling.

It is an issue that really does require national cooperation, and it’s national cooperation that we’ve agreed to deliver today.

QUESTION: What’s your view on poker machines and their prevalence, and the States’ reliance on them?

JENNY MACKLIN: Today we’ve agreed to work hard on addressing problem gambling. That’s what we’re here to do. What we have clearly demonstrated is that we’re prepared to set in place new initiatives. We’ve just announced a new 1800 national helpline, a new website, all of which is aimed at helping people deal with problem gambling.

That’s why we’re here, because we do understand just how damaging problem gambling can be to families lives.

QUESTION: Minister, would you mind just briefly introducing the other…


QUESTION: …which minister is which.


QUESTION: Would you mind [indistinct]. Which ministers are missing [indistinct] today, but…

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes. You can count [laughs]. I might just allow people to introduce themselves.

But I’ll just mention why the others aren’t here. The Northern Territory is in the middle of an election, so that’s why they’re not here. And, the South Australian’s just had a reshuffle, so that’s why they’re not here.

So I’ll let the others introduce themselves.

MICHAEL AIRD: I’m Michael Aird from Tasmania.

ANDREW FRASER: I’m Andrew Fraser from Queensland; and the Treasurer also.

TONY ROBINSON: Tony Robinson, Victoria.

GRAHAM WEST: Graham West, New South Wales.

LJILJANNA RAVLICH: Ljiljanna Ravlich, Western Australia.

JENNY MACKLIN: Okay. And I think Andrew wants to make some separate comments; nothing to do with this meeting, about the issues in Queensland.

So I’ll leave you to it. Thank you.