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Legislative Assembly

17 October 2023
Second reading
Cindy McLeish  (LIB)


Cindy McLEISH (Eildon) (17:47): I rise too to make a contribution on the Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. This bill has had an interesting origin. It came out of the blue, you could say, because prior to the election the industry were under the impression that there were going to be no further changes in this area, and lo and behold in the middle of the year, in July, the then Premier Andrews and the minister made an announcement that there would be legislation and there would be a number of changes that would be brought forward. We see this as the first of those. The others are perhaps a lot more controversial, and it is interesting to note that when they announced these changes on 16 July, firstly, it was out of the blue, but secondly, they pretty well said this is what is going to happen, and now they are looking at doing the consultation. Now, for me, my view of consultation is you do the talking first. You seek the feedback before you write the legislation, before you see how things might work, in case there are some unintended consequences and some gremlins that you have not thought about because you have not actually done that consultation and sought that feedback in the first instance. I think it is exceptionally important that that work is done in the first instance, not as an ‘Oh gosh, we’d better that now that we’ve made these announcements’, because that is fraught with danger.

Having said that, this is the first tranche of the gaming industry reforms that have been announced, and what it includes is the introduction of mandatory closure periods for gaming machine areas – but not the Crown Casino; that is already dealt with – between 4 am and 10 am. It also amends provisions relating to the appointment of management of the casino should the licence operator be cancelled, suspended or surrendered. We would think that that is probably not going to happen, but we have had some pretty big issues in Australia that have led to the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. There have been some absolute issues and challenges with oversights and things not operating with the governance that should have been expected over an organisation as large as that. So whilst you would think it probably would not happen, never say never, because these sorts of things do happen from time to time.

As I said, these reforms came out of the blue. There are issues with problem gambling. A very small number of people are impacted by problem gambling, and I will talk about that later in my contribution, but in the main a lot of people do gamble very responsibly. The industry was taken by surprise here. There are pubs and clubs that had just entered a 20-year licence and sale period in 2022. When you enter a licence for that long – 10 years plus 10 years – you are expecting certainty. You are expecting to know what it is that you have entered, and when the goalposts begin to change you may re-evaluate what it is that you have entered into and the contractual agreements there. Whilst this bill is looking at altering the hours of operation and having mandatory closing hours between 4 am and 10 am, I think most people, in the main, would think that you do not have to have machines operating at 6 am. There may be reasons – there may be shiftworkers who like to wind down with this legitimate activity – but the information I have is that in particular areas people are able to move from one venue to another because they stagger the closing hours so that there is always somewhere open that they can go to to gamble. I do not think that anyone should lose too much sleep over changing those.

As I have mentioned, there was the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, and there were 33 recommendations. Part of the change here is about trying to address some of the money laundering. It is pretty difficult, I would imagine, to launder money through gaming machines. If you are putting $1000 in there, as a limit, to try and launder that money and you only press the button once or twice and then try and get your money that is cleaned up a little bit, that is a fairly painstaking process. I am not sure that altering the limits from $1000 down to $100 is going to make a huge difference.

Managing downtime – we do know that from time to time power outages do happen. Not every operation has a large generator to cope with those sorts of things. There are clauses to provide the minister with powers to make declarations with respect to those sorts of outages.

I do want to focus over the last few minutes on some issues with problem gambling. When the coalition was in government we set up the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, and that is due to close by 30 June next year. This is something I would really encourage the government to have a look at, because they commission a lot of research into gambling and gambling harm. One of the studies that I will refer to in a moment is a great example of perhaps why that should be in place.

Many people are able to gamble very effectively – not effectively as in winning but in managing the amount that they spend – and can control that and have a bit of fun in a social activity. But there are instances where it does get out of hand. I do recall quite a number of years ago – 20-odd years ago – a staff member that I had came to me and was absolutely shaking because she had found out that her mother was a gambler and had lost many thousands of dollars. When the family found out, they did not know what to do. It was out of the blue, and they were so worried and fearful that they would lose their house. It ended up being okay. They got the right assistance that they needed, and her mum was okay in the long term. But I did hear of another instance from a friend about one of her friends whose husband had a gambling problem and had pretty well lost the house but hid constantly the bank statements and any bill: ‘No, I’ll look after those bills. No, you don’t need to see it. I’ve got it.’ This person, the spouse, let that happen and found out way too late that they were in so much financial debt that it was very difficult to recover from it.

Not so long ago, earlier this year, I met with financial counsellors in the Yarra Valley at EACH in Yarra Junction, and they talked to me about some of the issues with gambling but also the link to domestic and family violence. One of the studies that I was very interested in that came through the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation was Recognition and Responses to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in Gambler’s Help Services. They had done a qualitative study, and the research there was pretty interesting because it did note a lot of the issues that had been raised with me through those at EACH in the Yarra Valley. I just will mention that the amount of money that is there to fund support services is pretty light on. One person is funded for 0.3 through the VRGF, 1½ days, and that is not really enough for her to be able to do all the work that she needs to do. She gets similar funding to do family violence counselling through consumer affairs.

Some of the issues were picked up in this paper, which is from October 2022. It is worth the house noting that this is good work done by the VRGF and it needs to be continued. There is the hidden nature of gambling and domestic violence or intimate partner violence, and in situations when a partner has gambled, the stresses in those households are particularly high. We need to be mindful of that because at the same time we have a huge incidence of domestic and family violence in this state, and gambling does have a little role in that. To take away some of the support services and not adequately fund them I think is an oversight of the Allan Labor government, and I encourage them to take another look at that.

I have also heard stories of elder abuse where people are being abused and they have gone to try and escape their son or daughter and gone off to gamble instead. (Time expired)