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Finance – Pokies

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Tags: Pokies, Gambling Industry, Federal Group

Ms O'CONNOR - What we do know is that when the legislation comes before the parliament, because Labor changed its position it will undoubtedly vote for it.

Minister, you said earlier there has been some consultation with the broader community on the proposed changes to the Gaming Control Act and end the monopoly deed and embedding of harm in the community until 2043. Can you tell the committee what the point of that consultation is, given the Premier and Treasurer yesterday indicated the policy that was taken to the election is the policy that will be in the legislation? Is the consultation just a tick-a-box? Does it have any meaning or substance to people in the community who do not support your policy, or who want to see it substantially improved?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, I welcome the question. I will definitely invite Mr Root to add to my answer in a moment in respect of the areas in the consultation paper which contain variables. Things have not been fixed or locked down entirely and needed to go through the consultation document. I will provide some context. The policy of the Liberal Government was very clearly explained during the election of 2018. In February of this year, about a month after I came to this role, a public consultation paper detailing the regulatory model that will implement this policy was released for comment. Submissions closed on 18 March 2020. I think you are all having reminders of what we were doing around that time on 18 March, responding to the pandemic.

The consultation paper provided a level of detail not previously available and was an opportunity for stakeholders for and against, and the community to consider and provide feedback on the new regulatory model. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the Government announced on the 28th of that month the implementation of reforms to the gaming industry would be deferred. As a result, public release of the submissions to the consultation paper would be delayed, but will be resumed at a later time. Your question was about -

Ms O'CONNOR - What is the point of the consultation?

Mr FERGUSON - I will ask Mr Root to respond in terms of those areas.

Ms O'CONNOR - I think that is a political question.

Mr FERGUSON - It is not. The department prepared a consultation paper which highlighted quite a number of areas where we were looking for feedback from the community, before final policy settings were set.

Mr ROOT - The consultation paper set out a series of more technical issues that arose from the Government's policy. Issues such as how authorities for individual EGM machines would be structured, the roles and functions of the licence monitoring operator within the new environment once that goes out to tender, what they will do, what their functions will fall under, the component of the revenue that goes directly to them versus what are functions that pubs and clubs can purchase additional to that, the roles of the commission and those sorts of issues.

It was within the context of the Government's policy, how the specific technical issues will be resolved within the legislation. On the face of it, it seems quite straightforward. The policy leads to different licensing structure and different tax rates falling on different parts of the environment, but actually technically realising that is quite complicated, particularly once you start to consider the transitional issues. You're moving all the machines and the licensing from the current environment to a new environment. There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved in consultation with the stakeholders who are the ones who will be affected. That broadly was the purpose of that paper.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Root. When you talk about, in consultation with the stakeholders, does that mean the gambling industry itself and venues? Is that your primary stakeholder group here?

Mr FERGUSON - In case I missed something, are you referring to the consultation phase that I earlier referenced, which would occur again before the bill is brought to parliament?

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right, but Mr Root talked then about 'in consultation with stakeholders', refining some of those questions and making the assumption that the primary stakeholders here are the industry.

Mr FERGUSON - The targeted consultation with key stakeholders is ongoing and that includes participants in the gaming industry. It also includes MONA and the commission itself. The second stage that I referred to on the result of the consultation phase, we will also be releasing the public submissions. That will happen before and with adequate time before a bill is brought back to parliament next year. I do not want to put a date on that right now because you will hold me to it and I do not have a date to provide you with. We are working on that right now. When the consultation statement is prepared, the submissions will also be publicly released at the same time. We will then be seeking, through the standard way, public feedback to that before taking a bill in.

Can I grab a question on the run, Chair, to say I would expect it to occur in the next few months. I do not wish to be held to a date because it is work in progress. Our focus continues on delivering this Budget right now?


Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, yesterday the treasurer confirmed that you and he are in negotiations with the Federal Group about the casino tax rates that will apply. Can you update the committee on those conversations and when they are likely to conclude?

Mr FERGUSON - I can't give any clarity on when they are likely to conclude but we would want to conclude them in order provide the very policy decision-making back to the public that I have indicated in my previous answer. It is a discussion that has been occurring, not just with us as politicians, but also with the department in terms of trying to find the right outcome here. I am certainly going to invite the secretary to add to my answers so the committee have the greatest possible clarity on this. Naturally it is a negotiation and so it needs to work for all concerned.

Ms O'CONNOR - What about the people of Tasmania?

Mr FERGUSON - Exactly my point.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sure.

Mr FERRALL - There have been a number of meetings and we have an involvement, Jonathan has an involvement in those meetings where appropriate and I have been involved with them as well. Those discussions will continue and when they are concluded by the minister and the premier we will include the outcomes of those discussions in the papers that need to be put forward for the legislation and for consultation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Clearly, there are some sticking points as the Federal Group will want the lowest possible tax rate. Minister, Tasmania's casino taxes are the lowest in Australia, we are at the lower end for EGMs. Apparently, our casino licence fee is about mid range. How do you think the ultimate tax rate that you land on will compare to other jurisdictions on the mainland given that we are already at the low end of the tax scale with what we charge the Farrell family to extract profit from the misery of Tasmanians?

Mr FERGUSON - In the interests of giving the committee exactly what it is looking for I am happy for the secretary to respond, but we can't engage in hypotheticals and forecast how the tax rates will end up sitting in comparison with other jurisdictions or regional communities because it hasn’t been settled yet. Then we are dealing in hypothesis. I more than happy for the secretary to respond in broad terms.

Mr FERRALL - We would expect that they will be commensurate with other jurisdictions but also cognisant of the specific Tasmanian market. It is under negotiation and it needs to be worked through.


Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, it is estimated that about 3000 Tasmanians, 0.7 per cent of the population, are problem gamblers. Are you across the Tasmania Health Service submission to the parliamentary inquiry on Future Gaming Markets, which stated that 75 percent of Tasmania's problem gamblers - that is 2200 Tasmanians - are poker machine players. For example, in my electorate of Clark in Glenorchy, in the place they call the Golden Mile, around $2 million a month is lost by the people who really can't afford it.

Do you accept that reducing the amount lost by gambling addicts is the only way to reduce harm? What measures will be in the legislation that you table to reduce the amount lost?

Mr FERGUSON - I am not aware specifically of that submission, but I will inform myself about that. I note that when the department releases the consultation report from the consultation phase that occurred in February March, we will be releasing all submissions that have been received. I believe that when we opened that we made it clear that submissions will be published. Is there provision for confidential submissions? We didn't have any, so all submissions will be released. If the THS has made a submission then that would be -

Ms O'CONNOR - That was a submission to the parliamentary inquiry, just for clarification. That was two years ago, or more.

Mr FERGUSON - I beg your pardon.

Harm minimisation certainly is a part of the future gaming market provisions, but also noting that the Community Support Levy is going to be increased and that is intended to fund harm minimisation as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - A drop in the bucket compared to the harm that will be caused.

Mr FERGUSON - I will ask Mr Root to be prepared to indicate, in round figures, what sort of increase we might potentially see coming through for the Community Support Levy.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, the question was about how you reduce the amount lost. Mr Ellis, I have asked a single question of significant public interest.

Mr FERGUSON - I am not quite done with the answer, but I am attempting to answer you as best I can. Look I understand your heart and where you are coming from, and I do -

Ms O'CONNOR - It is not about me. It is about the thousands of Tasmanians your policy will hurt.

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, I am being very fair about this. I understand exactly where you are coming from, on behalf of stakeholder groups, and people, with different views on this, to the gaming industry. I appreciate that point, and I am the minister in this space wanting to ensure that we get the best possible policy arrangements in place.

Ms O'CONNOR - You have already failed that.

Mr FERGUSON - I haven't changed the law yet. I want to ensure that when we do bring bill before parliament, it provides the strongest possible support that we can provide, noting that it is a legal industry. It is a legal product.

Ms O'CONNOR - You don't understand gambling addiction.

Mr FERGUSON - It is people's choice. We might not agree with those choices but nonetheless that is -

Ms O'CONNOR - No, addiction is not a choice.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, can you ask a question, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am waiting for the answer, Chair.

CHAIR - I know, restrict the comments to allow the minister to answer.

Mr FERGUSON - You have been very consistent on this, Ms O'Connor, and others have not.

Mr ROOT - Regarding the Government's policy and the harm minimisation that goes along with it, as I said earlier, the primary components of the Government's policy are around restructuring the licencing framework and the disbursement of the revenues that come from gaming.

The Harm Minimisation Framework that is currently in place, we enhanced by the Government's policy to double the Community Support Levy and also to reduce the total number of machines.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can we just get some clarity on that, Mr Root? The policy is not to reduce the number of machines. The machine number was capped at the day of the announcement, so it is not a real reduction.

Mr ROOT - It is a reduction in the cap from what it was by 150 machines. Who is to say what number will be installed at the date that the policy takes effect? So I cannot really answer that one.

The harm minimisation framework is managed broadly by the Liquor and Gaming Commission and their function will continue under the act. There is no variation to their role and I note that they have a statutory review of the mandatory code due in 2022. They will be able to undertake that review in the context of the changes that are going to come into place and I have no doubt they will take all of those matters into account.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, do you accept that your party's policy and the legislation that will come before the House next year and get through with Labor's support will increase harm -

Mr O'Byrne - Well do not -

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you just saying you will not back the bill?

Mr O'Byrne - We have not even seen the legislation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Will you acknowledge, minister, that that policy in the legislation will embed harm in the community until the year 2043 and that it will lead to poverty, suicide, homelessness, family violence, child abuse and neglect? Do you acknowledge that there will be a significant and devastating human cost as a result of your policy and the legislation?

Mr FERGUSON - I will take on board the question. I acknowledge that there are harms associated with inappropriate gambling. That is why we have a harm minimisation framework. That is why despite the fact that it is a continuing legal activity and it is based on people's choices that we do need to ensure that the harm minimisation measures are taken in and embedded. Nobody here - anybody in this room Liberal, Labor or Green, Independent - none of us want to see people being harmed in a way that we could have provided some risk mitigation around.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, hang on, you know it will.

CHAIR - Order. Ms O'Connor, the minister is answering the question. I ask you to allow him to respond.

Ms O'CONNOR - The minister is making a false statement.

Mr FERGUSON - There is no monopoly on caring for people here. None at all.

Ms O'CONNOR - This policy will hurt people. It will cost lives.

Mr FERGUSON - There is no monopoly on care.

CHAIR - Order, otherwise I will pass the question on to Mr Ellis. I ask the minister to finish his answer and then Mr Ellis has the call.

Mr FERGUSON - There is no monopoly on care. We all want to achieve the best possible arrangements here and to my previous answer, I am advised there are four further measures that are due to be phased in by December of next year. Those four are: the provision of activity statements for online wagering on demand and on a regular basis, nationally consistent responsible gambling messaging, staff training in the responsible conduct of gambling and a national self-exclusion register for online wagering -

Ms O'CONNOR - All voluntary though, hey?

Mr FERGUSON - In addition to providing funding for the Gambling Support Program and community sport and recreation grants programs, the Community Support Levy also pays for the social and economic impact study. One is currently under way -

Ms O'CONNOR - That will not save a single life. That will not save anyone.

Mr FERGUSON - and maintenance of the Tasmanian gambling exclusion scheme database. They are just some of the measures that are being included of a harm minimisation nature, but I want to make a final point which is that the Government is giving continued consideration to all of these matters that we have been discussing at this committee this morning. We will be sharing with the Tasmanian community in the fullness of time, hopefully soon, where the policy is going to be finalised and the details provided so that everybody can see we will consult again. We will take feedback from the community on board before bringing out a bill.

Ms O'CONNOR - And ignore community concerns. That is what you will do. You ignore the community on this.