Gambling Regulation Amendment (Gaming Machine Arrangements) Bill 2017
I rise to make a contribution on this bill and in doing so I say that I oppose the legislation and many aspects of it.
It is a detailed bill which amends the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 and other legislation.
It makes a whole range of provisions in relation to gaming machine entitlements, responsible gambling, codes of conduct, self-exclusion programs, standard conditions, agreements, cashless gaming and forms of money and credit, and has references to many other things.
It is a bill that covers many issues, but the point of view that I would like to speak from is perhaps a bit more local. During the course of my short term in Parliament I have spoken with representatives of clubs in my area, and there is no doubt that the income from gaming machines is something they rely on. It is a reliance that has of course developed over time. Those clubs do provide a whole social strata in our community. They donate some of their earnings to sporting clubs and for other purposes. They employ local people. There are a whole lot of good things that can be said. But I cannot just ignore the fact that there are a whole lot of other bad things that go with it. In that regard I would like to point out that in the City of Greater Shepparton alone the maximum number of poker machines allowed is 329 across eight venues. That is nearly seven machines for every 1000 adults. From a population of nearly 64 000, more than $31 million was lost to pokies in the last year, which is an average of more than $85 000 every day in a small regional community.
In 2012 Greater Shepparton City Council refused an application by Peppermill Inn to house 20 gaming machines. The request would not have seen more poker machines in the region, but it was allowing them to be relocated to a new part of town. It meant an extra venue would also have poker machines. Council voted against the application on social and economic grounds, citing a report into the impacts that they had commissioned especially to look into this issue. But that was not the end of the matter, as those familiar with pubs and clubs across the state will know. The hotel's owners appealed the council's decision at VCAT, where it was overturned, so of course the poker machines went ahead. VCAT did so based on their own social and economic impact assessment, which found that the introduction of 20 poker machines at that particular venue would have no detrimental social impact on the community. Their ruling, however, included a number of points that should be of community concern — not the least of them being the expectation that spending on pokies within the municipality would increase by nearly $320 000. That is a figure that VCAT called minor, but it is not minor. For communities on the edge of Shepparton, where those gaming machines went, nearly $320 000 is a really significant figure.
VCAT also noted that while machines would be moved to a community on the edge of Shepparton, they were going to be located in an area of higher advantage rather than more disadvantage, but the reality is that in a community like Shepparton people travel around a small area and those poker machines are well used. It is a terrific hotel that has always been well known. It has a terrific playground; families enjoy going there. But now it is also a pokies venue.
The data says that even when local councils object to gaming applications VCAT approves about 80 per cent of them. So local communities are not being heard on these issues, and I think that is a real problem. It is local communities, and often local government, that do know best when it comes to understanding the demographics and the issues within their local communities. Research also suggests that people from Indigenous backgrounds are significantly more likely to become problem gamblers than non-Indigenous Victorians. Given that Shepparton has the largest population per capita of Indigenous people in Victoria outside of Melbourne, I see this as a problem for our community and it hits closer to home. It is vital that communities have more say on this issue and that decisions on the welfare of our families and friends are not determined by an equation looked at by a group of people in a capital city a long way from our own towns.
It is also vital that women have more of a say. The number of male to female pokies gamblers in Victoria is essentially equal, yet when it comes to the boards of companies and organisations that own or operate pokies venues there is extremely low representation of women. Can I say that I was on the board of RACV for 11 years and during that time we purchased the Torquay golf club for a major redevelopment. There were poker machines in that club and, by virtue of there being women on the board, that issue was raised and when the licences expired the board were prepared to take a decision not to renew them. RACV took a decision across the board not to have poker machines in any of its venues. I think for an organisation that says it is there for its members that that was a really outstanding decision for them to make, but it does beg the question of why so many of the boards and organisations that deal with gambling have such low representation of women on them.
I think it is fair to say that women do bring a very different perspective to these sorts of issues. I have been a member of Women on Boards for years and also a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Of course there has been a big push for a long time to have more female representation on many of these boards, and I believe that in this particular case it would absolutely bring a different perspective and a better understanding of the impacts that are being felt across our communities as a result of poker machines.
I was pleased to be on the steps of Parliament this morning when the women against pokies demonstration was being held. We heard from many women about the experiences they have had personally and the impacts that that has had on their lives over a period of time. I can say that as a family lawyer of 30 years I spent a lot of time trawling through bank statements trying to prove that someone had spent the family income on gambling. It was not hard to do because you just had to look at bank statements that showed withdrawal after withdrawal — many on the same day — day after day by people in these venues pulling out money which they could not afford and which might have been their week's wages. I have been into a local hotel in Shepparton at 10 o'clock in the morning to see four or five women of varying ages lined up at poker machines. They would be problem gamblers, being there at that time of the day.
It is just a tragedy that we are in Parliament today talking around the issues. We can talk about the taxation implications and we can talk about so many other aspects of this bill rather than face the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room is the impact that gambling is having across our communities. For every problem gambler — and they say that there are about 120 000 of them in Victoria — at least seven to 10 other people are affected by it. That translates to about one-third of the Victorian population.
I grew up in a border town in New South Wales, and in those days people would travel across the river in buses and come to all the local golf clubs and bowling clubs. It was a great source of income for New South Wales communities, and yes, the New South Wales Treasury picked up on that, but that meant that in Victoria at that time we did not have people addicted to pokies. I am very sorry to say that it is our governments that have become addicted to poker machines. It is the businesses that run these venues and the big businesses that are demanding these changes in the law — they are the ones who are addicted to poker machines.
There are many aspects of this bill that I think need to be altered. In relation to the $500 EFTPOS limit, that could very easily be $200 and would be a much better outcome for people. The limits on poker machine betting should be $1, as recommended by the Productivity Commission. It is currently $5 statewide and $10 at Crown Casino. We could reduce operating hours so that we do not walk into a place at all hours of the day and night, including early in the morning, and find those people who we know have to be the problem gamblers in there. There is much that could be done. We do not need to have the cashless gambling that already exists at Crown happening more broadly across the state.
These are really important issues for our community. I think it is a great pity that we are moving into a situation where we are just giving in more and more to the gambling lobby. I think we need to be seriously taking the time with this bill to look at it more closely. I hope that I see amendments in the upper house that will achieve that because I know there are those there who agree with many of the matters that I have put forward and who also oppose this legislation.