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Treasurer – Electronic Gaming Machines

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Tags: Pokies, Gambling Industry, Treasury

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Chair. You would be aware of highly respected and indeed much loved Tasmanian author, James Boyce, who write the seminal book about the gambling industry in Tasmania, Losing Streak: how Tasmania was gamed by the gambling industry. On 27 May this year, the day the Budget was delivered, you were on ABC Radio Hobart, where you claimed that the federal group had taken a $20 million hit, and they were livid 'about the casino pokies tax rate' that you negotiated in secret with them, and kept from the Tasmanian people during the 2021 election campaign.

James Boyce has accused you of lying in a public statement. He says -

The Tas Treasurer just lied on ABC Hobart about his casino tax cuts, federal group is not taking a $20 million hit, they are not livid. The tax arrangements were first set out by them.

Why would you mislead Tasmanians on statewide radio in such a way?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, thank you for the question. It's disappointing that Mr Boyce would feel that way, but it doesn't hurt my feelings too much. I speak honestly and truthfully and occasionally, when I make a mistake, I'll correct it. I don't believe that anything I said in that interview is incorrect, and it's disappointing that you would have that rendition of history, and I think I even -.

Ms O'CONNOR - He's a historian, just to be clear.

Mr FERGUSON - You obviously are not, because I'm pretty confident that you quoted me using words I didn’t even use. If you could even have the goodness to bring to the table an accurate transcript that would be better.

Ms O'CONNOR - He's quoted you.

Mr FERGUSON - If you could be fair to me, my advice is that is the position. By the way, I had a lot of positive feedback about that interview.

Ms O'CONNOR - Not from Mr Boyce, you didn't.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please stop talking over the minister.

Mr FERGUSON - I did, because a lot of people felt that I dealt with a few myths and problems that were being put about. But that being the case, I prefaced my remarks by saying I wasn't wanting to speak unkindly about Federal, but made the point.

Ms O'CONNOR - Of course you don't, there a major donor.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, do not talk over the minister, please.

Mr FERGUSON - I don't mind, it's okay, it adds to the quality of the afternoon.

Ms O'CONNOR - You were looking a bit bored, actually.

Mr FERGUSON - I needed some spice for the afternoon, so thank you for bringing that to the stew.

Ms O'CONNOR - You're welcome.

Mr FERGUSON - I did preface my remarks by saying that I did not want to speak ill of people, but the Federal group were not enthralled by the tax treatment across the bundle of taxes. It's true, that you could separate out individual gaming taxes that we settled on in the legislation, some of which looks very positive for Federal.

But you have to look at the total mix, and there was significant disappointment expressed to the Government. That’s as much as I am prepared to say about Federal's position. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, they can speak for themselves.

In respect of those matters, though, the parliament has considered the tax arrangements. I've been honest and faithful in all of my dealings with the parliament and with stakeholders on this, and I think that the future is about implementing the future gaming market reforms. It's my continued personal expectation that we will see stronger harm minimisation measures as a result of the direction I gave to the commission.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Just on your questioning of the language that Mr Boyce quotes in his public statement, I note that you had said a number of times during the debate on the future gaming markets legislation that Federal group had taken a $20 million hit, and we challenged you on that at the time. So, the language he quotes is consistent with language that you have used previously. It’s a matter of public record now, that both your party and the Labor Party made sure that legislation got through and that the Federal Group is a major donor to both of your parties. Can you confirm though, that the reduction in the loss of revenue to Federal Group is caused only by the fact that their monopoly had been coming to an end and what you've effectively done through giving them such a sweet casino tax rate is tried to compensate them, it looks like, for something when they weren't entitled to any compensation at all?

Mr FERGUSON - Thank you, Ms O'Connor, for the question. Thank you for the much more moderate description that you've given about those matters than you did earlier. I will refute and reject claims which I think are really unfortunate that you have given voice to today. I have never heard those allegations from somebody who I would have had a higher regard for.

But, be that as it may, I will ask the Deputy Secretary, Mr Root, to tell the committee from the department's point of view about the tax treatments, as it regards Federal and you might also, Mr Root, give the broader context for the basket of taxes, the changes in the future gaming reforms.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Boyce is an historian and a truth-teller.

CHAIR - Please let the minister talk. Please don't talk over the minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - He is bringing Mr Boyce into disrepute in some ways - he's an historian.

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, just reflect on your own comments this afternoon.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Dad. I'll do what I need to do.

Mr FERGUSON - There's no need for that.

Mr ROOT - I refer to the modelling of the impacts that was provided in July 2021, which sets out the basis for the commentary around the impact on the Federal Group, wherein there is both a tax impact and the impact of loss of revenue due to the network gaming licence coming to an end and going out to tender. The impact of that network gaming revenue loss to the Federal Group was modelled at $30.62 million. There was also an increase in casino taxation which reduced revenue to the Federal Group by $5.28 million.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sorry to interrupt, that was the Keno. That was the only increase that they had?

Mr ROOT - Correct. The Keno rate went up. The net impact of the tax changes for casinos was beneficial to the Federal Group to the tune of $11.2 million, and then were some benefits, obviously, to those pubs and clubs in the Vantage Group benefiting from the changes to the tax rates for pubs, to the tune of around $5 million. That gets you to the position that was referred to.

Mr FERGUSON - Mr Root, would you tell the committee what the net effect is on Federal Group, please?

Ms O'CONNOR - How did you reach that $20 million figure?

Mr FERGUSON - Excuse me, are we still answering. Mr Root?

Mr ROOT - That is the net effect. If you take the loss of $30 million in network gaming revenue, and another $5 million in Keno, that gives you $35 million; $11 million in casinos beneficial, and another $5 million in pubs and clubs - that takes you down to just under $20 million.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Root, for that. This is obviously for a corporation which knew that the monopoly deed was coming to an end so you would have to agree, Treasurer, there was no argument for compensation and even under the future gaming markets' framework that you with your Labor colleagues have passed through this place Federal Group will remain a highly profitable gambling company off the back of some of our poorest people.

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, I don't know how to answer you at this point because you've just heard from the Deputy Secretary of my department that has backed in what I've said on the radio. You've accused me by using other people's words of lying. That's demonstrably unfair and untrue. If you actually have a different question I am happy to answer it. You've got to be responsible for what you say as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did you - I am actually reporting to you what Mr Boyce has said -

Mr FERGUSON - Yes, yes, we've heard all that before.

Ms O'CONNOR - So did you actually say on ABC Radio that Federal Group was livid or you don't think you said that?

Mr FERGUSON - Look, I am not going to play games with you about what words were spoken because the Greens have now tried a couple of times to put words in my mouth and you've brought to the Table claims of lying and so on. I've addressed those matters. The deputy secretary has assisted me to explain how those numbers were found and represented in an interview. If you have any actual questions, I am happy to answer them.

Ms O'CONNOR - To be clear, how you could say it is a hit, when the monopoly deed was coming to an end and therefore their monopoly profits were about to end, is perplexing, not only to me but obviously to Mr Boyce.

Mr FERGUSON - The facts are as they are, the parliament has decided the future gaming legislation. Remember, if we had not have ended the deed it would have continued.

Ms O'CONNOR - It would not, if you had written to Federal Group; that's not true.

Mr FERGUSON - If we hadn't ended the deed with the notice period or the legislation, the deed would have continued. You fail to recognise those basic truths which stack out what I have had to say to Leon Compton on the ABC and the ABC audience. I have had very good feedback after that interview. People thought I did a very good job explaining the Budget in the context of accusations from the Labor Party around debt and other matters. I think I responded honestly and fairly on those matters, and made the necessary concessions that I did with honesty and humility. In respect of Mr Boyce, he is entitled to his own opinions; but you have to be responsible for what you bring to this table, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - And I stand by it.

Mr FERGUSON - Well, that's on you, then.