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Gaming Control Amendment (Wagering) Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 14 November 2019

Tags: Gambling Industry, Federal Group

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, the Greens are used to being treated with contempt in this place. We are used to the Government treating this parliament as a rubber stamp. We cop it, usually, when legislation is tabled on a Tuesday and brought on for a debate on Thursday. We do our very best to understand what that legislation contains, what its implications might be. If we have time, we will try to find a way to improve it potentially, but we are sick of it.

This bill was tabled on Tuesday. This is the Gaming Control Amendment (Wagering) Bill 2019. It was tabled 48 hours ago. It is a bill 46 pages in length, contains complex clauses, including mathematical equations. I do not know enough about this bill because members in this place have not been given time to understand this legislation. Now, I could stand up in here and pretend that I understand the clauses in this bill. But I am not going to do it this time. We are sick of it. It is the first order of business on the blue today, after being tabled 48 hours ago.

When I complained this morning to the Leader of Government Business about how insulting that is to the parliament, he came over a short time ago and offered us a lunchtime briefing on this legislation.

Mr O'Byrne - Seriously?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes. I am the chair of the House of Assembly committee examining the House of Assembly Restoration Bill of 2019. We are having hearings in just under half an hour, where we hear from former Liberal premier, Robin Gray, who, I hope also agrees that the decision to cut the numbers in this place from 35 to 25 has had a corrosive and toxic effect on our democracy, and has undermined representation and the quality of the debate in this place. That is a slightly long way of saying, I do not have time in the lunch break for a briefing on this legislation, and I am not going to delegate it. I am not going to delegate it because I have carriage of this legislation.

The Treasurer is going to get up shortly in response to my second reading, and probably Dr Woodruff's, and have a crack at us for not asking for a briefing yesterday. Unlike a number of members in this place, because there are two of us, we speak on every bit of legislation, we contribute towards every debate. We take our jobs in here extremely seriously. We have not had time to look at this bill. We have not had time to seek or have a briefing. Yesterday was private members' day. Again, Dr Woodruff and I, in this place all day, contributing. I did not have time for a briefing yesterday.

I could have taken the legislation home and read it into the night, but I genuinely did not think that the Government would bring it on as the first order of business today. Silly me.

So, because we have not been provided with a briefing, because the bill is being debated 48 hours after it was tabled, we are going to have to ask the Treasurer to take us through every single clause in this legislation, and explain it. You will give us our briefing on the Floor of the House. In the meantime, I am going to talk to the House about gambling policy generally.

I listened to that shallow contribution from Mr O'Byrne - all you could talk about was the money. You got up and started talking about tax -

Ms O'Byrne - Well, it is a tax bill.

Ms O'CONNOR - You asked questions about tax rates and you did not ask a single question about the tax rate that the Federal Group will pay once the deed is rewritten and the harm caused by poker machines in our community is extended out to 2043.

Ms O'Byrne - When that bill is introduced, we will debate it then.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do not treat us like idiots. This is an amendment bill to the Gaming Control Act. It is the ideal opportunity to exercise our responsibility in this place and ask some questions about the tax rate that will be applied to the Federal Group, and to every other poker machine licensed operator, once the deed is dissolved and a new arrangement that will embed harm in the community until 2043 is enacted through this place.

I can see what is going to happen here next year, again. It will be Dr Woodruff and me - maybe, hopefully, Ms Ogilvie, given her strong statements on the harm caused by poker machines. It will be a small group of women anyway in this place who will be the voice of Tasmanians who have lost family members to gambling addiction, who have lost their houses, their jobs, their sanity. It will be us in here when the big 'bomb' bill comes into this place, the bill that the Federal Group bought at the last election.

Dr Woodruff - They got paid back mostly, didn't they?

Ms O'CONNOR - Interesting observation, Dr Woodruff, and thank you for leading me there. Mr O'Byrne used the words 'return on investment'. Talked about that return on investment. Gosh, there has been some returns on the investment from the gambling industry out of this Government. Not only did they secure a Liberal win, and a large payback donation to the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, or the millions of dollars in dark money that it facilitated into a Liberal win, they also got a return on the investment through Labor's capitulation and abandonment of marginalised people. It was a massive return on investment. Wow. You had millions of dollars pouring in from the gambling industry here and interstate, with one goal in mind: making sure that a Liberal government was elected last March. They got what they paid for and as a consequence the people of Tasmania will pay out of their noses and out of their pockets until 2043.

It was an excellent return on investment. It bought a government, it bought a massive extension to the harm caused by poker machines, and then bought a weak opposition. The shadow treasurer, who has just sat down, absolutely is at the heart of Labor's capitulation to the industry. You know that Mr O'Byrne. You know that in moving away from that policy, you mortally wounded your leader. It is a mortal wound to her. I cannot help but feel that is the way you designed it. You should be ashamed. Your party had a chance to make a real difference, socially and economically. Every dollar that goes into a poker machine and into the Federal Group is a dollar that is not going to small business, for example. Labor had a real opportunity to make a difference and to repair some of the damage caused by it, the Labor Party, ever since the casino was first built at Sandy Bay. This whole tragic, dark story began with Australia's first casino down there at Sandy Bay.

That family, the Farrells, sucked the living daylights out of this island for decades and has bought a government. It has bought a government and it has bought a lucrative deal that will see its fat, obscene profits protected for at least another 25 years. The Federal Group, the Farrell family, take much, much more from this island than they give. They take money out of the pockets of some of our poorest people. They take food off children's tables. They take money out of some of our most disadvantaged communities. Millions of dollars out of Glenorchy. It is obscene. When you step back from this issue and you think about it, it is so bloody obscene.

You have a company that has been sucking the living daylights out of this island for decades, cheered on by the Liberal and Labor parties, which owns every single poker machine in Tasmania, every single one of the nearly 3500 poker machines in Tasmania, that deliberately placed those machines in areas of socio-economic disadvantage, and that oiled the wheels of its obscene business model by donating to the Liberal and Labor parties year after year, contributing back, for example, back in 2006.

I remember, I was number two on the Denison ticket. 'Tasmanians for a better future'. We never ever had any transparency on who they were, but there was Federal money in there, and what was their job? To deliver a majority Labor government at that time, to make sure that the Greens did not have the balance of power and it is was looking like on the polling that there would be a strong Greens vote at the 2006 state election. The Federal Group, the Sydney-based Farrell family, has been buying governments here for decades. They bought one last March and they bought back the Opposition. You only have to look at the Australian Electoral Commission returns -

Mr GUTWEIN - Point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am wondering how relevant this is to the bill in front of us. I note the member has indicated that she has not bothered to do the work to get across the bill but that is a matter for her, not for the parliament. I draw your attention to relevance to the bill before us.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Yes, we do ask for relevancy on the bill. We are speaking on the Gaming Control Amendment (Wagering) Bill. I am looking at the fact sheet now and I ask the member to ensure her comments are relevant to the bill.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am being entirely relevant to the bill. Should you personally have any concerns about relevance, I encourage you to look at some of the second reading speeches from your own Liberal colleagues on bills that have come before the House this week. As you know, when members are contributing to a bill they are given significant latitude in the points that they raise. I will continue to talk about the Federal Group and the Farrell family, who are the beneficiaries of the Gaming Control Act and who will be beneficiaries of amendments to the Gaming Control Act that will come into parliament next March or April, whenever they do.

Dr Woodruff and I regard it as our responsibility to raise these significant issues that are being ignored by both the major parties. It is our responsibility to speak for the community sector, which has been completely ignored by Government and Labor on this issue. We get lip service about harm minimisation. I know what Labor's going to do when the Gaming Control amendments come in next year. They are going to start talking about harm minimisation and make some quisling amendments to the legislation so that they can, out of one side of their mouth, tell Tasmanians that they are looking after their wellbeing and, out of the other side of their mouths, let Greg Farrell know they did exactly what he wanted them to do.

Before the Treasurer spoke, in an attempt to distract and derail me from my exposure of their complicity in the harm caused to Tasmanians by poker machines and the Federal Group, I was going to detail to the House some of the Australian Electoral Commission returns relating to donations made by the Federal Group to the Liberal and Labor parties. In 2002, Tasmanian Labor received $20 000. In September 2009, Tasmanian Labor received $15 000 and this is just the stuff that is declared, because the AEC returns that came in after the last state election revealed that about $4 million went into Liberal Party coffers before the last state election, the source of which only $1 million was declared, so Tasmanians have no idea where three quarters of the money from corporate and vested interests paid to the Liberal Party came from.

About five months after that donation to Labor in February 2010, the Farrells gifted Labor another $15 000. On the same day, they made a personal donation to Mr Bacon of $1000 and, about three weeks later, a personal contribution of $1200 to Ms O'Byrne for her campaign. In November 2013, Labor got $20 000 and, in February 2014, Labor got $5000 because the Farrells had seen the writing on the wall and they wanted a real return for their investment. It was silly, if you are looking for a good return on your investment, to put too much money into a Labor party that was on the nose.

Now we look to the Liberals, so that total of declared money that we know about is $77 200. In the same period for the Liberals - and this does not include the millions that came in at the last state election - in July 2002, the Tasmanian Liberals were donated $20 000. That must have been that point at which Will Hodgman said that we need to have a look at the deed because there was also a $250 donation, or maybe it was not that date. In August 2002, the Liberals received $1420. In 2009, the Tasmanian Liberals received $15 000, in 2010 they received $15 000. It is nice to see, Mrs Petrusma, a personal donation from the Federal Group in May 2010 of $275 and, in October 2013, a contribution to the Tasmanian Liberals of $20 000.

I have no doubt at all that the Federal Group donated zero dollars to the Tasmanian Labor Party at the last state election. I have no doubt about that.

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, before the break I was talking about some of the many, many millions of dollars that have flowed from the industry which is covered by the Gaming Control Act to both the major parties, and that money explains the evolution of gambling policy in Tasmania, which puts the big end of town, the big industry players, ahead of struggling Tasmanians who are dealing with the proliferation of poker machines in pubs and clubs in Tasmania.

While the shadow treasurer, Mr O'Byrne, could not bring himself to ask any questions about the tax arrangements that will be in place following the extinguishment of the deed and the move to an individual licence model, we will ask those questions. On behalf of every Tasmanian who recognises that the proliferation of poker machines in pubs and clubs has been a social cancer on this island, we would like an update to be given to the House on negotiations with Malawa Holdings or Federal Group or the Farrell family in relation to the tax arrangements that will be in place following the extinguishment of the deed and instituting of the new arrangements under the Liberals.

The last update was from 8 March 2019 in a letter, released under what I believe was our RTI request, from the Treasurer to Mr Farrell, where there is discussion about the cessation of the deed agreement and the Treasurer says:

I am writing in relation to the process for cessation of the exclusive arrangements under the Deed of Agreement between the state of Tasmania and the Federal Group (the deed) for the operation of some gaming activities in the state.

As you are aware, the Government announced its policy on the future of gaming in Tasmania in January 2018 which confirmed that the exclusivity arrangements for the deed for Federal Group to conduct casino operations, operate electronic gaming machines and to conduct games of keno in Tasmania will end on 30 June 2023.

For the current arrangements to end under the provisions of the deed on 30 June 2023, the Government would be required to notice of non-renewal to the Federal Group by 30 June 2019 due to the deed's rolling term.

I seek from the Treasurer an update on the notice of non-renewal. Is he able to table a copy of notice of non-renewal to the Federal Group, which was, under law and the provisions of the deeds rolling term, to be provided to the Federal Group at the end of this year's financial year?

The Treasurer in his letter makes it clear that the new arrangements will be in place from 1 July 2023 and that the Government intends to introduce legislation to amend the Gaming Control Act 1993 to bring the deed to an end on 30 June 2023 as part of the Government's proposed legislation to introduce its future gaming market policy. He writes:

Due to the complexity of the legislative amendments required to implement the future gaming market policy and the need to appropriately consult on these amendments, the Government intends to introduce legislation no earlier than March 2020.

I take a pause at this moment to ask who is being consulted? Are there consultations that extend beyond the Farrell family, the Kailis Group, or any other owner of a venue with an interest in poker machines in Tasmania? Who is being consulted under the provisions of the Gaming Control Act 1993 and the changes that will come into place as a result of amendments to that act early next year? Is the community sector being consulted? Is TasCOSS at the table, or Anglicare, or Hobart City Mission, or Shelter, Salvation Army, Red Cross, all those organisations that pick up the broken human beings who are left behind as a result of poker machine addiction and the predatory business model of this industry?

I go back to the letter. The letter, says the Treasurer:

… provides formal advice foreshadowing that it is the Government's intention to cease Federal Group's exclusivity through legislation rather than by a determination under the deed not to renew the rolling term. The Government has considered a range of options and has concluded that this approach provides the greatest level of certainty to Federal Group and the broader gaming industry and reduces risk for stakeholders.

At every step of the way on gambling policy in Tasmania it has been about certainty to the Federal Group. We have had governments being blackmailed by the Federal Group, making public statements, threatening to not build the hotel at Port Arthur, bleating that they could not find the money to refurbish that daggy old casino down there and that they needed an extension of the monopoly deed. It has all been about certainty to the Federal Group every step of the way. That is the key stakeholder here and the stakeholder to which both parties give the greatest hearing on the issue of gambling policy.

The broader gaming industry, who are those players, obviously some of them will be Liberal Party donors, we know that. The letter says this reduces risk for all stakeholders. Again, it is a narrow and nasty analysis of what risk is and who stakeholders are. The risk of extending poker machines in pubs and clubs through an individual licence model to the year 2043 is that we will see more people die by suicide, more people lose their homes, more children neglected and abused, more people presenting to drug and alcohol counselling services and support services. We will see more people put out of work and more families break down. That is where the risk is with this policy.

The most important stakeholder we serve every day is the Tasmanian people. We swear when we are elected to speak for the Tasmanian people and to work every day in their best interests. I believe there is only one small group of people in this place who apply that every single day. Unlike the Labor and Liberal parties, we will not be bought. We will not stay silent because we have been paid to do so. We will not cave in like Labor under Rebecca White did on this policy. We will scrutinise this bill that we have here today, clause by clause.

We will start with querying, for example, why it is even called the Gaming Control Act. It is not a game, it is gambling. When euphemisms that hide the true nature of something find their way into statutes, you have a problem. It is a bit like talking about what is happening to the climate as only 'climate change' because the word 'change' does not have the same terrifying connotations as global heating.

This should be the Gambling Control Act 1993 and we will certainly be having that discussion on the way through, with the horses.

While I have not had the opportunity to go through the legislation clause by clause on my own or have a briefing, I note that in the second reading speech, the Treasurer talks about a potential return to the racing industry from the point of consumption tax that is in this amendment bill. This is the racing industry that already benefits from $30 million each year in an annual subsidy to prop up the three codes.