Rebekha Sharkie, NXT's Federal Member for Mayo, and her fellow cross benchers were a lonely sight in the House of Representatives yesterday. They were the only MPs to vote in favour of amendments that would strengthen interactive gambling laws.
Voting were Ms Sharkie, Independent Member for Indi Cathy McGowan; Australia Party Member for Kennedy Bob Katter; Greens MP Adam Bandt and Independent Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie.
They attempted, unsuccessfully, to introduce amendments that would limit the availability of in-play betting, prevent gambling organisations from offering credit and restrict access to overseas gambling organisations that broke Australian gambling laws.
Another unsuccessful amendment sought to establish an interactive gambling regulator.
The following is the speech given by Ms Sharkie in the House on February 8, 2017.
"Honourable members of this House will know the position of the Nick Xenophon Team when it comes to gambling and our continued push for legislative reform in this area.
It is no secret that Australians love to gamble, and there is certainly nothing wrong with the occasional punt.
However, Australia wagers more than any other country in the world.
Some estimates put the amount that Australians spend on
gambling at around $20 billion a year.
In the Nick Xenophon Team, we are committed to Australian communities.
As long as predatory gambling companies continue to prey on Australians, we will continue to push for reform.
Our position includes the banning of in-play betting Australia wide, ending ball-by-ball microbetting, and outlawing the broadcasting of sporting betting ads during games, especially during G-rated periods when children are watching sport.
I echo the honourable member for Hindmarsh's comments in relation to watching sporting games with his children and
how sports betting is becoming the norm on television and children are constantly seeing this.
I do not want my children or other children to be thinking about the odds of each game; I want them to be enjoying the game.
I recently watched the Australian Open with great interest, but I was dismayed at being constantly bombarded with gambling advertisements and live odds updates.
The Federal Government needs to get serious on predatory gambling and this predatory behaviour.
Make no mistake: gambling hurts Australian families every single day in this country.
These are the facts: according to the Department of Social Services, 500,000 Australians—that is half a million Australians—are at risk of becoming, or already are, problem gamblers, and these people lose around $20,000 each per year.
That is close to one-third of the average Australian salary. Between 2015 and 2016, Australians spent $16 billion having a punt, and $13 billion of that was on pokies.
This statistic is even more worrying given that young people spend more on pokies than any other age group.
Predatory gambling is a scourge on our society, and this is money that is coming out of our communities, and particularly our regional communities.
It touches families everywhere. It does not discriminate based on race, age or gender.
We in the Nick Xenophon Team have heard the stories of those families ruined by gambling, from mothers who hide their gambling addiction from their families until they wind up having to steal to pay the bills, to fathers whose gambling addiction has meant they have lost the family home.
Yes, there are material assets that are lost, but it also pulls families apart, and people go from the pokie room to the family courtroom.
There is no doubt that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 is a step in the right direction, and I commend the government for this measure.
For too long the Interactive Gambling Act has been impotent when it came to dealing with overseas online gambling organisations operating within Australia.
These organisations operated freely within our borders and caused immeasurable harm to Australian citizens.
I have questions regarding how the government will be able to enforce penalties against those companies who may continue to
disregard the measures in this bill.
I would like to see a requirement on internet service providers to block access to websites operated by those who continue to operate within Australian borders without permission to do so.
While I welcome the measure within this bill and I am glad to see the government is recognising that gambling reform is much needed, I do, however, still harbour some concerns about this legislation.
For example, some provisions will provide further opportunities for licensed betting venues to offer electronic betting devices.
This bill will allow the expansion of the use of electronic devices, including tablets and smartphones, with an in-play betting function within licensed venues.
If the aim is to reduce in-play betting, I fail to see how this helps. In-lay betting is only supposed to be performed in person or over the phone.
These measures will allow gambling operators to potentially expand their operations within licensed venues.
Surely that is against the intention of this draft legislation.
I would like to see in-play betting limited to electronic betting terminals to ensure that gambling operators do not seek to expand their operations by allowing people to place in-play bets using tablets or smartphones at a bar.
These terminals are permanent installations located in a specific area set aside for gambling and are unable to connect to the internet.
That is the sort of protective measure we need.
In my opinion, the bill as it is currently written will increase the opportunities for in-play betting without addressing the very serious concern that this could increase opportunities for gambling.
In-play betting is especially dangerous, as it gives a person an immediate opportunity to win their money back, which also heightens the potential for bigger losses.
These are spur-of-the-moment decisions people make when they are swayed by emotions and possibly under the influence of alcohol.
I think it is pertinent that, if a government is going to introduce legislation on gambling reform, they consider the issue of harm minimisation.
I fear that the current harm minimisation tactics used within bars and gambling venues are inadequate.
During the Senate inquiry into this bill, my colleague Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore questioned the department as to whether they thought the current harm minimisation strategies were working.
Their response was that harm minimisation was a matter for the States.
But this affects all Australians, and I want to see our Federal Government take more responsibility for this area and work more closely with the States to improve harm minimisation.
Given that this bill will see an increase in betting devices within licensed venues, it cannot be argued that the expansion of the gambling market would not result in harm minimisation.
I and the rest of the Nick Xenophon Team will continue to hold the Government to account and keep the pressure on to ensure that harm minimisation strategies are considered and implemented as we continue to fight against predatory gambling.
One of these strategies is to continually train gambling service employees to recognise the early warning signs of problem gambling and be able to intervene.
The evidence at the moment shows that gambling service employees rarely intervene when they believe a customer is struggling to control their gambling.
I would like to see it become an offence for gambling organisations to fail to train their employees to recognise the warning signs and to empower them to act.
This bill does not address some of the issues that contribute to gambling addictions and the devastating impact on families.
In August 2015, Financial Counselling Australia released a report called Duds, mugs and the Alist: the impact of uncontrolled sports betting. In that report, a number of industry practices were identified as contributing to problem gambling, and this bill does not address some of those key concerns—for example, the
ability to gamble online using credit, which was identified as one of the biggest contributors to the spiral towards problem gambling.
I would like to see online gambling operators restricted from offering credit to customers, just like they are in the pokie room. This would be of immeasurable benefit to families across Australia.
In conclusion, this bill is a good first step in curtailing the influence of overseas gambling organisations, but I would like to see it go further to protect Australian families from predatory gambling organisation and I will be moving amendments to that effect."