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Estimates Reply – Minister Ferguson

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Tags: Federal Group, Pokies, Gambling Industry

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - There were far too many topics covered in minister Ferguson's Estimates for me to cover them all but I did want to particularly talk about the Gaming Control Act amendments which are currently being consulted with the community. I use that term quite loosely because, as we discovered in Estimates, when they talk about, for example, consulting on what the distribution of the Community Support Levy will look like following the implementation of the amendments to the Gaming Control Act, we found out that, by design, the consultation on the CSL distribution is extremely narrow. So narrow that what we discovered in response, in fact, initially to a question from Ms Johnston, is that no more than a dozen entities or organisationst that have been consulted through the current CSL process and one of them happens to be the Tailrace Church, a community church in Mr Ferguson's electorate of Bass. There was an exchange across the table about why a single church was consulted in Mr Ferguson's electorate. He assured us at the table that it was not his church but it is a church that he goes to.

Mr Ferguson - No. You alleged it was my church.

Ms O'CONNOR - I asked you if it was and I want to know, for example, why wasn't the Hobart Baptist Church on that list?

Mr Ferguson - I am just surprised you are bringing this up.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why wasn't the C3 Church on that list? Why was one church in minister Ferguson's electorate consulted about the distribution of one of the most important pots of money for minimising the enormous human harm caused by gambling? We did not get a straight answer out of that but it has sure got a stink about it.

We went and had a look at the work that the Tailrace Centre Church does and we wondered if they must have made out of concern about this government's policy a representation to Mr Ferguson about the proposed new gambling arrangements following the expiry of the deed because one of the programs they run, which sounds like a great program, is about helping people out of debt. It is a way to be debt free run by the Tailrace Church.

I bet London to a brick the reason they were consulted is because they saw exactly what was coming with the Liberals' legislation, made a representation either to the Premier or to the minister, and, in order to soothe these concerned questions, minister Ferguson has said, 'That's fine, we'll consult on the distribution of the Community Support Levy.' I do not know how many other dozens or hundreds of churches in Tasmania might have liked to have a say, Chair, but, unfortunately, because they were not in Bass and did not go and make a representation to minister Ferguson, they did not get a say.

We went back and forth a bit at the table about this government's dishonesty over the tax rate for electronic gaming machines in casinos which was a matter that the Greens raised in the first few days of the recent state election campaign. Then the media picked it up and then ABC Mornings picked it up, and there were questions put to both the Premier and to minister Ferguson about, well, what is the casino pokies' tax rate that you have negotiated because, of course, as we know, Chair, it is a multi hundred million dollar question for the state of Tasmania and Tasmania's budget.

What did we get from both the Premier and his minister? We got dishonesty through the campaign. We got statements basically telling the people of Tasmania that this has all been sorted out in 2018; there is nothing to see here. Of course, now we know, because of Right to Information documents obtained by the member for Nelson, Meg Webb, that the Government wrote to the Farrell family Federal Group in December last year outlining the proposed tax rates including the tax rate that would be applied to EGMs in casinos. It was stitched up last December. Both the Premier and the minister knew, before they went to the election and did not tell the truth to the people of Tasmania, what the proposed tax rate would be. So, complete dishonesty.

Also, at the table, we asked for examples about why there were two new forms of gambling in the proposed Gaming Control Amendments, one where it is automated table playing so all those jobs that apparently were going to be lost to the industry are irrelevant to this one because this is about not having a person there while another person is losing their money, in order to monitor the wellbeing potentially, of that person who is gambling. None of that in the way any more. A whole new form of gambling that will be coming in, or was certainly in the consultation draft of the legislation and then another whole new form of gambling which is simulated horse racing.

Layer upon layer of deceit here with the people of Tasmania about the form of the changes to gambling after the deed expires and after this House presumably because we know Labor will back it in, and they will do so upstairs passes that legislation. The one thing that was so important that was never made clear to the people of Tasmania, is that this is 'eternity legislation'. This is not like the deed which was first of all stitched up by a Liberal premier and then stitched up by a Labor premier. This is not a deed that has an expiry date, this is eternity legislation.

Under the amendments to the Gaming Control Act, licenses will be given to venues for a period of 20 years but if a venue holder says after five or seven years 'I don't want to be in this business any more, I am sick of watching people suffering and dying', not that I am expecting that to be said to government, but they hand their license back in and then it is redistributed for another 20 years.

What we know about the new gambling arrangements as a result of the fact that the Federal Group helped the Liberals to win the 2018 state election, is that poker machines will be in pubs and clubs and casinos for as long as there are human beings on this island - unless one very brave and very cashed-up government, comes in and shakes it up again in order to save people from poverty, homelessness and family violence, and to save children from going hungry, being neglected and being abused. To save people from mental illness, from addiction and from despair.

The legislation that will come before this House in October we understand, will embed that harm across generations of Tasmanians. I am surprised only one church has raised this matter with Mr Ferguson, and good on them for doing that, because if the depth was understood in the community of the human cost of the new gaming control arrangements that will be in place, we would have protests out the front of Parliament and we would have preachers on Sunday, condemning the Liberal Government.

There is a lack of understanding in the community about the extent of the harm that will be caused by this legislation. This legislation is the quid pro quo for the 2018 state election. It is absolutely bad, as is that laughably cheap casino pokies tax rate of around 13 cents, which the department went and looked at a casino in Far North Queensland to make a comparison. Why we are comparing ourselves to Far North Queensland, a capital city here and Far North Queensland 3000 kilometres away, I don't know, but, yes, I do. The reason we did that is because the Federal Group proposed that we do. It was the Federal Group's idea that in order to set a new tax rate for EGMs in casinos, the Department of Treasury and Finance should go and have a look at a regional casino.

Just as the policy that will be embedded in the legislation that comes before this House in October was designed and promoted by the Federal Group and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, so was the casino EGM rate, basically stitched up or suggested by the Federal Group to this Government who of course, said 'yes'. They could not say no, Mr Deputy Chair. The reason they could not say no is because the Federal Group and the THA helped them win the 2018 state election.

I am completely unsurprised that through this campaign, what we had from the Premier and from his minister was nothing to see here, that was all decided in 2018, move on, let us tell you how terrific we are. The level of dishonesty in this portfolio on this issue is disgusting.