DI COVENY GARLAND: … now on the line, Liberal Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham. Good morning, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Dianne, and good morning to your listeners.
DI COVENY GARLAND: So, Simon, Tony Abbott says he will overturn the legislation if he becomes Prime Minister.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes, Dianne, look, we think this is bad legislation and if you think something is bad legislation then you oppose it from opposition and if you win government you take it out of play and that’s exactly what the Coalition, I believe, will seek to do on this matter and it’s bad legislation for a number of fronts. Firstly, let’s recognise that this is entirely a State Government matter. We have vastly different pokies laws across this country, from SA with no note acceptors to WA with basically no pokies to…
DI COVENY GARLAND: Well, that’s… you know, I was going to say, because we have a couple of girls in the newsroom here from Western Australia and they were surprised that you can walk into a pub or a club and there’s poker machines because they said in WA the only place is the casino, for the poker machines.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s right, Dianne, and so you have this vastly different range of laws already in existence across the states and that’s because management of pokies has always been a State Government matter. State Governments set the loss rates, they set the regulations, they set the tax regime – they are the ones who control it. The Federal Government has never had anything to do with poker machine laws before in the nation’s history and now Julia Gillard is wanting to take us down this path purely on the whim of a Tasmanian Independent upon whom she relies to form government so let’s understand that if people want pokies reform, the debate exists firstly at the State Parliamentary level. Have it there. That’s where Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon, frankly, should be if they want to debate pokies reform. It’s not been a matter for the Federal Parliament and it really is an abuse of the Constitution to contort the corporations laws and others in certain ways to try to get this reform through.
That’s the first problem but the second problem is that these are not effective reforms that are being proposed. We’re talking about putting in place a pre-commitment regime that won’t, of course, actually put a cap on what people spend. People will put their own cap on and what will problem gamblers do? They’ll put massive caps on. There will be nothing to stop people putting the $100,000 – the $1 million – cap on their gambling if that’s what they want. However, recreational gamblers will just find it all too hard. The people who don’t have a problem will think that this is a bureaucratic nightmare and they’ll simply check out of the system, so that’s why the pubs and clubs in the states with pokies are so worried, because they can see that the overwhelming majority of their clients, the people who use the pokies responsibly, just won’t be interested in going through the hassle of this pre-commitment regime but the people who are the problem gamblers… they’ll go through the hassle but it won’t limit their losses, so it will have been ineffectual in achieving its goal.
DI COVENY GARLAND: And somebody… we had a caller who rang earlier this morning and said ‘well, look, you know, it should be up to the individual; if they have a problem, they need to realise it first’ but that’s, I suppose, a very basic way of looking at it but, as you say, those problem gamblers can put in… well, really, the sky is the limit for the limit that they put in as… in the pre-commitment technology.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, it certainly is and, look, I think… there are, of course, a small number of Australians who have a gambling problem. They need to be helped whether it’s with the pokies, whether it’s with the races, whether it’s, of course, with the very growing area of online gambling that we see a lot of people engage in and a lot more losses likely to be incurred in future, whether we have these types of pokies reforms or not.
What’s important is that the facilities are there and the mechanisms are there to give people direct assistance, so that direct intervention in people’s lives that can help them turn things around and that’s the only thing that will really work effectively with problem gamblers, whatever the source of their gambling and at least, for those who gamble in pubs and clubs, there is a level of human interaction in those facilities; there is an opportunity for people to talk to others about their problems and for those pubs and clubs, if they’re acting responsibly, to steer problem gamblers into those sorts of help services that can provide that direct intervention.
DI COVENY GARLAND: Do they do that, though? I know, obviously, with the strict alcohol legislation that if you’ve had too many drinks and you go to the counter for another beer, for example, they are required to say ‘well, look, no you’ve had enough, I can’t serve you’ but are there actually people in the pubs and clubs who do a similar thing for gamblers?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, certainly, and I can’t speak for every state in that regard, but certainly I’m aware that in instances and here in my home state I know the hotel industry puts a lot of funding and a lot of resources into gambling support services and into providing the types of interventions that can help problem gamblers deal with their issues and hopefully overcome their issues and that’s important to do. It’s a very small number of Australians but those services should be there and there should be an expectation that, out of the many millions of dollars that State Governments raise in poker machine taxes, some of that actually goes towards supporting these services.
DI COVENY GARLAND: Simon, thank you very much for your time this morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Dianne.
DI COVENY GARLAND: Thank you. That’s the Liberal Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham talking about the gambling reforms.