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Gaming Control Amendment (Future Gaming Market) Bill 2021

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 14 October 2021

Tags: Pokies, Gambling Industry, Federal Group, Political Donations

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to add my words of condemnation to this bill on behalf of the Greens and the 80 per cent of Tasmanians who oppose poker machines being in pubs and clubs.

Our opposition to this bill, which entrenches a rotten, life destroying, poker machine empire in disadvantaged communities, to suck them dry for the foreseeable future, has been long and consistent.

During Mental Health week this week, members of all parties have made speeches expressing sincere concern about the high prevalence of mental ill health in Tasmania. Members have pledged support for the aims of the week, to raise community awareness about the number of people living in emotional and mental distress in our communities.

We, in this place, have a real possibility of doing something concrete in this mental health week to make an actual difference in the lives of people suffering from gambling addiction. From the testimony of churches and support groups and the evidence of independent research and numbers of government and parliamentary inquiries, we know that gambling addiction causes severe anxiety, depression, despair and in some cases, leads people to commit suicide.

One of the submissions in the first stage of the bill was from the Tailrace Community Church and the social enterprise known as Tailrace Centre, Jude's café in the Kid's Paradise. They made some important points. Their top line point was around the impact of gambling on youth mental health and Sharon O'Neill from the Tailrace Community said:

We are seeing gambling contribute to the deterioration of youth mental health. Our sport chaplains are reporting a growing number of young people being impacted by gambling debt. One young lady had accumulated a $40 000 gambling debt. We believe strongly, that it is going to require much more than a Beyond Blue social campaign to alter mental ill health among young people and we see strong ties to gambling addiction. If someone has a serious gambling issue, they are 15 times more likely to suicide than someone who does not gamble.

At the sporting club we provide a chaplaincy service, one in four young men have accessed our service in a meaningful way over the past 12 months. In a recent survey, we also discovered that one in four players are gambling regularly. This is not surprising, considering gambling related issues are the second most common reason that players have sought our help through our chaplaincy service, behind only mental health.

Anglicare has also made a passionate submission and they make the point that poker machines are for the majority of their clients the cause of the vast majority of harm.

This is just a snapshot from one organisation who is doing work but it speaks volumes, one in four people who are accessing chaplaincy in a sporting program. It is a staggering number and there is the possibility today to make real change for the good of people and I am confident that the bill before us does not do that.

The Greens have a number of amendments that we will be moving which would speak to the sorts of issues that groups like Tailrace Church and Anglicare and all the other community and church organisations, neighbourhood centres who are working every day with people suffering from gambling addiction. They would support the harm minimisation measures which we will be seeking to introduce into this bill.

We know that in Tasmania, successive Liberal and Labor governments have enshrined in law the most addictive poker machine environment in the world. We are world's best practice but of the most horrific kind. The Groom Liberal government moved in 1992 to introduce high intensity, highly addictive, repetitive press of a single button poker machines into Tasmanian pubs and clubs. Once Federal Hotels secured its monopoly control in 1993, Paul Lennon rolled over to suck on their teat and it has been a race to the bottom for the souls of the Labor and Liberal parties ever since.

They have hit the coal black bottom with this bill. James Boyce in his magnum opus book, Losing Streak, and the final chapter he released recently, documents this corrupted secret deal history where a tight-knit group have been working to benefit themselves and their parties at the expense of desperate addicted people. He tells the story of lies and deceit, of hand-on-heart promises made and later junked by Labor and Liberal politicians all bending over to swim in the money pool of the man they have worked to enrich, Greg Farrell, and his Federal Hotel millions.

Paul Lennon, Don Challen, Jim Bacon, Ray Groom, Tony Rundle, all actively worked to ensure Federal had exclusive access to the super profit gravy train that they have been on for the last three decades.

Mr Winter - Don Challen?

Dr WOODRUFF - Federal was gifted a monopoly poker machine licence. Read the book, Mr Winter, it is all in there. Yes, you might learn something. Federal was gifted a monopoly poker machine licence, allowed to have high intensity poker machines. The independent statutory functions of the Liquor and Gaming Commission were gutted. Poker machine licences were extended into pubs and clubs and Federal was allowed to self-select the most disadvantaged communities to set up its pokies venues. The known harm minimisation tool of setting betting limits was abolished and patron codes were unregulated.

In recent years it has been Steve Old, Daniel Hanna and Paul Lennon who have been working the Labor and Liberal party backrooms - I am sure there are more - and they are showing the power of pokies money persuasion has not dimmed over the decades. Peter Gutwein, then Treasurer, dropped the Liberal Party's policy in December 2017 which was to look at the broader Australian market when setting the tax rate without ever explaining to Tasmanians why he did this.

Instead of increasing the tax rate he dropped it dramatically. The Premier knew exactly that information before the recent election and it was a constant source of questioning from media and community groups but he refused to tell Tasmanians what he already knew.

Ms O'Connor - And the Greens.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes. Mr Speaker, there is no bandaid from that last election for the bill before us. Rebecca White, Leader of the Labor Party, attempted to distance herself from the sordid history of her party and to garner an advantage at the 2018 election by promising to end the reign of pokies in pubs and clubs. The Labor Party and the Greens both got a brutal drubbing for standing up to vice grip of Federal Hotels, with our policies to get pokies out of pubs and clubs. The sea of blue from north to south of the state was all funded - as we found out, as suspected at the time but later proved - by a pipeline from the gambling industry. That election was bought for the Liberals with money stolen from the most disadvantaged people in Tasmania, money that was funnelled through the front group campaign, Love Your Local. Will Hodgman has that as a stain on his name for ever.

The front group campaign, Love Your Local, which had obscene photos of people and members blazoned all over pubs and clubs around Tasmania, made a string of claims that were later proven to be false by ABC Fact Check, among other places. We found out afterwards, a year later, that the Liberals had received $4.1 million in donations in 2017-18, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from poker machine groups. Also, the Liberals failed to declare where $3 million of donations came from because they made sure that the donors provided them below the reportable threshold of $13 800. Whoops, they had forgotten to do anything about donations reform before that election. What a surprise. They also did not get around to it at the last election either. I wonder why. So much money that keeps coming their way, why would they switch it off?

After the 2018 election, Rebecca White and the Labor Party backflipped on their so-called principled position. That was a principle that got dumped. She revealed that herself and her party would be utterly beholden to the bidding of Federal Hotels ever since. The Greens did not backflip on our principled stand. The difference between the Greens and the Labor Party is that we do not take a shekel from the gambling industry. We do not take it from Greg Farrell or anyone else. But the Labor Party has shown themselves now as the puppet they have allowed themselves to become. They signed a secret sycophantic MOU that was revealed during the 2021 election. Not even their own members or unions knew about that deal. As a person who read what was in it, I was shocked to understand that working conditions for employees were not amongst the things that they bargained for with the THA.

Mr Winter - They were actually.

Dr WOODRUFF - They were not in any meaningful way, Mr Winter, certainly not.

Mr Winter - It is an MOU.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, they certainly were not. All of that just to buy another election, which they successfully did. Labor has been called to heel by the rich and powerful. We know that Labor took money from Federal Hotels at the recent 2021 election. Mr Winter's responses on the ABC radio the other day made that clearly abundant. Although he failed to answer the question, it was abundantly clear. Deny it and show us the evidence.

Mr Winter - We do not know the answer, I do not know.

Dr WOODRUFF - You do not know? Well, go and find out. You said it is beyond your pay grade.

Mr Winter - Your point is that I am being corrupted, I do not know.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - The Leader of the Opposition, Rebecca White, should come in here and tell us. She can tell us, she can find out. Deny it. The fact is the Labor Party took money, we know you did, we have heard it. You deny it, it is true and it is just another part of the cynical mousetrap that goes around and around of Labor and Liberal Party politicians jumping into the hamster wheel and doing whatever Federal Hotels wants them to do.

It is interesting, the Labor women are all today unusually wearing white. I thought this morning, presumably, I thought was to signal their virtuous souls on a day where they are doing such unclean business. But maybe actually what they are doing is just waving the white flag to Greg. Hey, Greg, we have rolled over as you wish, whatever you want. The losers at every secret Liberal and Labor deal and every legislated change that there has been over the last three decades have been Tasmanians who are living in disadvantage. Today we have a rare opportunity to right this balance and return not just hundreds of millions of dollars into Tasmanians' pockets each year but retain gambling in a safe, managed environment. That potentially could occur. This is a win-win situation for the Labor and Liberal members who continue to employ choice and the individual right to gamble as their hollow defense for retaining the status quo which they know is damaging people every day.

Mr Winter, I know that you probably go to the neighbourhood centre in Kingston and I know you would have had conversations with people about the people who go there, the damaged, distressed, despairing people who turn up and their children, to get food because the parents do not have any money because they have been gambling it away. We can do something about that. They are the people we need to be thinking about. Those children, we need to be thinking about them when we are looking at these amendments and looking at making changes.

The Labor Party has the potential to do something about this and it is on your heads if you do not. We can end the blight and tragedy of pokies and we can protect gamblers from the addictive elements of poker machines by the tested and proven harm minimisation measures that have been recommended by all of the charities and neighbourhood centres and churches and councils based on the comprehensive international and Tasmanian research, the measures that work. Those measures do not stop people gambling. That is the point, they do not stop people gambling, they just stop addicted people from losing large amounts of money and they also stop people from becoming addicted in the way that the machines are designed to make people addicted at the moment.

The bill before us has no commitment to any pathway for harm minimisation and gambling support, let us be clear about that, but we have to make sure that it legislates these known measures that reduce harm. I am referring to West Tamar Council's submission and they make the point that harm minimisation and recognition of the need to help people affected by the addictive elements of poker machines is so important. They have noted a number of measures including lower minimum bets and lower maximum jackpots.

Other organisations have recommended lowering the maximum jackpot from $25 000 - which has long periods before it gets used up and it encourages addictive behaviour - and lowering it to something like $1000; slower spin speeds from three seconds to six seconds; regular machine shut-downs; not having losses that are actually disguised as wins; and no false near-wins. Of course, the other measures which other organisations included that the Greens support are maximum bet limits of $1, mandatory card-based pre-commitment systems, and a reduction in the actual number of electronic game machines in total. The Greens support these measures and we have always taken every opportunity at every point to reduce the harm of poker machines.

Mr Ellis is not in the Chamber but I am sure he will read the Hansard and to correct the falsehoods in his statement. When the Greens were in government, we were not able to move to end the deed. Only parliament can do that, but we took the opportunity to introduce two separate bills in the 2010-14 government. We firstly moved for $1 bet limits which was the Liberal Party policy that they had taken to the 2010 state election. We gave them the chance to test that policy and we gave them the chance to implement it. If the Liberals had voted the right way we would now have $1 bet limits which was the Liberal Party policy that they disingenuously took to the 2010 election. Instead, when the vote was recorded it had five Greens standing on the side of the ayes and the Liberal and Labor party together, again, standing together in lockstep on pokies policy. We also moved to have casinos pay a community service levy. Again, the Labor and Liberal parties voted against that. Let the record show that the Greens did everything in government and outside of government, in parliament, to make sure that we can do everything to reduce the harm of poker machines in pubs and clubs, in communities in Tasmania, and in Tasmania, period.

This bill should not stand. The spirit of Tasmanians who were defiant during the 1968 casino plebiscite, those people who demanded that poker machines should forever remain illegal in Tasmania, remains strong. We stand with their spirit and their children and grandchildren who live among us today and we continue to resist the corrupted self-interest and greed that's embodied in this bill. The people who will be damaged are our own constituents and we, the Greens, stand with them and condemn this bill.