Interactive Gambling Amendment
Posted on Wednesday, 8 February, 2017
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (11:59): The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 deals with online gambling and, in particular, international online gambling, which is deemed as illegal. Gambling is a great Australian pastime, and although I am not a big gambler myself, I do not mind a flutter. Normally I need to be at the races; I do not tend to gamble online or even at local TABs, but I do gamble at the local races and carnivals, places like Quorn, Hawker, Roxby Downs, Ceduna and the Kimba Cup, to name but a few of those fantastic racing events that happen across the electorate of Grey.
Gambling underwrites the thoroughbred industry; it underwrites the Melbourne Cup; it underwrites the Golden Slipper and it underwrites the Port Augusta and Port Lincoln cups, so it is very important that any adjustment we make in this area protects those interests as much as possible. It is also important that we make sure we are addressing those things that are happening in a fast-moving space which affects their viability, as is the case with this legislation and online gambling—I will get to those reasons in a little while.
My electorate of Grey—to keep with the racing industry for a little while—has generated some of the great venerated sporting heroes of Australia. There are, for example, Makybe Diva—a horse that never actually set foot in Port Lincoln but has its emotional home in Port Lincoln as that is where the name Makybe Diva came from and that is where its owner came from—right through to Kerrin McEvoy, who comes from that hotbed of thoroughbred racing, Streaky Bay, which is on, what we call, the west coast of South Australia. His family have been involved for generations as horse trainers, riders and owners, as have a number of other people from that area.
Thoroughbred racing is a great Australian passion and tradition, as is the action of putting a wager on the outcome of the race. In fact, thoroughbred racing alone, in Australia, employs about 250,000 people, full- and part-time, or about 77,000 FTE. It presents $427 million of prize money a year, and it comes as no surprise to note that most of this money comes from a regulated gambling industry.
Yes, there are benefits in a regulated gambling industry. There are safeguards to protect people. Some would argue there should be more safeguards. And yes, it is taxed. It is currently estimated that the illegal offshore gambling industry is siphoning about $400 million a year from Australia annually. That is presenting a significant tax revenue loss to Australia and those industries that those gambling dollars support.
The digital world has unlocked new opportunities for gambling—for instance, in-play gambling. This is presenting a great challenge to sporting regulators. Corruption and match fixing go hand in hand with drug cheats. If you look at some of the more famous cases in this area, like the Fine Cotton ring-in scandal here in Australia, the conviction and life ban of now deceased South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje—there are quite a number of international cricketers who have had lifetime bans imposed on them. Although some of them have been overturned since, there is no doubt of the view that the sport takes of this kind of behaviour. The former head of security for the United European Football Associations, Chris Eaton, says that match fixing is at a point of crisis. As I said, the link between drug cheating and the incentives to win, and undetected gambling, is strong. In the cycling world, perhaps the most famous drug cheat of all time is Lance Armstrong, and that industry has had a very chequered past with race fixing as well. So we would be fools not to think that this was not happening in other sports.
Match fixing is an anathema to the true sports fan, and Australia is full of true sports fans. Match fixing can occur with or without online international gambling, but any gambling that is hidden from the regulated system provides an avenue for people to harvest the gains of match fixing. That is one of the reasons this legislation is very important. It is important to shore-up the viability of the very good industry of thoroughbred racing in Australia and those others that benefit from the gambling dollar. It is also very important that we do our best to ensure the integrity of these sports so that people who do place a legitimate wager have a legitimate chance of trying to predict the outcome of that particular event without being influenced by things that have happened outside—in this case, match fixing.
The internet is challenging many of the things we take for the norm in our modern society with both good and bad results. There are some very good things we can do on the internet. One of the ones that, I guess, creates a little bit of tension in our economic make-up is the retail industry—I will come to that in a moment. Apart from the retail industry, there are the changes in news services, which we could describe as the opportunity to view both true and false news. This has been in the real news a little bit lately. The internet is also a platform for child and revenge porn. It is a place where people can impersonate an identity for the purposes of grooming children. It is a place where cyberbullying can happen. And it is a place where gambling takes place.
As a guiding rule in my life, I think that, if an individual's actions do not impact in a detrimental way on others, we should be very careful about what actions we take to curtail those actions or to regulate them. So, when you look at the various things that are happening on the internet, I think you need to take them on a case-by-case basis and examine who they are affecting. If you take the first example I used of the retail industry: yes, lost sales are impacting on our local retailers here in Australia, but it is difficult to make a very strong case that individuals should not have the right to buy from wherever they choose as long as they abide by Australian taxation requirements.
In news services, there is a great effect there, too. The slow demise of our traditional news-gathering services in Australia and the Western world, with the loss of advertising and newspaper sales, is going to present a very really challenge—in fact, for our democracy. But it is difficult to argue that people should not have the opportunity to view their news from wherever they wish, and I think it would be extremely unlikely for any government in Australia to try to curtail those activities. But, when it comes to identity impersonation, grooming, child and revenge porn, child abuse and cyberbullying, a very real case can be made that the effects of those activities on others are hugely detrimental. Governments have a responsibility to do what they can to curtail that damage and shut it down wherever possible.
That brings me to gambling. People could ask, 'Why can't you gamble wherever you wish? Why isn’t it a free choice?' Largely, it should be, except in this case, where international gambling organisations that are not registered in Australia are totally circumventing our regulations and tax laws. In that case, they are having a very real effect on the industries that those gambling products fund. So I think the case is quite solid for the reforms that the government is bringing forward at the moment. I thank Barry O'Farrell, the former Premier of New South Wales, for a very well-considered report. The government is adopting 18 of the 19 recommendations he made.
It is worth noting that the proportion of problem gambling in the online world is three times higher than in other forms of gambling. Yes, there is a personal choice issue here, but there is no doubt that this form of gambling is more damaging on the individual than other forms of gambling. Online gambling is the fastest-growing gambling sector, growing at 15 per cent per annum, with over $1.4 billion gambled online each year—which only underlines the urgency that the government move in this area. It is not something that we can put off to tomorrow. That kind of growth means that this is an issue of today that needs to be addressed today.
All those things considered, I commend this legislation that has been brought to the House. I think this is a very realistic move by the government. We need to keep order as much as we possibly can. As I said in my opening remarks, it supports a fantastic industry in Australia that we should guard jealously. Our thoroughbred industry is highly regarded around the world, and long may that continue.