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Greens Matter of Public Importance - Gambling Harm

12 September 2019

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: gambling harm.

It is patently obvious to any observer of Tasmanian politics that in this place it is the Greens who raise the issues of the harm caused by poker machines in our community. I want to note for the Hansard that as we begin his matter of pubic importance debate in this House, members from the Liberal and Labor parties are fleeing the Chamber. As I rose to raise the issue of the harm caused by poker machines in pubs and clubs around Tasmania we saw members from both the major parties in this place evaporate out of the room. It is not surprising, of course, because as soon as you start talking about the human cost of the proliferation of gambling machines in our community, neither the Liberal Party nor the Labor Party want to talk about it or be held to account because they are complicit in the misery caused by poker machines in pubs and clubs across Tasmania.

These are the facts, even according to the Government's own social and economic impact study. The facts are that the human cost of poker machines in pubs and clubs in Tasmania is extraordinarily, unforgivably high. The Productivity Commission has also highlighted the harms that arise from problem and at-risk gambling, and they include suicide - and I note today is R U OK? Day - depression, anxiety, relationship breakdown, lowered work productivity, job loss, bankruptcy and crime. We will add to that list child abuse and neglect. There was once an outstanding data set called Kids Come First, which overlayed the location of poker machines in pubs and clubs in Tasmania with incidents of reported child abuse and neglect and they were like a mirror image of each other, so poker machines in our communities also harm children, who are unarguably the most vulnerable people in our society.

We have a situation in this place where there is legislation coming into parliament early next year that is intended to entrench the harm in our communities until 2043, moving away from the monopoly deed to an individual licensing model which will deliver a windfall gain to venues of around $250 million, and worse, will ensure the misery caused by poker machines in Tasmania continues until 2043. The Liberal policy, which is now apparently supported by the Labor Party, will lead to suicide, child abuse and neglect, poverty, homelessness, addiction, family violence and breakdown. That will be the social consequence of the changes to the monopoly deed which will come into this parliament early next year.

All the talk we get about harm minimisation cannot take away from the fact that the business model of these venues and these machines is based on addition and that these machines that we have in our venues in Tasmania are the most addictive anywhere in the world. It is Liberal government policy to entrench the most addictive machines in the world in our most socially and economically disadvantaged areas and cause human misery which we cannot even really begin to foresee from here.

As for harm minimisation like the gambling exclusion scheme, on our research there are currently about 392 exclusions under the scheme, 295 of which are self-exclusions rather than specific venue exclusions. Tasmania has a population of around 520 000 people and a moderate risk and problem gambling rate of around 2.4 per cent. According to the SACES social and economic impact study and to Professor Charles Livingstone in his paper, this equates to 12 500 at-risk people, which means that just over 2 per cent of moderate risk and problem gamblers are excluded from gambling at all venues, which makes a complete lie of the Treasurer's claim that the harm caused by poker machines in our communities is diminishing. The concentration of harm has remained static.

There is a range of people out there who do not have the money to be pouring into these machines, but because there is a poker machine venue on the corner in their town, they are going there. I have had family members do this; on pension day you go down to the club, desperate, depressed and anxious and put every cent you have into a machine in the hope that you will hit the jackpot today. As we know, the house always wins; that is how these machines are designed.

It was, once upon a time, Liberal Party policy to have a $1 bet limit in place, which would have substantially reduced the social and economic harm caused by poker machines.

Dr Woodruff - They were the days.

Ms O'CONNOR - They were the days, Dr Woodruff, when the Liberal Party apparently stood for something other than the making of money.

In between 2010 and 2014 when we brought on a debate to introduce a $1 bet limit in Tasmania, neither the Liberal nor the Labor parties supported that reform. That would have saved lives. I do not know how often Mr Gutwein gets out into the community and talks to people who are harmed by poker machines. You cannot stand there and listen to a man quivering and in tears, desperate, not knowing what he is going to do, because he has gambled the house away, and come back into this place and tell yourself that you are doing a good job on public policy.

We know the social harm that will be the consequence of the changes to the monopoly deed will be profound. There is no justification from a public policy point of view for allowing that harm knowingly to continue in our community. We have had no transparency from the Treasurer about what sweet deals are being negotiated with the Federal Group but we are certain it will be sweet deal indeed, payback for the last state election.