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Gaming Control Amendment (Future Gaming Market) Bill 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 14 October 2021

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

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - What Mr Winter did not say just then explicitly so I will say it for him and for the House is that Labor has capitulated and will be supporting this legislation. I am saying on behalf of the Greens upfront that we will not be supporting this bill.

Mr Winter you cannot allow the minister to use your belief that this is an urgent bill to guillotine the debate. This is not an urgent bill. There were three pieces of legislation on the blue before this one today. If it was urgent it would have been our only matter of business today.

Mr Speaker, it is National Mental Health Week. As we have heard from a number of members of both the Liberal and Labor parties who have rightly expressed their support for the aims of Mental Health Week to raise awareness about mental ill health in our community. The cruel irony of debating the Gaming Control Amendment (Future Gaming Market) Bill 2021 during Mental Health Week is not lost on the Greens.

As we know, the proliferation of poker machines in areas of socio-economic disadvantage across the state has had a profoundly harmful impact on the mental health of individuals with enormous flow on harm to families and children of those addicted to the bells and whistles, the ka-ching of the poker machine which here in Tasmania and Australia are the most addictive machines of their kind in the world.

It takes a special sort of cognitive dissonance to speak out of one side of your mouth as an elected representative about Mental Health Week while at the same time you are ready to vote for a bill which will consign generations of Tasmanians to misery and poverty and in some cases, as we know, suicide, born of crushing despair.

In the modern Liberal and Labor parties we are dealing with two sick old parties who long ago forgot what real principle looks like. On this issue, as with many others, they are indistinguishable. Political self interest is their primary driving philosophy. This bill is the toxic by product of institutional corruption, the form of corruption that is legal but it is not ethical and it is the form of corruption that is poisoning this island's soul.

It goes beyond bribery. It is a form of corruption that occurs when institutions, in this case the two parties of government in Tasmania, develop improper and corrupting dependencies, in this case with the Federal Group and the broader gambling industry, that results in corrupted decision-making and a loss of public trust.

Institutional corruption is what we have here with this bill. It has effectively been written by the gambling industry, the same industry which bankrolled the Liberals win in 2018 and which brought Labor to heel shortly after the 2018 state election. It is the same industry which secured a secret agreement with Labor to cooperate on gambling policy, the same industry which has sucked the life out of this island and corrupted democracy here for decades.

Who can forget the sight of Steve Old chortling with glee for the cameras during the last state election campaign about how he had stitched up the Labor Party to do exactly what the industry tells it to do. What a sight it was, Mr Speaker. And as we know the Liberals too, they take their orders on this issue from the gambling industry. Paul Lennon and Steve Old might as well have written this legislation.

The provisions of this bill mirror almost exactly the proposal put by former Labor premier, Paul Lennon, on behalf of the Federal Group and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association's CEO Steve Old, to the joint select committee inquiry into the future gaming policy at the eleventh hour of the committee's deliberations in 2017. It contains the individual licensing model and the casino tax deal put forward by Lennon and Old.

It gifts an estimated $150 million windfall gain to the pokies barons and a wholly unjustifiable and unargued sweet casino pokies tax deal for the Federal Group. At the select committee, they argued for a cut from 25 cents in the dollar to 10 cents in the dollar. Three and a half years and two elections later, they got 10.91 cents in the dollar. Again, the Premier and Treasurer has never explained to Tasmanians why he walked away from the original policy to determine a tax rate based on a review of the broader Australian market as promised and instead looked to casinos in the Northern Territory and far north Queensland to come up with pretty much exactly what the Federal Group was prepared to pay.

Instead of moving to increase casino pokies tax and the return to Tasmanians under the new arrangements the Liberals have now decided to reduce them. That tells us that Greg Farrell, Paul Lennon and Steve Old know where the bodies are buried. They know how much exactly the Liberals took from the gambling industry in 2017 18 and it is clear, to me at least, they will tell if they have to, to get their way. All through the election campaign they kept this secret from voters.

Repeated questions from the Greens, journalists and not one honest answer on the subject of casino pokie tax rates until July this year, when the sweet deal was finally revealed. The cynicism and contempt for the Tasmanian people is breathtaking.

This lethal bill contains no added harm minimisation measures but it does guarantee greater harm by introducing a new form of gambling, in simulated racing, which was never taken to the people but which is exactly what the industry wanted. It introduces fully automated table games against the advice of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service, who expressed concern about the negative harm minimisation impacts of removing staff from gaming rooms.

This measure for fully automated table games also further exposes the lie perpetrated by the industry and the Liberals in 2018 that removing pokies from pubs and clubs would hurt jobs. At the time they made the fanciful claim that 5100 jobs would be affected. The Premier and his Treasurer said this repeatedly. This was a lie confirmed by the ABC RMIT fact check, a complete lie. This deal was never about jobs. It was always about power and money.

Tasmanian workers and the Tasmanian people are simply not a consideration in this legislation. They have been utterly betrayed by the two sick old parties who will vote this bill through.

This legislation does not reflect in any way the Liberals' original policy to end the deed with a market-based mechanism and open tender, a policy reversed shortly before the 2018 state election, which has never been explained by the Premier and Treasurer, or his Minister for Finance.

As we know, former gaming commissioner Peter Hoult warned about the harm that would be caused through the individual licensing model. It is that much harder to regulate multiple venues than it is one monopoly operator. Of course, the Greens want the monopoly ended but we also want poker machines out of pubs and clubs because we know that will save lives.

We have heard from both Mr Gutwein and Mr Ferguson this week the laughable claim that they are smashing the monopoly deed. It was coming to its legislated end. Yes, they are smashing it - with the gold and diamond encrusted hammer gifted to them by the Federal Group in 2018. We are told the Farrell family will be worse off as a result of this legislation. That is hard to swallow. Their obscene gifted monopoly may be ending but they will claw back the money, I am sure. They are getting a massive unjustifiable tax break on their two tacky casinos and they will benefit from securing the pokies licences on 12 of the biggest pokies clubs in Tasmania, like the Elwick, which they own.

Economist John Lawrence estimates the Federal Group will get 26 per cent of total venue profit under this new system. The Farrell family will not suffer; Tasmanians afflicted by gambling will. If the Farrells do take a hit, it will not be by much, if anything. And I guess they can wear the pain, given the last Business Review Weekly rich list, which estimated the Sydney based Farrell family's wealth at $745 million last year. That is money which over generations now has been extracted out of the pockets of some of our poorest people. It is money that has taken lives and destroyed hope. It is blood money, pure and simple. Every member who votes for this bill will have blood on their hands. This will be a stain on their individual and collective souls for ever.

To understand how institutionally corrupt this legislation is, we need to go back in time, to a time before most of us were born, with the possible exception of you, Mr Speaker. In 1968 the Reece Labor government stitched up Australia's first casino licence at Wrest Point for the Farrell family. It began with Labor and legislation that Reece did not even take to caucus. Then, in 1972, the policy question over a second casino licence in Launceston led to the fall of the Liberal Bethune government, the re-election of Eric Reece and the granting of a second casino licence to the Federal Group in Launceston.

In 1983 the cash strapped Groom Liberal government delivered pokies into pubs and clubs, deliberately located in areas of socio and economic disadvantage across Tasmania. That Liberal government did this without consultation, without tender or procurement processes, and against the advice of the Treasury of the day. The Tasmanian public purse, of course, was the loser, as they are to this day. Labor at the time barely raised a squeak as the Federal monopoly became law.

In 2003, not long after the 2002 election, the Bacon Labor government also shafted the Tasmanian people for the benefit of the Farrell family. In secret negotiations, they agreed to extend the Federal monopoly for a further 15 years, to 2018, with a special five year rolling contract extension.

In 2009, in evidence released to a parliamentary committee, it was confirmed that Treasury had recommended to the newly elected Bacon Labor government that it conduct an open tender process for the next iteration of the deed. That advice was ignored and the Farrells got this licence to print money for free.

I want to go now to this magnificent book, Losing Streak - How Tasmania was Gamed by the Gambling Industry, by James Boyce. You want to talk about how swiftly these secret deals happen? Mr Boyce writes - and this is over the Bacon government secretly, after the 2002 election, in which it did not mention poker machines, Mr Boyce writes:

Negotiations were fast and simple because Don Challen was operating under what he termed 'clear riding instructions' from the government. No consultations occurred, no external advice, research or modelling was sought on the value of the licence, the sustainable number of poker machines, the most efficient licence model, the return for hotels, the effectiveness of self regulation, the growth in problem gambling or any other matter. Secrecy was paramount.

The swift covert process sidestepped public opposition. A poll commissioned by Anglicare in August 2003 found that 81 per cent of Tasmanians thought that the number of poker machines should be reduced, with only 1 per cent in favour of an increase. The poll also found that 84 per cent did not think the community had benefited from having poker machines in hotels and clubs. And, despite what Mr Winter said about the Government effectively having a mandate on this policy, polling consistently comes back at around 75 to 80 per cent public opposition to poker machines in pubs and clubs.

That brings me to Mr Gutwein, who was Treasurer when this original policy was decided, who was Treasurer when there was a policy reversal after the Federal Group and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association made a representation to the parliamentary inquiry. But at the time of the 2003 secret deal with the Federal Group, newly elected Liberal MP Peter Gutwein, expressed his shock. He said:

The circumstances that we find ourselves in at the moment are just incredible. I'm a new parliamentarian and I thought politics was about democracy but it's not about democracy, it's about stealth, secrecy, about a government not wanting to be transparent or accountable.

I think this is absolutely outrageous. I will be 58 years of age before we get an opportunity to make changes to this once parliament signs off. There was no transparency. Nobody knew what was being negotiated at all. It was a deed signed in secret, sat on for 30 days and then released to the Parliament of Tasmania as a done deal. I just think it is absolutely scandalous.

It is scandalous. Mr Gutwein was obviously self talking then because he must have realised, in his mind, that governing is about stealth and secrecy because that has been a hallmark of this Government. But what about Peter Gutwein now? I will just go to James's book -

Mr Ferguson - He got to smash the monopoly you just described.

Ms O'CONNOR - Smashed the monopoly which was coming to its legislated end with a golden diamond encrusted hammer, gifted to you by the Federal Group in 2018.

James Boyce writes in his book -

The State's treasurer, Peter Gutwein has claimed that the most recent government commissioned study found that the rate of problem gambling in Tasmania has fallen by over 25 per cent. He suggested that this evidence should 'temper emotions' flaring in the debate about poker machines but the report he cited specifically warns against using its figures to claim that problem gambling has decreased.

What the researchers concluded was -[OK]

The proportion of Tasmanian adults experiencing the most acute problems associated with gambling is unchanged.

James writes -

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 from their gambling account for about half of poker machine expenditure.

In other words, pokies addicts are not only customers of Tasmania's gambling industry, they are its core business.

As reward for its tangible financial support for the Liberals to secure a win in 2018, the Tasmanian Hospitality Association - and this is now part of history - got a $6.8 million grant in the 2018 State Budget. That was a plus or minus what was likely donated by the industry to the Liberal Party. Now, it is dictating terms on harm minimisation and it has its hand out for the Community Support Levy. It says - [OK]

We would like to work with the government to see the CSL better spent to help minimise harm from problem gambling. We believe that funding could be provided to look at a better way of producing photos for venues of excluded persons.

This is the THA submission, so that would be facial recognition technology.


We also believe that organisatons that are funded to help problem gamblers need to do more and work closer with venues to assist those that need help.

Then they go on to say -


The THA believes that commissions, fees and charges should be agreed between THA and the keno operator, seeing as the THA is the peak industry body, this will ensure venues receive adequate funding going forward.

They also argued for perpetual licences, but of course they did not get that, they got the 20 year rolling licences instead.

The THA has made it clear to the Liberal and Labor Parties they can only move for harm minimisation the industry supports, and two harm minimisation measures that the industry supports are facial recognition technology and pre-commitment cards - the two harm minimisation measures that both Mr Winter and Mr Ferguson have talked about in parliament this week. It is all here in the Tasmanian Hospitality Association's agreement with the Tasmanian Labor Party, after Labor lurched away from its principled position to get pokies out of pubs and clubs in 2018.

The THA commits the Labor Party to and Labor signed it, Ms White and Mr O'Byrne signed this agreement and it was only revealed during the state election campaign, not by the Labor Party. This agreement says that the two parties, the THA and Labor:

[OK] •

Supports a 'Owner/Operator' EGM gaming model for Hotels and Clubs in Tasmania, •

Supports the rights of pubs and clubs to operate gaming machines along with other gambling products, such as Keno, sport and racing betting as well as other forms of legal gaming products. •

[and they 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.

No doubt in my mind, a similar commitment was also sought and secured from the Liberals. After all, the THA and the industry are looking for a return on their 2018 investment.

Two parties, two identical so-called harm minimisation policies, which entirely coincidentally, I am sure, are the same two policies the industry has made clear it is prepared to support. No one dollar bet limits which used to be the Liberal Party's policy and is strongly supported by evidence, the community sector, and religious organisations. No slower spin speeds, again which is strongly supported by the community sector and religious organisations. I hope Mr Ferguson has read the submissions from the Tailrace Community Church, the Alliance for Gambling Reform -

Mr Ferguson - You have been attacking them.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have not attacked them. I have attacked you.

Mr Ferguson - You attacked them.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have attacked you, Mr Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson - In public.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, no, no.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Mr Ferguson - You attacked them.

Ms O'CONNOR - No. You are telling fibs again. I know it is hard for you just to stick to the truth.

The Uniting Church in Australia has spoken in favour of one dollar bet limits and slower spin speeds. The Alliance for Gambling Reform, the Salvation Army, Anglicare, the Religious Society of Friends - the Quakers in Tasmania - and on it goes.

One of the observations that is made in a very pithy submission from the Tailrace Community Church is that our governments are as addicted to gambling income as the pensioner feeding a machine in some lonely suburban club, all the while being plied with free drinks and discounted food. It makes the observation that young people are groomed from a very young age to gamble, that statistics show that if someone has a serious gambling issue they are 15 times more likely to suicide than somone who does not gamble. In this Mental Health Week I note the statement from the Tailrace Community Church that we are seeing gambling contribute to the deterioration of youth mental health.

If Labor would do the right thing just once, we would have pokies out of pubs and clubs. Lives would be saved. We could have one dollar bet limits and slower spin speeds but, of course, Labor will not support that because the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and the Federal Group do not support that. We could have a fairer tax regime and more money going into health, education and housing. We could have an even higher Community Support Levy with more money going into harm minimisation.

I am going to ask the question that many Tasmanians are asking - what happened to the Labor Party? I have here a wad of statements from Labor on their original principled position on poker machines.

Mr Winter - We lost the election.

Ms O'CONNOR - Interestingly, Mr Winter says they lost the election. Labor has lost elections and still notionally defends, for example, workers' rights, so they have not walked away from workers' rights because they lost an election but they are walking away from a policy which they know has popular support. Spare me. Ms O'Byrne in January 2018 said:

Instead of engaging its own department, the Hodgman government outsourced the entire development of its policy to the gambling industry.

Ms Ella Haddad said in a letter to the Sunday Tasmanian -

I have worked in the field of addiction. I have seen firsthand the damage addictions of all kinds can do to families, individuals, and communities.

We know gambling addiction destroys families and lives. The evidence about the damage pokies do and the benefits of limiting them to casinos is too compelling to ignore but ignore it today she will.

From Rebecca White, December 2017:

Treasurer Peter Gutwein and Premier Will Hodgman continue to show heartless disregard for the real damage poker machines have afflicted on Tasmanian communities.

Labor leader, Rebecca White, said:

Despite clear evidence that poker machines in pubs and clubs are responsible for widespread social and economic damage, the Liberal government was still trying to deceive Tasmanians with their reduction in machine numbers which will reduce the cap by only 150.

Ms White said the Premier was:

Wilfully standing in the way of allowing Tasmanian communities to become healthier and address one of the serious causes of poverty.

Mr Speaker, that was true then; that is true today. The only thing that has changed is Labor Party principle. Why has it changed? Because the Federal Group and the THA got to them. Ms White said in December 2019:

Research shows more than 80 per cent of Tasmanians want poker machines out of pubs and clubs. I have listened, Labor has listened, and we are ready to do the right thing'.

They were ready to do the right thing for about five minutes.

With the exception of the Greens and the independent member for Clark, Ms Johnston, every single member of this place has allowed their precious vote to be bought and paid for by the gambling industry and the Farrell family, which has been running the show down here as long as I have been alive.

Understand, colleagues, what consequence your vote for this legislation will have. This is the eternity bill. No more a monopoly deed that ends within a certain time frame, this legislation contains 20 year perpetually rolling licences. This vote on this legislation by the Liberal and Labor parties will lead to generations of pain, suffering, deprivation, family breakdown, child neglect, addiction, homelessness and suicide. That is what your bought and paid for vote will deliver.

I have a few questions for the minister on the second reading. How does the minister explain the lack of difference between what Paul Lennon and Steve Old put to the parliamentary select committee in 2017 and the policy in this bill we are debating today? What, if any, social and economic modelling has been undertaken on the policy underpinning this legislation? Similarly, why were not fully automated table games and simulated racing games in the policy you put to the Tasmanian people? Has any modelling been undertaken on these new forms and ways of losing money? Why was the policy for a market-based mechanism and open-tender process abandoned? Does the minister agree with advice provided by the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission and former commissioner, Peter Hoult, that the individual licensing model in this bill will lead to greater potential for corruption, money laundering and harm to gambling addicts?

Why was the advice provided by commissioned consultants to the 2017 select inquiry, Synergy Consulting, against changing the tax arrangements ignored? Given how much it reflects the rate the Federal Group was after, how was the casino pokies tax rate arrived at? What is the rationale for charging casinos and pubs and clubs different tax rates? Why are the only two harm minimisation measures being proposed by Government the same two put forward by the THA and supported by Labor? How was the licence period of 20 years arrived at, particularly given the advice from the Treasury and the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission on the appropriateness of five or seven-year licences?

How was the annual licence fee for EGMs in venues arrived at? On the CSL, why is not the distribution prescribed in this bill? Will the minister be acceding to the THA's proposal that CSL money be given back to the industry? Can the minister rule out CSL funds being granted to venues in line with the THA's proposal? Why has the minister given himself the sole authority to select the original network licensing operator? Given the millions the industry has poured into the party of government, isn't that highly improper? We think so.