Matters of Public Importance: Gambling

Senator O’NEILL (New South Wales) (16:38): I am pleased to be able to participate in this afternoon’s MPI, moved by Senator Siewert, about the need for the federal government to take a stronger, more active and direct role in the regulation of harmful and predatory gambling. I want to take the opportunity to put on the record just how powerful the sharing of life experiences from older adult Australians with younger children can be as an interrupter to the sorts of behaviours that we are seeking to discuss here today. People fall into gambling addiction because there are harmful and predatory practices in this industry.

I recall living as a young girl on Targo Road in Western Sydney, not very far from the Pendle Hill Catholic Club, where there was a wonderful woman I was very proud to know—one of those adoptive aunts. Her name was Gwen Carroll. She was a great nurse. She came from Toowoomba. She moved to Sydney and worked at Crown Street. She delivered thousands of babies, had a great social conscience, married a lovely Irishman and became a part of our family.

Aunty Gwen worked at the Pendle Hill Catholic club, and one evening we went to pick her up and bring her home. She had plates of food she was carrying out, and instead of getting into the car she gave the plates of food to a man who put them into his car. It was leftover food from the club. When she got into the car for us to give her a lift home, I asked her what was going on. I was a very impressionable eight-year-old at the time. She said, ‘Well, that man hasn’t got enough money left to feed his family,’ because he’d gambled it away on poker machines in that club. To this day I applaud her social conscience and her practical action to deal with the issue for that family, but it’s a few years since I was eight, and here we are discussing this matter still. Gambling is a significant social problem for far too many Australians.

Now, as a mother of 20-somethings, I know that the culture amongst many young Australians at this time is one in which rabid social advertising is drawing them more and more into the world of gambling, to the point where addiction to gambling is absolutely increasing. Just this week, there was an amazing article, in my view, which was related to the royal commission. You might say, ‘Well, what’s that got to do with harmful and predatory gambling?’ But I will take the part of the MPI about ‘a stronger and more active direct role in the regulation’. We need to think about where people are getting money and free access to money. The story that I want to cite was written by consumer affairs reporter Sarah Farnsworth and the ABC Specialist Reporting Team’s Naomi Selvaratnam. It was uploaded two days ago, and it’s in the public domain. The caption under the photo of a young man is:

By the time he was 20, Mitchell Spiteri was placing daily bets on gambling websites.

The article goes on to note:

“As of February 17, laws banning gambling companies from giving credit to people will come into effect”

But it also indicates that this young man, despite his full profile of spending being available to his bank, was still approved for a $25,000 loan when he was at the peak of his addiction.

So we have a long, long way to go in creating a context for a punt—and let’s face it: Australians really make the best of that, particularly on Melbourne Cup Day, and the whole of the racing industry, to a degree, really relies on the entertainment value of horseracing and the dogs et cetera, and there are many other forms of betting that people do manage in moderation. But the context in which we live right now is one that Labor acknowledges is very concerning from the point of view that the growth in gambling advertising and online betting, including sports betting, is just rampant.

We recognise, as a party, that well-regulated gambling absolutely has a place in Australian society. I’ve only got five minutes, so I won’t tell you about the wonderful times I had going to Royal Randwick with my family, including my father, seeing and enjoying the races. People there were having a great day. But we are concerned because times have changed and the growth of digital technology, including smartphones, allows Australians to wager and gamble whenever and wherever they choose, so social protections that once might have existed no longer exist. We’re in a digital age. We can’t change that. It’s an age of rapid change with regard to technology. Pretty well all of us have at least one handheld device; many of us have multiple devices. Smartphones allow us to do remarkable things, including going to the MoneySmart website, and I’m sure the MoneySmart website from ASIC would have some good guidance for young people who want to think about managing their money. It’s not the technology that is flawed but what we’re allowing to happen with it and within it. It’s important that we acknowledge that the new technological realities have increased the likelihood of problem gambling. We simply cannot deny that that’s the reality.

Labor also believes that the advertising of legitimate sports bets can and should be well regulated, with appropriate harm-minimisation measures in place to protect children against problem gambling. This is because, as I started to recount in my opening remarks, we know that gambling in our community can in some cases have devastating consequences not just for the individual but for their family—social consequences, financial consequences and emotional consequences that don’t remain with the individual whose choice it is but are transferred by their connection to others, to entire families, and can race through entire communities in small regional areas.

Research undertaken by Deakin University gives us this vital information in very digestible form and points out that there are a number of very concerning issues with regard to children in particular and gambling advertising on television. Deakin found that over 90 per cent of children can recall having seen an advertisement for sports betting. That’s pretty much market saturation of a youth market. Three-quarters of children aged eight to 16 years can recall the name of at least one sports betting brand and approximately one-quarter can recall four brands or more. So when 75 per cent of children think gambling is normal, to the point that it’s part of something that they can just name off the top of their head, it shows you the level of exposure that our entire community is being subjected to. Parents who participated in that survey and study from Deakin University also conveyed their concerns, including that gambling advertising is so prevalent that it’s changing the way kids think about sport and talk about sport.

All the language that we use arrives into our world in a context—and this is not a context that exists in every country around the world but it is certainly the reality that we confront right now. That’s why Labor has continued to maintain a very strong stance to ensure that appropriate harm minimisation measures are in place and that we protect and assist our community. It was Labor, when in government, that commissioned the Productivity Commission report to update its previous report on the gambling industry in Australia. And it was Labor that rejected recommendations to water down Australia’s online gaming laws until harm minimisation strategies were adopted. It is a while since we were in government—sadly. We’ve been watching the demise of so many important parts of the fabric of our society. When we were in government we understood this was an issue, and we led the introduction of new rules to limit the promotion of betting odds and gambling advertising during live sports broadcasts on both television and radio because we know that what kids hear and see has an impact on them. We are listening to the concerns people in our community have around gambling.

I go back to that memory of a single conversation as an eight-year-old in a car park at Pendle Hill. The context that you grow up in, the kinds of words and stories that people tell you and the way you understand how the world works will have an impact on your behaviour. I have to say that I became very cautious about what gambling might do. It doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed the odd bet from time to time but, I’m very glad to say, gambling addiction has never come close. But this is a reality that needs to be considered and the government needs to take some responsibility for the context in which gambling addiction is on the rise.