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Finance - Gambling Reforms

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tags: Gambling Industry, Pokies, State Budget, Federal Group

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I want to talk about what the rational person would regard as your deceptive behaviour in relation to a tax rate negotiated with the Federal Group.

On 9 December last year, the Premier wrote to the Federal Group and said 'the tax rates and licence fees that the Government intends to apply from 1 July 2023 are as follows - ', and there's a table there with the proposed tax rates that the Government intended to apply. That was Government policy, decided in December last year. Then in a statement you made recently in response to, Meg Webb MLC's right to information, you said:

The fact that the Federal Group were provided early indications with what modelling should suggest does not take away from the fact that the Government did not make any decision until after the election.

That's not true, is it, minister? The decision was clearly made in December. You wrote to Federal Group, they were aware of the proposed tax rates. Why were you not honest with the Tasmanian people?

Mr FERGUSON - We are honest, Ms O'Connor, and thank you for the question and your interest in the matter, which I note is, at least, consistent. At least you are holding to a consistent position on the future gaming market.

With the Treasurer and the Premier working with me in relation to discussion with the Federal Group - they are, of course, a major stakeholder in the matter -

Ms O'CONNOR - A major donor, that's what they are - your major donor.

Mr FERGUSON - Federal are not very happy with the decision we had taken. Far from being a negotiated outcome, it was, in fact, a position that was landed, and I appreciate your use of the word 'intentions'. Federal have responded further and indicated that they accept the Government's position on that. No final decision had been taken until the new Cabinet had been sworn in.

Further to that, the bill package that contains those tax rates was not considered by Cabinet until after the election. It is a simple matter of fact, Ms O'Connor, and I hope you realise this, that when that bill went out for public consultation, we intend that to be genuine. Already there has been at least one, possibly two areas, that people have responded to us through that process which we feel we will be making some minor changes to the legislation -

Ms O'CONNOR - Have you cleared them with Federal Group?

Mr FERGUSON - before we take that to the parliament. I haven't discussed that with the Federal Group, no.

Ms O'CONNOR - Back to the original question, which I don't think you have answered.

In December last year a decision had clearly been made on what tax rates would apply under what is your Government's future gaming market policy which, let's face it, is the policy that the Federal Group and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association designed for you.

A decision was made in December last year. All through the state election campaign, both you and the Premier and Treasurer refused to tell Tasmanians what the casino pokies tax rate was. A matter of significant public interest. And if you go back through your answers to the questions from journalists, it is the art of evasion. There was a deliberate attempt not to be honest to the people of Tasmania about these tax rates, wasn't there?

Mr FERGUSON - We have been very clear. The other thing the Premier has been very clear about is that this debate was won and lost in the 2018 election campaign. Until Cabinet approves the draft legislation for consultation, it is not sanctioned in that way and that is the way that Cabinet works. Further to that I think that I would ask you to accept that it is not even final legislation until Cabinet endorses it as such.

There is a further step that none of us should forget and that is that parliament will decide what the final legislation will look like.

Ms O'CONNOR - We know the parliament is stitched up by the Tasmanian Hospitality Association because they've got both your party and the Labor Party in their pockets.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, the casino pokies' tax rate which neither you nor the Premier were honest with the people of Tasmania about during the election campaign, was floated against the benchmark of a casino in far North Queensland, apparently. Can you confirm that using this benchmark as a means to justify a low casino pokies' tax rate was first floated by Federal Hotels in 2016 and again, jointly with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association in 2017?

While your Government has modelled its gaming market policy on exactly what the Federal Group and the THA wanted, it has also gone out and justified an obscenely low casino pokies' tax rate on the basis of what the Federal Group wanted. Isn't that true?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, thank you for your question. As I say, your interest in the matter which I know is consistent. I cannot confirm that because I do not have that information and I do not know the answer to that question. It sounds like a speculative question to me.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I am telling you that the Federal Group and the THA -

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr FERGUSON - It may be -

Ms O'CONNOR - said go to far North Queensland if you want a rationale for a low casino pokies' tax rate.

Mr FERGUSON - It may be that different stakeholders have suggested various this or that jurisdiction to compare to.

Ms O'CONNOR - You're obfuscating.

Mr FERGUSON - I am not. Ms O'Connor, if you just allow me to answer the question you have posed. What we have done is we have actually produced draft legislation that delivers on the commitments we made in the 2018 election, which was a pretty fierce contest between two points of view on the matter.

Ms O'CONNOR - Aided and abetted by millions from the gambling industry.

Mr FERGUSON - It would surprise me if Federal Group was proposing that. It's resulted in a loss of revenue, well, it's had a net effect of between $20- and $24.6 million on their bottom line each year.

Ms O'CONNOR - My heart bleeds for them. I'm sure yours does, too.

Mr FERGUSON - The Federal Group is not very happy about that and one can understand but the taxpayer is a winner, the Community Support Levy is a winner and regional

Ms O'CONNOR - What a lie, that is not true.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is just not true to say the taxpayers and the community are winners.

CHAIR - Could you please withdraw the word 'lie'?

Ms O'CONNOR - I withdraw the word 'lie'. The minister is not being honest.

Mr FERGUSON - Chair, Ms O'Connor can ask the question and I would like to answer it and not have to face those sorts of insults. The taxpayer and the Community Support Levy are winning at about eight-and-a-half million dollars per year. Venues are ahead by $17 million per year, faithful to our commitment at 2018. The greater revenue share needs to be taken by local venues and the state government and less for Federal Group as a result of breaking the monopoly.

Federal Group take a haircut of between $20- and $24.6 million, depending on how you look at the numbers. It's a significant reduction in takings for Federal and that is the policy being delivered. You cannot cherry pick once you've settled on a like jurisdiction that is most like our state in regional Queensland, then start to say you like this rate but not that one. In net terms, Federal Group are down by a big amount. The state and the Community Support Levy stand to benefit by eight-and-a-half million dollars and venues are ahead. You can make any claims you wish about who proposed what jurisdictions but this is the policy and we have been very clear in articulating how we have settled that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I ask you how your Government's policy is in any way different from the policy that was proposed by the Federal Group and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association in 2017?

Mr FERGUSON - We took this policy to the 2018 election -

Ms O'CONNOR - How is your policy any different from what the Federal Group wanted?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, you have failed to mention the Legislative Council inquiry as well, which also featured in the policy development here. I think it was chaired by Mr Gaffney at the time. The people of Tasmania had their say on this -

Ms O'CONNOR - That is not the question.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor. We are not doing this all day, Ms O'Connor. Please, ask the question and allow the minister to answer without interjection. The Greens received double the questions they were entitled to in this room yesterday. Please allow the minister to answer without interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I ask for your guidance on what I am supposed to do when he is not answering the question or being entirely truthful?

CHAIR - Unfortunately, as you well know, you can ask the question. I cannot direct the minister on how to answer the question. He is entitled to answer it as he sees fit.

Mr FERGUSON - I have been more expansive than I can be expected to be. I was asked to confirm something and I have indicated that I don't know that information or that claim, so I am not in a position to confirm it. That is the answer to the question as I understand it.

Ms O'CONNOR - I asked you, what is the difference between your policy and the Federal Group's preferred model?

Mr FERGUSON - I can tell you, Ms O'Connor, if you would take the time to speak to Federal Group you will find that what the Government has settled here is not Federal Group's preferred model.

Ms O'CONNOR - I would rather spend a week in the Sahara.

Mr FERGUSON - I have extra information for Mr Winter, which Mr Root can provide.

Mr ROOT - I have the numbers on the exclusion scheme. In terms of numbers of people who have been found in venues, we would have to take that on notice. As at 31 May 2021, the total excluded persons number was 389. As at the same time in 2020, it was 397, so it has come down very slowly.

Mr WINTER - Has that been fairly stable over time?

Mr ROOT - It has been fairly stable, the previous year was 409, the year before that it was 389. That is as far back as I have those figures.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we have established that the Government was not truthful with the people of Tasmania about the tax rates for casinos and pokies.

Mr FERGUSON - Untrue.

Ms O'CONNOR - It was not truthful. We have established that no detail on tax rates or harm minimisation was contained in the policy that you took the 2018 campaign. You said earlier in relation to Ms Johnston's question about the CSL Consultation that it's important that we get good outcomes.

Can you confirm that this model will allow for poker machines in Tasmania in perpetuity through the licensing arrangement that you've set up? It, effectively, perpetually rolls over 20 year licences. If, for example, a venue hands back a licence after five years it goes out again for another 20 years. Did you tell the people of Tasmania that your policy will ensure poker machines in pubs and clubs and casinos forever?

Mr FERGUSON - We had draft legislation released and shared with the Tasmanian community very transparently. You have access to it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Since when, sorry?

Mr FERGUSON - I think it was in June or July that it was released.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's right, after both elections.

Mr FERGUSON - The Tasmanian Parliament will be asked to look at that legislation. We have committed to bringing it forward this year. The parliament can consider that legislation and in a quite proper fashion.

Ms O'CONNOR - I want to ask you about harm minimisation which, as we know, is not contained in the draft legislation and is consigned to regulation at some point in the future through a very narrow CSL consultation.

Minister, could you please listen to me when I'm asking this question?

Mr FERGUSON - It is my job to listen your question. It is not your job to tell me what to do.

Ms O'CONNOR - You weren't listening to my question.

Mr FERGUSON - I can listen to two people at once.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's very talented of you.

Can you please acknowledge that your Future Gaming Markets policy will cause intergenerational harm for decades and decades with no end date because your licensing arrangements will ensure there are pokies in Tasmania for ever?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, that is legislation which is being released for people to have a look at. We are going to shortly release the submissions to it. We are going to have a debate in parliament on the matter.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are deflecting. Acknowledge the harm.

Mr FERGUSON - You can ask questions about the process here today. No problem at all.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I just ask -

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, allow the minister to finish answering your question.

Mr FERGUSON - It's a fruitless exercise to engage in the substance of a bill that's not yet been tabled in parliament.

Ms O'CONNOR - Of course, I'm trying to get answers out of you; it is fruitless.

Mr FERGUSON - The simple fact of the matter is that we do have policy differences, your party and mine. We're going to disagree on that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, we really care about people.

Mr FERGUSON - I think we should understand and I accept that that is the case. I'm not the world's biggest fan of gambling, Ms O'Connor. It is a legal activity, whether people approve of it or not, it's a legal activity.

What the legislation tries to do is set out the way that we can break the monopoly that has been held by Federal Group for decades and has been extended once, and ensure that more of the revenue that comes from that industry can stay in regional communities. That's what the policy broadly sets out to do, noting that there's a benefit to the taxpayer and a bump for the Community Support Levy which can be used and should be used. I would expect that that additional support can help to support people who are problem gamblers.

Ms O'CONNOR - I listened very carefully to the list of organisations that were consulted in that narrow consultation around the CSL. Mr Root mentioned a community church at the Tailrace Centre. Is that your church?

Mr FERGUSON - That's a great church.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is that your church? The one church in Tasmania that was consulted is your church.

Mr FERGUSON - An interesting question, Ms O'Connor. If it were my church, I would defend Mr Root for choosing to consult them.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why not the other churches?

Mr FERGUSON - Mr Root and I have not discussed -

Ms O'CONNOR - Why not the other churches?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, you get the run of this place. You're taking over. You've asked a question. Now allow me to answer.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it your church?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr FERGUSON - I'm going to respond on this. Mr Root and I have not discussed the selection of the list of organisations including TasCOSS, Neighbourhood Houses and a community church which is named as the Tailrace Church.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it your church?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr FERGUSON - I support consulting the Tailrace Church.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it your church?

Mr FERGUSON - I have been to that church and I look forward to going again. It's not my church.

Ms O'CONNOR - Right, one church that's consulted is the one you know.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr FERGUSON - I know you don't like the answer, Ms O'Connor. I know the answer's not convenient to your failed gotcha moment. If it were my church, I would defend it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why not the other churches?

Mr FERGUSON - It's a great church. Ms O'Connor, this is what you do when you don't like the answer.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why not the other churches being consulted? You worried what the Anglicans and the Catholics would think, didn't you?

Mr FERGUSON - It's a great church and they're great people. They love the Lord, they support the community, the run great youth programs -

Ms O'CONNOR - Why didn't you ask the Anglicans? Why didn't you ask the Catholics?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, it's not the church that I belong to.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why was this one church selected?

Mr FERGUSON - Your gotcha moment hasn't worked.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not about a gotcha moment.

CHAIR - Minister, I'm going back to Mr Winter.

Ms O'CONNOR - How do you sleep at night?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, for the benefit of the record, it's not my local church, okay? I'm sorry, you're wrong.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why was it consulted: one church in your electorate?

Mr FERGUSON - I heard the Uniting Church got a mention as well.

CHAIR - As did the Salvation Army but let's move on.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not a church, it's a charitable organisation.

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, have the grace to recognise you're wrong.

Ms O'CONNOR - Don't lecture me when you are consigning generations of Tasmanians to harm.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor. Mr Winter, the call is yours.