Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (12:40): I would like to make some observations on what I would like to characterise as a well-meaning but ineffective bill. I would like to make a few comments first about how the original bill works. The bill is a bill to amend the Interactive Gambling Act 2001. It arises from recommendations of the O'Farrell review. The O'Farrell review is just the latest in a series of reviews which have inquired into this piece of legislation and the surrounding area of problem gambling in this country. I have been involved in some of them but not all of them.

The bill, like the act that it seeks to amend, is a well-meaning attempt to prohibit the provision of certain online gambling services in Australia. I say well-meaning but ineffective for several reasons. By definition, the provision of online gaming services are transnational and notoriously difficult to ban. Even if you thought it was a good idea to ban them, it is very, very difficult to ban something that operates in international space across jurisdictions. There are prohibited gambling services that are offered to people in Australia. They operate from other countries. Sometimes those businesses are regulated in the jurisdictions where they operate; sometimes they are not.

I have had a look just before coming down here just to prove the points that I am about to make. I seek leave to table this document, which is one I have just recently downloaded from the internet, headed: 'Best online casinos for Australians.' I seek to table it to make the point.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Craig Kelly ): Is leave granted?

Leave is not granted.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: The document that I will quote from includes a series of top recommended Australian casinos. It gives you a list of the top 10, including the betting limits in Australian dollars and how they rate out of 10 according to this online organisation. It gives you an example of the games that are able to be played if you go online and play on one of these online casinos that are specifically marketed to Australians. You can play live dealer games, pokies, blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps, keno, bingo, Let It Ride, three card poker and a range of other games. What is interesting about this is that these are specifically the online gaming services that are banned by the 2001 bill. They are banned by the 2001 bill but proudly promoted online by this specific site.

The curious reader can scroll down a little further and go to the heading: 'Is it legal to play online?' And you get the legal advice from this organisations as well. It says: 'Yes. Laws currently in effect are based around Australian gambling companies and licensing. It is illegal to operate a web based casino in Australia but it is not illegal to play one. The casinos we recommend are based offshore and, while they may be infringing on Australia's Interactive Gambling Act regulations, it is not illegal for players to utilise the services they offer.'

There you go, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly, I am not surprised that the minister opposite was attempting to prevent me from tabling this document, because it demonstrates in a nutshell that, while however well-meaning this legislation may be, it is ineffective.

I could give other examples how the substantive act attempts to ban the advertising of these illegal gaming activities. That is sensible enough: if a service is banned in Australia, it follows that the advertising of that service should also be banned in Australia. Dutifully, our free-to-air broadcasters, our pay TV operators, our newspapers—in fact everyone regulated by the Broadcasting Services Act—and all the proprietors of newspapers in this country abide by the prohibition. But it does not stop the many online services that are broadcasting over the top—Twitter, Google, Facebook and the like—from advertising those prohibited services. This is why I make the point that it might be well meaning but it is not very effective.

Quite contrary to the comments made by the ill-informed but passionate member for Corangamite earlier , I think we should be looking to more effective means of regulating and dealing with these activities that many Australians, quite rightly, have concerns about. The second reason I say the act and the bill are ineffective is the willingness and capacity of law-enforcement bodies to police the law. It is understandably limited. There have been no prosecutions under this act. I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of our law-enforcement bodies. They have limited resources and, as I said at the outset, policing transnational operations is notoriously difficult. If they have to make a choice between spending their precious resources and chasing down would-be terrorists or paedophile rings operating across national and state borders, I know where I would be saying they should be focusing their precious resources—of course it does not have to be a zero-sum game. These are not reasons to oppose the bill—but let us not be as dishonest as the member for Corangamite was just now, and others have been, about what the bill actually does—these are reasons to take a very clear, hard look at other, more effective means of regulation which will achieve the stated aims of the bill and this substantive act.

The O'Farrell report cites the Global Betting and Gaming Consultants findings that the offshore wagering market in Australia in 2014 was worth around $64 million. This is down 70 per cent since 2004. The steep decline, according to the consultancy, in offshore wagering expenditure from Australia coincides with the ability of onshore sites to legally advertise nationally since late 2008—that is, the closing down of legally advertising these gaming activities since 2008. It has had material effect on offshore online gaming and industry consolidation, which has resulted in large numbers of significant offshore operators obtaining Australian wagering licences in recent years. These findings should be instructive to lawmakers and regulators about the best way to go about dealing with the problems I think most Australians would agree are associated with problem gambling in this country.

I am not against gambling. I am not a mad punter. I will have a bet every now and then. Like most Australians, I will do my dough at the Melbourne Cup and a couple of times in between and, if somebody tells me something is a sure thing, I will sometimes mistakenly rely on their advice and, more often than not, I will do my dough—I am definitely one of those. As I tell many people, 'I am an Irish Catholic. There are a few things we do.' It is almost culturally ingrained within us to have a punt every now and then.

However, for some Australians, gambling is a serious problem that has destroyed families and lives. Since coming into this place in 2010, I have spent much time considering the laws and regulations we have in place regulating gambling. I was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform in the 43rd Parliament. I had the opportunity of dealing with a lot of the evidence and a lot of the experts in this area, which has informed a lot of the views underlying my comments in this chamber today.

I was an advocate in 2013, which led to what I like to refer to as the 'Tom Waterhouse reforms', which are now enshrined within the code of practice made under the Broadcasting Services Act in this country. I call them the 'Tom Waterhouse reforms' because back in 2013 you could not go to a football match, a cricket match or a tennis game or watch them on television without this particular bookmaker or many of his competitors thrust down your throat. In every break, in-between and during the play, we were seeing advertising for gambling. It got to the point where young kids could quote the odds before they knew the rules of the game. Something is very, very wrong when that is allowed to occur.

I was pleased—and the member for Corangamite obviously did not catch up with this—that the Gillard government did move to force broadcasters to come to the table and ensure that a new code was put in place that regulated the broadcasting of gambling services during sporting fixtures. I thought this was a first step in the process and an opportunity for the industry to show that it could responsibly self-regulate.

In 2013, the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the then communications minister, Stephen Conroy, issued a joint media release on 26 May stating:

The Gillard Government has demanded that Australia's broadcasters amend their broadcasting codes … to ensure a reduction in the promotion and advertising of gambling during sport:

At that time, all generic gambling broadcast advertisements were banned during play, and advertisements of this sort would only be allowed before or after the game or during scheduled breaks in play such as quarter-time and half-time. This was a significant improvement to where we were before that new code of practice was put in place. In July 2013, the Australian Communications and Media Authority registered the new codes, satisfied they contained appropriate community safeguards. It is notable that, in the backgrounder to its media release announcing the code registration, the ACMA stated:

… the codes do not cover the field of community concerns around gambling advertising and general sports programming. For example, ACMA research also indicates just over 60 per cent of the community find unacceptable the presentation of odds and general gambling advertisements during sports-related programs … The ACMA will consider if there is a need to review the effectiveness of the new codes following the Australian summer sports season and will continue to examine community attitudes in order to inform its decision-making on any future regulatory initiatives.

In my previous comments, I have already demonstrated why the bill as it currently stands is ineffective in its stated objective of prohibiting the provision of interactive gambling services delivered online to Australians. We see the operators providing quite accurate legal advice to their would-be customers on websites that are available here in Australia. I say the most effective means needs to have us looking at the way we are promoting and meshing gaming, including online gambling services, with our sporting fixtures, and this goes to the heart of the second reading amendment which the member for Franklin has moved in this House.

It is worth making this point: we understand the circumstances that the commercial broadcasters find themselves in, with a challenge from online providers which is creating a leakage of revenue that would otherwise flow to them through advertising, at the same time as we are seeing the sporting codes themselves acting in a perfectly commercial way and continually asking more and more and more for the broadcasting rights to very popular sporting fixtures. I understand that the Big Bash League—and I am a big fan of the Big Bash—are looking at receiving fees in excess of $60 million for broadcasting rights, and there is a battle going on beyond Channel Nine and Channel Ten to win those exclusive broadcasting rights. The Australian Open is receiving over $40 million a year through its exclusive broadcasting rights with Channel Seven. The NRL receives $185 million per annum from Channel Nine—extraordinary sums of money. I am not against the sporting codes asking as much as they possibly can for the rights, but the broadcasters and the sporting codes themselves cannot expect, if they continually up and up and up the bidding, that that money is going to be backfilled by gaming advertising during those fixtures. The Australian public will not stand for it, and if this government does not do something about it I am quite certain the next government will.