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Gaming Control Amendment (Wagering) Bill 2019

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 14 November 2019

Tags: Gambling Industry, Federal Group

Dr WOODRUFF - This is all about the money the Government makes from gambling and satisfying corporate interests. Fundamentally this bill has nothing to do with the lives of the poorest and most disadvantaged people who will be and already are being affected by online gambling, the world of digital technology which is bringing the addictive nature of gambling into people's bedrooms and onto people's trains.

Although Ms Ogilvie and other speakers might like to claim that this bill will do something about that, that is just a straw horse, Madam Speaker. What is really at play here is continuing the Liberal and Labor parties' support for their big donors, the major corporations of Australia that they make their money from and that has given them their reason for being, because this has nothing to do with reducing harm from gambling in Tasmania. It will do nothing except put money into the state coffers.

The Greens have no problem with raising taxes, none at all. If this was being applied consistently, if this Government was being consistent about the raising of taxes and the pushing down on harmful forms of activities, we would be right there barracking for them, but this demonstrates the utter hypocrisy of the Liberals on everything to do with gambling. On the one hand they would like to pretend to Tasmanians that somehow this bill will have an effect on online gambling. I do not see anything in this bill that is going to make any difference to whether my teenager or any other person in Tasmania can sit in their bedroom and gamble on their phone. We might like to pontificate about how worried we are about that but this is not going to have any effect on people's ability to do that. All it will mean is that the Liberals in government will make money from it. There is nothing in this bill about where that money is going to go, about hypothecating that 15 per cent tax into reducing harm. Nothing. We will definitely talk about that amongst many other things in the bill as we go forward for the rest of the day and however long it takes to ask the questions about this incredibly important issue.

This is fundamentally at the rotten heart of the Liberal and Labor parties in Tasmania. It was the Labor Party in 2003 that recommitted to this single, exclusive pokies licence that has given Federal Group the ability to continue to go on gouging money from what we now know through the select inquiry and through the endless reports from TasCOSS and all the other organisations in Tasmania who have to pick up the pieces on a daily basis for people who are heavily addicted to gambling.

It was the Labor Party that re-signed that exclusive deal so that Federal gets the money out of Glenorchy and all the poorer suburbs in Tasmania and they re-signed the deal that was brought in by the Liberal Party in 1993. A special deal. No-one other than the Liberal Party and a few close mates with the Federal Group wanted that to go ahead. Tasmanians were really clear they did not want to have pokies in the suburbs. They did not want to have them. They knew what it would do. They knew it and here we are, decades later, and we are seeing it every day, every single day.

The Liberal Party was never going to change its mind before the last election but the Labor Party took a principled position to the 2018 election, a principled position or so they would have people think. But they did what the Labor Party does when they are pushed by their corporate donors - they rolled over. They got the minimum number of seats they could to get back in and then they rolled over.

Mr O'Byrne - It must be so hard being so pure. Just looking at other people. So pure. You are unbelievable.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, Mr O'Byrne, we do listen to the community. We listen to the signs. We listen to the community; we listen to the people who are trying to do the right thing in Australia. We do not back Adani. We do not take money from dirty coal, gas and gambling industries. We do not take it from the tobacco industry, unlike the Liberals who do, or who did, take money from the tobacco industry only a few short years ago.

Mr Gutwein - You have taken money from gambling.

Dr WOODRUFF - We do not support this criminal level of corporate influence over politics in Australia. The decisions that governments make ought to be in people's best interests.

When I looked at this bill the question I asked is, why? Why introduce a point of consumption tax? It is written here in the bill, it is because UBET Tas is having to pay a tax but digital online places are getting away with not paying money to the government. The government would like some of the money. The Productivity Commission would insist that there is a so-called fair playing field for corporations in Australia. What that means is it is a fair playing field for corporations to gouge anything they want out of the community and there is no external costs assessed in that fair playing field. There is no social impact assessed, there is no health affect assessed, there is no environmental affects assessed. So, the fair playing field does not cost the externalities of all those things because if it did we would not have an Adani mine being approved. We would not have an exclusive monopoly deal for pokies for Federal Hotels in Tasmania which this Government and this Labor Party in opposition back-in until 2043. Disgusting.

This bill is about hypocrisy, to pretend that it gives a damn. For this Treasurer to pretend that he cares at all about the impacts for people, the poorest Tasmanians, who are at risk of being addicted to yet another form of gambling. It is a disgrace. It is totally true.

Ms Archer interjecting.

Ms O'Connor -You get up there and debate with Dr Woodruff on the substance.

Madam SPEAKER - Excuse me.

Dr WOODRUFF - If they did care about the impacts of people from online gambling then they would do two things.

Ms Archer - People in glasshouses.

Dr WOODRUFF - Madam Speaker, the minister by interjection would like to say 'glasshouses' as though the Greens do not take these issues front on and consider how we would do things if we were in government. We costed an alternative budget this year that does not rely on the stinking money that Federal Hotels gouges out of the poorest people in Tasmania. We have done the work. The Labor Party did not even do an alternative budget. They never do. They never show their colours. They never declare what they are going to do and if they do they change their mind anyway. So basically, it would be a waste of paper because every single policy they have had in the last term of government they seem to have walked away from.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, order.

Dr WOODRUFF - We costed taking that out of the budget and the Treasurer could do the same. The Liberals could do the same. We do not have to rely on getting the money for Tasmania to go ahead into the future from the poorest people in Glenorchy. That is not where we should get it from. The millions and millions of dollars that have left this island to go to a family in Sydney when they should be here. It is totally criminal. It is a total hypocrisy because the first thing, if the minister was interested in that, if the Treasurer was interested in caring about people's health, then we would be getting rid of that exclusive pokies licence. He would make sure it was gone because there is nothing different about the level of addiction from electronic gaming machines than there is about a mobile phone device.

It is ludicrous to claim that there is something special and addictive about online device gambling because exactly the same technology is being used in electronic gaming machines. People are just as capable of being addicted, losing everything, losing their house, losing their ability to look after their children, neglecting them, leaving them without food, school clothes. It is utterly possible to do the same thing on an electronic gaming machine which this government enables in every pub and club that wants it in Tasmania.

Electronic gaming machines - every aspect of them is designed to enhance addiction. The payout schedule is designed, based on incredibly expert Pavlovian operant conditioning techniques. All the visuals and sounds are designed to create a hypnotic effect. The examination of electronic gaming machine patents shows an industry that is not just shamelessly aware of the misconceptions of gamblers but it actively tries to capitalise on those misconceptions. Political parties seek to capitalise on those poor people by profiting from the taxes that are taken from Federal Hotel's exclusive monopoly licence in Tasmania.

We know that the same companies that are peddling those awful pokies machines are also the companies that are producing that form of gambling on mobile devices. They are one and the same. There is no point pretending to differentiate them. What we are doing here today is the Government is taking its little bit of fair share of this dirty money that is being made by corporations, most of which are overseas but Australia plays its part in developing that technology, I am ashamed to say. Some of it also comes from Australia. Let us be clear, the taxes we are raising through this bill come from the gambling that is undertaken by people who are heavily addicted. It is really disgraceful. We are complicit in continuing to allow that addiction. I am not surprised that the Labor Party would be comfortable supporting this because their attitude seems to be, 'Well, if we can't change it we'd better just go along with it because what else can we do, it's going to happen anyway'. The end of the world is coming so let us all go along with that. There is no resistance and also no shame.

Huge advances in digital technology are driving these incredible advances in what is called Turbo Boost functionality. There are multimedia displays that mean people can gamble and multitask by watching movies or using other gambling streams at the same time, such as horseracing. It has advances in music control configuration, changes that allow pokies users or digital technology users to change the appearance of the machine or the format of their phone or other device to their taste, so people can personalise it and make it whatever colour or decoration they like. This is all about sucking people in and keeping people involved.

I do not know if members have seen the movie WALL-E but it has an image I always come back to in times like this. It is a cartoon about a future world where the world has been obliterated and there is just a bunch of machines going about clearing up rubbish. Meanwhile all the humans have left on a spaceship and they are being intoxicated by floating around in these soft little pads and sitting on the equivalent of airbeds like they are beside a pool, but they never get out of their bubble, they just have their machine in front of their faces. The hero of the story is a cute little mechanical object that is looking to find the seed that has the plant that is the way to break the spell of this essentially dysfunctional civilisation.

We are trying to break the spell of people who do not understand the link between nature and life, the link between removing ourselves from that addictive abyss into a space which is dark and takes us away from other human beings. It takes us away from communities, it removes us from the natural world and disconnects us from the relationship that we have and our fundamental subservience to natural systems. This continuation with business as usual that the Liberal and Labor parties are themselves addicted to is leading us closer to an abyss where we are less and less capable of finding our humanity and doing the things we do which are life-affirming. One of the life-affirming things we can do is to reject addictive gambling, to say no to predatory corporations which are only about their own self-interests and find other ways of getting money so that we are not reliant on the most vulnerable people in the community, the poorest people and the damage it does not just to them but to the lives of the children, their friends, their families and the rest of the community who have people who are not able to cope, who act out and are incredibly unhappy and depressed because of gambling.

This bill will not do anything about that. This bill will just make sure that the Treasurer has a little bit more money, by the sounds of it not even for him to put back into harm reduction but to put into Tasracing, another cruel, totally unnecessary industry that produces nothing of value that could not be found through another mechanism. People love horses. I love horses and I own two. Why would you want to breed them up just so thousands and thousands of them can be sent to the abattoir each year because they are not making enough money. We cultivate an industry which breeds baby horses, most of which in Australia end up in the abattoir. They just do not make it long enough to live their lives out in pastures, let us not kid ourselves. We are in a breeding program to make money for trainers and owners and for people to have fun betting on.

We do not want to live in a society where we make fun from cruelty to other animals or other people. The Greens stand for reminding us all that we do not have to do it this way. It is not benefitting us as individuals and as a community to make money in this way. If the only reason we are doing this is to somehow right some balance that the Productivity Commission demands of us so that there is not a disconnect between online betting operators who are not currently licensed and taxed and those such as UBET Tas who are subject to a levy for licensing and tax arrangements. If it is really about righting that disconnect, let us change the whole equation.

Speaking of equations, which we are coming to later in this bill, let us change the equation where we talk about what we really want to get here. We want to have practices that are not exploiting other people and animals through cruel exploitation to make money for a corporation or for a bit of fun for other people. We can do it another way.

If there was a serious intention to do something about the prevalence of online gambling, I would expect to see a discussion from the Treasurer about how this tax is going to be hypothecated and what it is going to be used for. If we have a 15 per cent tax worth $7 million, how is that money going to be used to better Tasmanians who are already being affected by a much higher amount of online gambling? We know that the harms include suicide, depression, relationship breakdown, lowered work productivity, job loss, bankruptcy and crime.

Let us talk about that from a money point of view for the moment. Loath as I am to put it into that metric, it may be something that the Treasurer understands. The costs to Tasmania and us as a community from each person who is depressed, whose relationship breaks down, who attends work less, who loses their job, who becomes bankrupt, who breaks the law, or who ultimately takes their own life, are massive and growing. That is something we could use, were we to go with the tax, in a way which could attempt to minimise those harms in a meaningful way, not just in the lip service way this bill uses.

This may be the first and last time where the Government talks about harm reduction in the context of this tax. Ultimately, as far as I understand, it is just a ploy that is being used to put some framing around the tax and make it sound as though it is coming from a kind of socially useful place.

The bottom line is, the money needs to go directly to harm reduction programs, support for families who are in relationship crisis and relationship breakdown, support for family violence programs, support for women's shelters, support for TasCOSS and the outreach work they do in the community, support for the Salvation Army and the work that they do with the poorest people, support the Neighbourhood Centres who are there picking up the pieces of people and children who come to them because - as I spoke to someone at Maranoa Heights, who have children who are as young as 10 and 12 coming to get food from the garden because Mum and Dad are not there - there is no food and they are not getting fed.

This happens. It happens from gambling in Tasmania now. The Liberals knew this. It was all talked about before the election. The Labor Party knew this. They pretended they cared and then they changed their mind. Those are the people who should be getting the support from this tax, not going to some generalised coffer of the Treasurer's to stash it aside for the next election so that he can make sure that he does his best to get re-elected. What is the point in being the Treasurer if you are not going to use the power that you have for the good of the community? We would like to see how that tax is going to be spent in detail.

The Gaming Control Act 1993 established an exclusive right to conduct casino operations and operate gaming machines in Tasmania and it did give the Federal Group the exclusive right to operate gambling machines, pokies, in Tasmania and it provided a guaranteed revenue to the Crown in schedule 1(A)(2) guaranteed revenue to the Crown, in respect of casino gaming machines, tax of $21 400 000 in respect of the financial years 1996-97 to 1999-2000. That was in 1993 but we can see that was an agreement between the Liberal Party at the time and Federal Group, an agreement to make money and an agreement about where the money was going to be split. Federal Hotels was going to get an exclusive licence, they could take money from the community; that is the place it comes from. It does not come out of the sky. It does not come from the mainland, it comes from the community. Meanwhile, the Crown, the Liberal Party at the time, was assuring itself it would get a good cut.

The Labor Party went on and renewed that in 2003, 10 years later, just to make sure that they kept the good cut coming. This is a bill that is getting a cut from gambling revenue. It is getting a cut and that cut should go to trying to stop the gambling in the first place, because it is only when we do so that the people who are most at risk are going to benefit. They are the people we have a responsibility to put first every time. Isn't that why we are here, to look after people who need it and to do what we can to make their lives a bit more bearable rather than adding to their misery?

We will continue to ask questions about this and I look forward to the Treasurer's detailed explanations as to where that tax will go in the state budget.