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Gambling Harm Minimisation

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Tags: Pokies, Gambling Industry

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

That the House -

(1) Supports effective measures to minimise the harm caused by gambling, particularly Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMS).

(2) Notes -

(a) the recent, comprehensive investigation of harm minimisation technologies - facial recognition and player card gaming - undertaken by the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission;

(b) the Tasmanian Greens called for a mandatory card-based system with pre commitment features, global expenditure limits, financial assessment for increasing expenditure limits, inbuilt budget tools, mandated break features, eventual expansion to include other gambling products (including online gambling), and examination of gambling-related court diversion programs or other justice system interventions; and

(c) that, in response to the recommendations of the Liquor and Gaming Commission, the Rockliff Government has agreed to introduce a mandatory card-based system with pre commitment features, global expenditure limits, financial assessment for increasing expenditure limits, and mandated break features.

(3) Acknowledges that while Members may have different views on the precise details of an EGM card-based system, there is much in the new harm minimisation framework that can be agreed on.

(4) Congratulates Government, and particularly the responsible Minister, the Treasurer, Hon Michael Ferguson MP on commitments made in response to the Liquor and Gaming Commission's report.

(5) Calls on all Parties and Members to commit to not abolish, or in any way weaken, the harm reduction measures contained within the EGM card-based system, should they form government after the next state election.

Mr Speaker, I can indicate that we will be requiring a vote.

For 50 years the gambling industry has dominated politics, society and economy on this island. For any member who has not read James Boyce's seminal book, Losing Streak: How Tasmania was Gamed by the Gambling Industry, the sorry history of this industry and its poisoning of our democracy is contained within that excellent book.

The latest gambling losses that have been detailed on the Treasury website show that in July of this year, across the municipalities and in pubs, clubs and casinos, total losses were more than $17 million and pretty much the same as at August of this year. It is interesting because in the previous months those gambling losses were sitting at around $14 million and $15 million. Members know that these are very variable losses influenced by a whole range of factors and they have at times been, for example, up around $20 million a month which is money which that is coming out of the pockets of disadvantaged people, quite often, and it is taking food off the table of children and families. We are very pleased that Tasmania looks set to lead the nation in harm-minimisation through the introduction of player card gaming technologies and mandatory pre-commitments.

The purpose of this motion is to try to have a unified position come from parties and members in this place that we will not play politics on harm-minimisation because it is too important and that we will stick to this on principle. I know I can foresee, potentially, that some members in the Opposition say that what we are trying to do here is to bind a future parliament. No, we are not. It is very clear that what we are trying to do here is to ensure that parties and members in here make a commitment about how they will conduct themselves after the next election and particularly if the Labor Opposition wins government.

Before we get on to Labor, I wanted to briefly touch on the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission report and their recommendations to Government. This is following a direction that was given to them by the Treasurer late last year following the passage of the Future Gaming Markets legislation which embedded in perpetuity poker machines in pubs, clubs and casinos across Tasmania. With the end of the monopoly deed what Tasmanians have been stuck with is a poker machine and broader gambling framework that will endure for generations, so it is all the more important that we have strong harm minimisation in place.

The Liquor and Gaming Commission undertook a scoping investigation, a feasibility assessment of the technology, the risks, the regulatory impacts, a two-phase consultation process which a number of stakeholders contributed towards, including the Greens, and had a look at some of the research, particularly the research that has been done by the Social and Economic Impact Study in Tasmania over many years now. The commission recommended the implementation of a mandatory registered card for EGMs in all Tasmanian hotels, clubs and casinos. It recommended that the registered card system should operate as follows: require registration to participate for all players with a single card issued to each player with a PIN, and that guest cards can be issued with an expiry date; it needs to be cashless with funds loaded onto cards using cash or debit cards via EFTPOS, only at a cashier desk; and it needs to provide messaging about player activity such as money lost or won and time spent at EGMs.

The commission recommends that pre-commitment functionalities should be mandatory for all players, statewide, and simple to use for all gamblers, and that the system should operate as follows: to prescribe maximum concurrent default loss limits initially set at a daily limit of $100, monthly limit of $500, and annual limit of $5000. These limits should be reviewed after a period of operation with any adjustment informed by the data collected, players should also have the discretion to set lower loss limits taking effect immediately. Any subsequent increase up to the default loss limit should take effect after a cooling-off period. Players should be able to apply for higher limits above the default loss limits where they can demonstrate the financial capacity to sustain those losses. When a loss limit is reached, gaming activity will not be allowed until the next default period. Messaging about progress towards limits will be accessible to players, and functionality should be available to implement the settings of player limits for breaks in play and maximum play periods.

The commission recommends that to support effective statewide operation the system should be administered centrally, ideally by the Licensed Monitoring Operator. Perhaps the Treasurer could give us an update on the Licensed Monitoring Operator and who it will be.

Those are the core recommendations from the Liquor and Gaming Commission after conducting some months of review and investigation and making a recommendation to Government. This recommendation is a matter of record and has been accepted by Government, by the Treasurer, and, presumably, by Cabinet.

This reform is nation leading. It is no exaggeration to say that it will save lives. It will save livelihoods. It will make sure kids have food on the table. It will prevent, or help to prevent, individuals and families slipping into poverty or experiencing a mental health crisis. These reforms are critical to the future health and wellbeing of many Tasmanians. While this is obviously a policy that the Greens have been advocating for years, what we want most of all is poker machines out of pubs and clubs.

This is evidence-based policy that, in one way, is very conservative - a very conservative policy approach that recognises that you have established a new gaming framework, but there needs to be rigour around the regulations that minimise human harm. It should not be contentious. We are elected to this place ostensibly to do the right thing and supporting this reform is the right thing to do. I am sorry if our praise of the Treasurer has caused him any discomfort, but the Treasurer knows we are not lavish with praise, but when someone does the right thing, we want to name it up.

Following the decision of the Government to accept the Gaming Commission's recommendations - and I might add, in our submission to the Gaming Commission of May this year, we recommended a mandatory card system as the only system under the terms of reference for this review that will likely provide any appreciable reduction in gambling harms caused by EGMs. That was also our core recommendation, but we saw a hissy-fit for the ages from the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, an organisation that has been used to getting its way, cajoling or coercing political parties and their representatives into doing the industry's will for the best part of 50 years. Steve Old put out a media release, the likes of which I have never seen before, and I will read some of the choice bits:

Gaming Reform

Lies, lies and more lies. The Rockliff Liberal Government and Michael Ferguson have failed Tasmanians.

Well, there is a lie, because what the Rockliff Government and Mr Ferguson have done is listen to the evidence and the independent experts and commit to a policy that will actually do better by the people of Tasmania who have been shafted by this industry for 50 years. Mr Old feels it is necessary to remind Government and anyone who read this about the THA's role in the 2018 state election. Mr Old points to the Liberal Government's Future of Gaming in Tasmania policy and says:

One of the key objectives of this policy was to offer Tasmanians freedom of choice and better protection from harm for those that need it.

Mr Speaker, that is what is being delivered; that is exactly what this reform will deliver. No-one is taking away freedom of choice other than the freedom to lose your entire weekly income in one fell swoop at the machines. We have another quote from Mr Old:

Tasmanians entrusted the Liberal Government at the 2018 election with their vote because they supported freedom and choice. Freedom and choice have been sacrificed by the Rockliff Liberal Government at the expense of a fair go.

Give us a break! Being lectured about a fair go from the likes of Mr Old, who oversaw millions of dollars in industry donations going into both the Liberal and Labor parties for many, many years. Mr Old secretly stitched up a memorandum of understanding with the Labor Opposition and chortled about it during the 2020-21 election campaign when he slapped his back pocket and told Tasmanians that is where he had Labor. Mr Old would not know the first thing about giving battling Tasmanians a fair go.

Dr Woodruff - Neither would Labor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, that remains to be seen but that is a fair point. It remains to be seen how Labor responds to this motion. In a complete distortion of the facts around problem gambling, which is a problematic definition in itself, Mr Old says about Government:

Their own statistics confirm 0.4 per cent of people have a problem with all forms of gambling. Today's Orwellian announcement confirms the Liberal Government does not trust 99.6 per cent of Tasmanians.

Mr Speaker, with respect, what a load of crap.

In James Boyce's book on page 8, when he talks about who is losing money on poker machines in pubs and clubs around Tasmania and casinos, he says:

Research commissioned by the Tasmanian Government found that the majority of people in a pokies lounge at any time are likely to be clinically defined problem gamblers and that people experiencing negative impacts for their gambling account for about half of poker machine expenditure. In other words, pokies addicts are not just customers of Tasmania's gambling industry, they are its core business.

We know that the industry received a massive windfall gain as a result of the new arrangement. There is not a single poker machine controller in this state who is battling to pay their bills and even with this framework in place that industry will be regrettably profitable. I commend members who have not read the Government's response to the Liquor and Gaming Commission Report to do so - it is instructive and refreshingly absent of spin.

The announcement was made, I believe on 15 September, and days passed. The sector that deals with the human fallout of gambling addiction warmly endorsed the Government's approach. Many Tasmanians from all walks of life have looked at this and actually looked for the catch. I have spoken to plenty of people who heard the news and felt this uplifting of hope and then told themselves there must be something more to it, there must be a catch here, but as far as we can identify there is no catch, just a commitment to nation-leading reform.

Multiple stakeholders came out and expressed their appreciation for the work of the Liquor and Gaming Commission, an independent body, about the fact that we had a government that was prepared to do the right thing on this issue. Day after day, following that announcement, what we got from Labor was silence, ducking and weaving. The same Labor Party that during debate on that odious bill last year which, let us not forget they supported, that committed as policy to card-based play and precommitment. They made all the right noises about harm minimisation.

The member for Bass, Ms Finlay, unfortunately is not in the Chamber today because she perhaps could have clarified what happened here, but on 19 September journalists thought they had better get a straight answer out of the Opposition on this issue, so the question was put to Ms Finlay whether Labor supported the card-based scheme under which poker machine users would have to set bet limits before they started gambling. The ABC reports Ms Finlay initially appeared unsure of what to say and, when pressed again, took advice before returning to answer the question. She admitted - and we like honesty from politicians - this is not a Tasmanian Labor failing at the moment, it is me - and I suspect it is a bit of both really. She went off to get some advice and came back and said:

Tasmanian Labor are really clear. We have always supported harm minimisation and in fact we were advocates for card-based play.

This is true. She continued:

We want to really understand the report, understand what is going to be implemented and make sure that the minister who has made this announcement will actually follow through.

That is a very interesting statement, Mr Speaker. You might have expected, if Labor was so keen to know that the minister would follow through, that they might ask him a question in question time this week. They do have seven questions, but no, so they were not actually that committed to making sure the minister followed through. That is part of the reason we have brought our motion forward. We want the House to be unified and resolved that it will support genuine harm minimisation.

Ms Finlay was also unable to say whether an agreement between Labor and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association on pokies remained in place. Ms White went on radio later in the day and said the party is not struggling with pokies policy. The Opposition Leader said:

We have always supported improving harm minimisation. What we have said is that we are going to take the time to read that report and to understand the detail of how it will be implemented.

The party later clarified to journalists that there was no current agreement with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and that the party would develop its position on the precommitment scheme after reading the relevant documents. Well, two weeks after the announcement, Labor has had time to read the relevant documents which, I remind the House, are not a strain to read. They could have read them on 15 September, as we did.

Mr Winter - We did.

Ms O'CONNOR - You did? Then why didn't you have a position four days later?

Mr Winter - Every day we answer questions about this.

Ms O'CONNOR - The Liquor and Gaming Commission report is 26 pages long. We have read legislation that is about that long and sometimes you are only given a few hours to digest it. The Government's response is about six pages long and it is dot points, so it is pretty digestible.

The secret memorandum of understanding between the THA and Tasmanian Labor was signed on 22 February 2021. No Tasmanian during the last election campaign when it began knew about this secret MOU. It was exposed by a journalist and by the Greens. This MOU between Steve Old, Labor Leader Rebecca White and then shadow treasurer, David O'Byrne - the one that Steve Old gloatingly told media was in his back pocket along with the entire Labor Party - includes a couple of very important clauses:

To agree to work together on the development of potential viable harm-minimisation measures for gaming products while also agreeing that any measures need to be workable for industry.

The duration of the MOU is a question that needs to be answered by the Labor leader. On the one hand you have the party - whoever that spokesperson was for the party at the time - telling the journalist there is no MOU in place. Then you have here in black and white, red and blue, an MOU that says in its final clause on duration:

This MOU starts from the day of signing and will be in place until the signing of any new agreement between both parties.

Does the Labor Opposition currently have an agreement with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association?

Mr Winter - No.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Winter says no, there is no MOU in place. It actually pleases me very much, but the MOU is really clear that it stays in place until there is another one. So, have you signed another one? Are there negotiations for another one?

Mr Winter - There is no - I will stand up in a minute and say. I am sorry to disappoint you.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, that is very good. You do not understand that we do not think like you. You think that we would be unhappy that you do not have an MOU with the pokies barons. We are actually very pleased because it means that this policy might get a fair chance and some clear air.

We have, from 21 September -

Mr Winter - You have spent more time on Labor than the Government so far.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Winter is worried because he says we are spending more time talking about the Labor Opposition than we are the Government. We are talking about the policy, and the politics around the policy, and the question mark on the politics sits over Labor's head.

From 21 September, which is six days after the Treasurer announced the policy, we have a media release from Labor which is one of the most mealy-mouthed efforts. Great news, Labor will not stand in the way of a new gaming policy. Language is very important. That is a very qualified statement from the Labor Opposition. It does not say Labor will back, Labor will support, Labor acknowledges the merit of. It does not say any of that. It just says Labor will not stand in the way. The question that came into my mind straight away was, for how long? Is it 'Labor will not stand in the way' for now? Is it 'Labor will not stand in the way' until it signs a new MOU with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association? How would we know? As Dr Woodruff said, the last one was negotiated and signed in secret.

The statement from Mr Winter, the shadow minister for finance, in this media release says:

The legislation Labor supported through the parliament last year has ultimately led to this announcement and we remain committed to the position we took at that time.

There was ambiguity about Labor's position. It was a broad statement about advocating for card-based play and a broad statement about supporting effective harm minimisation. Remember, at the time that that debate was happening it is our understanding that the MOU was still in place, which required Labor to make sure that industry gave their harm-minimisation policies the tick.

In winding up, because I want to hear from the Treasurer and Mr Winter, our motion is on the books. I will reinforce the last paragraph. Part 5:

Calls on all Parties and Members to commit to not abolish or in any way weaken the harm-reduction measures contained within the EGM card based system should they form Government after the next state election.

We are not seeking to bind a parliament. We are seeking commitments from political parties - members of parliament. There is a very important difference here. Every time we put out an alternative budget, we are making a commitment about the things we would do if we were in government. I know it is a slightly tired statement but we never see a budget position statement from Labor. This is not about binding a parliament. All the time, political parties make commitments about their policies, their positions and their values. That has nothing to do with binding a future parliament.

I will remind the House that the monopoly deed, stitched up initially by the Liberals in 1993 and then extended by the Labor Party in 2002 03, bound successive parliaments. That locked this island into decades of misery in pubs and clubs across this state.

I will never forget the Kids Come First data set when we were in government. It was an excellent data set and it showed a very precise correlation between the location of poker machines in communities, child abuse and neglect - a very precise correlation. We know that these machines are addictive and they can be lethal. Australia has the most addictive, high powered EGMs anywhere in the world. That makes the work of us, as legislators and policy makers, when we are looking at harm minimisation ever so important. We have all met people who have been afflicted by poker machines. We have all watched people weep because these machines have had them in their grip.

We can accept the world the way it is sometimes, rather than the way we want it to be. We accept that there is a gaming market framework in place that will leave poker machines in pubs and clubs for generations. That is what makes effective harm minimisation so important. We are hoping very much that all parties in here will commit to maintaining these measures. It is the advice of the independent experts at the Liquor and Gaming Commission and we should be listening to it and acting on it.

I commend the motion to the House.