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Tim READ (Brunswick) (11:36): The Greens will support the government’s Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. Most of the provisions in the bill legislate the remaining recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence. We commend the minister on finalising this work. Mind you, legislating all the recommendations was imperative in this case given that the royal commission found:
Within a very short time, the Commission discovered that for many years Crown Melbourne had engaged in conduct that is, in a word, disgraceful. This is a convenient shorthand for describing conduct that was variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative.
We know that there is an important deadline coming up. The royal commission found that Crown was not fit to hold a casino licence and granted a specific two-year period in which an external special manager has overseen all aspects of the casino’s operations and ensured all rules and regulations are complied with. That two-year period ends in January 2024. The special manager will report to the regulator, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission, and the regulator will then decide whether it is clearly satisfied that Crown Melbourne has returned to suitability. If the regulator is not clearly satisfied, Crown’s licence will be cancelled. We will be watching with interest in the lead-up to that deadline.
This leads me to a related aspect of the bill, which is to provide powers to the special manager to be able to wind down operations and disburse assets, including assets owned by Crown’s parent company. It is good to see these additional powers in the bill should the licence be cancelled. Also in this bill there is a provision allowing the minister to set the date for commencing the provision whereby the casino cannot pay out more than $1000 in winnings in cash to an individual without confirming their identity. This has taken longer than expected, but we are advised by the minister’s office that this has been to allow time for the rollout of mandatory carded, or cashless, gambling across the whole casino, which will allow tracking of an individual’s wins or losses across the whole venue and across different gambling mechanisms such as poker machines and table games. This will enable implementation of the royal commission’s recommendations. It is slower than stakeholders have called for – at least, stakeholders other than Crown – but at least it is being implemented.
The bill includes a very welcome step that will reduce the harm done to those who gamble. The Greens have long advocated for longer and uniform mandatory closure times for venues that have poker machines – that is, venues outside of the casino. We all know these venues are primarily pubs and clubs in our neighbourhoods and regions, and they are the site of so much gambling harm in our state. The Greens policy is that mandatory closing hours should be from midnight to 10 am. We see in the bill that the government proposes only a standard 4 am to 10 am closure time. Under standing orders, I wish to advise the house of amendments to this bill and request that they be circulated.
Amendments circulated under standing orders.
Tim READ: These amendments amend the bill so that mandatory closing hours start at midnight, not 4 am. While we acknowledge a standard closing time will stop venues in close proximity from staggering their opening hours, which has been a significant problem, there is persuasive evidence that substantial harm occurs on poker machines between midnight and 4 am. Only in July this year, during public hearings for the inquiry into the Victorian Auditor-General’s reports no. 99 Follow up of Regulating Gambling and Liquor of 2019 and no. 213 Reducing the Harm Caused by Gambling of 2021, we saw expert witnesses provide clear evidence that harms increase during later hours. Professor Samantha Thomas is a specialist in determinants of public health in the school of health and social development at Deakin University, and her evidence on opening hours is worth reading into the record:
As far as I am aware, there are 485 venues in Victoria … 107 of them are open at 4 am and 361 of them are open at 2 am. Now, the most recent evidence that comes out of New South Wales shows that between midnight and 2 am we start to see the harm increase, and then at about 2 am we start to see it increase significantly again. So there does not seem to be a compelling reason for a 4 am close when we know that the harm is starting to amplify much earlier than that.
The gambling industry continues to cause significant avoidable harm to individuals and families in our community. Based on sound evidence the Greens amendment would allow 10 hours where people and communities are protected from the saturation level of poker machines that exists across our state. This would be a notable step in mitigating harm against individuals and communities by poker machines.
In conclusion, while we commend the minister and government for these reforms, we know they represent only small steps in the right direction, and there is much more that needs to be done. We look forward to working with the minister to develop comprehensive reforms based on a public health harm reduction framework, and the Greens will continue to advocate for further changes to protect our community from the predatory gambling industry.