I rise to also make a contribution to the debate on the Gambling Legislation Amendment (Problem Gambling and Other Measures) Bill 2007. I do not wish to spend much time on the bill due to the lack of controversy about it and the positions already put forward by other parties, but in my opening statement I believe one needs to see this as an overall package that will amend two major acts. It integrates a number of areas in relation to gambling. It integrates consumer protection and has preventive measures and early intervention and treatment of gambling-related harm. It also deals with the racing industry where interstate and overseas wagering services are involved. Mr Drum in particular went through those provisions in some detail. Essentially it means that those companies that have been operating interstate and overseas will now have to contribute to the businesses in our industry in Victoria. It will also enhance the government’s ability to ensure that clubs make an appropriate contribution to direct community benefits. This is one of the areas that I do think needs to be applauded.
There has been talk about some practical measures involved in the amendments — for example, I refer to the automatic teller machines (ATMs) being 50 metres away from the area of gambling, the withdrawal limitation of up to $400 in a 24-hour period, and also the cashing of one cheque over a 24-hour period. All of that needs to be seen as a substantive improvement. It is about harm minimisation because it means that those who want to behave in an antisocial way — that is, partake in problem gambling — have to make a conscious decision to leave the machine.
They have to get off their backsides, leave their seat and go further than 50 metres. In fact they properly have to go some considerable distance from the gaming machine to get further money to partake in more gambling. I think we should applaud that practical measure of making it more difficult for people who have gambling problems to access cash on a ready basis.
I also believe it is important that we acknowledge that one of the other major changes is that the bill makes it mandatory to have a code of conduct. I suppose it is unfortunate that this is the way that things have to go, but obviously people have considered a number of issues with respect to this and have seen it as being important to put the onus on the industry to have a mandatory code. The same goes with the self-exclusion program. That also now needs to be essentially mandatory and will need to be approved.
If people think that problem gambling is not being dealt with, I think those three areas alone give a clear indication that it is being taken seriously by the government. I also welcome the moves to prevent the location of gaming machines in outdoor areas, as has been the case in some other states. I oppose the location of electronic gaming machines outside for a number of reasons, but, of course, it also undermines the smoking ban provisions that were introduced recently. It is similar to the situation of restricting access to cash. Why should we endorse a situation where ATMs are out with smokers, which encourages both of those activities to occur at the same time?
The other area that needs to be highlighted is that the instrument now allows the minister to determine more clearly what is considered to be a community benefit. It will restrict what is considered by some operators to be suitable as a definition for a community benefit and indeed restricting claimable activities to those that do provide a genuine benefit back to the community.
In response to those who say that this government is not serious about problem gambling, I would draw their attention — and this is just one example — to the Taking Action on Problem Gambling — A Strategy for Combating Problem Gambling in Victoria report of October 2006. On page 29 of the report the fourth dot point says:
- Victoria has the lowest density of gaming machines of any state or territory in Australia, apart from Western Australia which has no EGMs —
that is, electronic gaming machines —
- outside the casino.
I do not raise that issue in terms of wanting to support the gaming industry per se, but I think it is a salient fact that needs to be made at this point in time.
The other thing that needs to be drawn to people’s attention is that there has been a ministerial advisory council responsible for dealing with responsible gambling. It is important to state for the record that its first meeting was on 18 January 2005. It has 18 members from diverse backgrounds, including the gambling industry and community advocacy groups. The council and its working groups met 75 times between January 2005 and, one would assume, October 2006.
However, they have not been meeting for the sake of meeting; they have entered into a whole range of discussions amongst themselves about issues including recommendations for gaming-venue staff training, advancement of an industry code of conduct, supporting the establishment of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, contributing to a review of gaming machine player information materials, developing principles to help improve self-exclusion programs and developing a new Victorian gambling research agenda. I just offer those points as a reminder that this government is serious about problem gambling.
There are indeed a number of community organisations and social justice groups around Melbourne and right through regional Victoria that have an ongoing concern about problem gambling, because they see what happens to people who are addicted to gambling and the consequences of that on their families and their financial situations, which can include, in many cases, the loss of their jobs and houses. They see the downward spiralling effect that it has on the immediate family and also on the general community. However, because this government listens, it is ensuring that those views and those organisations are taken into account and represented in the formulation of policies and programs for implementation to deal with problem gambling.
I believe that the amendments contained in this bill will allow the government to respond more effectively to the challenges associated with problem gambling in this state. Therefore I commend this bill to the house.