Excerpts from Productivity Commission Hearing - Aug. 31

13 October 1999
Representing Productivity Commission
MR G.R. BANKS, Chairman
MR R. FITZGERALD, Associate Commissioner

MR BANKS: We'll start again. Our next participant is Brighton Council. Welcome to the hearings. Could I get you to give your names, please, and your position.

MR FOSTER: Tony Foster, Brighton Council mayor.

MR DODGE: Geoff Dodge, general manager.

MR BANKS: Good, thank you. Thank you very much for taking the time to appear again. We benefited from your presentation at the first round and also from the submissions and supporting duty of cares that you provided at that time so we look forward to hearing some reactions from you to our draft report.

MR FOSTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you once again for the opportunity. First of all, I would like to congratulate the Productivity Commission on its draft report. (Continues later in the meeting.) I hope that the Productivity Commission in its final report will say that local government or local areas should have some say through referendums or whatever one might want to call them of whether electronic gaming machines should be in our community or not because this is certainly happening and I'm sure the Productivity Commission know -this is happening in other countries and in particular it's happening in the USA -where at local level, people do now have a say of whether electronic gaming machines, or mini casinos, or whatever you want to call them, can be in their communities.

I have major concerns - although I noted in the Productivity Commission report that at the moment the commission does not have grave concerns or major concerns - about Internet gambling. I for one certainly do. I think that the minute we legislate for Internet gambling in all states of Australia we are opening up once again another Pandora's box and I think that rather than do that, we should knock it on the head before it even gets under way. If we look at every other form of gambling, everything has been exacerbated as it goes on. This is only going to create more major problems. Within the next five years the statistics say that 3 million households across this country will have access to the Internet: 3 million mini casinos, 24 hours a day. That's taken right out of the Productivity Commission report. That's their words: 3 million mini casinos, 24 hours a day, operating in our own homes.

There are major concerns, I think, with how people are going to operate and account. It's a faceless person sitting behind a computer at home operating it. To set up an account, how are we going to put into place a 100 per cent safeguard that the youth of today or the future, who are so computer literate, are not going to be able to open an account? It's very easy for the youth of today or a child at home to know both their parents' full names. It's easy to know their mother's maiden name which is often used for identification purposes. It's easy to access their passport. It's easy to access their credit cards. It's going to be very, very easy for that young person to be able to have all that information to be able to go on to an Internet gambling casino at home and open an account in the parent's name.

I for one cannot see how we can safeguard against that, and the concerns that that raises are enormous. As we all know, it's at least a month or so before a credit card account comes through to that parent and by that time, the money could totally destroy that family. So what do we want? What do I see that we really need out of all of this? When I say "I", I represent a very concerned local government council and indeed I speak on behalf of the majority of councils in Tasmania.

Really, what we want to see we want to see a freeze on the introduction of any further electronic gaming machines in this state. We're not at the moment out there suggesting that we pull them all out immediately. I think over time electronic gaming machines should be removed from hotels but that's going to take time. But immediately, we do need to have a freeze on electronic gaming machines in this state, as I have noticed that the Kennett government in its election campaign is saying at the moment that they are going to freeze poker machines in Victoria until at least 2010. That's to meet community expectation. So it's good to see that other states are acting responsibly to the draft report.

Secondly, we want no automatic teller machines to be installed in hotels where there are gaming machines. I mean, one really begs to ask the question where we're coming from, as to why we want ATMs in gaming machine areas in hotels. There is only one reason and that is to allow people to access them with their credit card to get money when they run out. They can get cash at a hotel now through EFTPOS. So there is no real reason why ATMs should be allowed in hotels, other than to allow those vulnerable people to go and get further money through a credit card. We would like to see a balanced advertising program, particularly highlighting the public health issue - you know, all our advertising on gaming machines at the moment highlight and glorify winning and we all know that's not the case.

If we're going to continue to allow advertising it must be balanced, whereby people are aware of the major health issues; we understand social and economic issues but there is a major public health issue that is really not being highlighted as it should. I also believe to stop the proliferation of gambling and the concerns that it's going to create for families in the future that we do need to legislate to prohibit Internet gambling in this state; indeed, I must say in Australia. I think it really is heading down the wrong path. If the Congress of the United States could legislate not to allow Internet gambling in the USA, surely in Australia we can follow suit on that.

My fifth point is that there must be a prominent role for local government to play, with local communities having the right to vote through referenda on whether they should be allowed in their communities. Quite clearly, statistically the people across Australia - something like 92 per cent, the report said - do not want to see an increase in gambling in this country. 70-odd per cent said we have too much. So communities should have a say in whether there should be any further proliferation. We should not be at the whim of state governments on that particular issue. My sixth point was that it is a given that we must have an independent industry regulator in every state.

I'd just like to finish by saying that I do have concerns with the leader of our state government as I did with the previous one, so it's not a Labor or Liberal bashing exercise on my part because I've taken this up with both over the last two and half years. But when I see that our current leader is so out of step with every other state leader since the Productivity Commission report came out and has taken to publicly and also in parliament denigrating those who have concerns in our community by calling us wowsers and saying that Tasmania is becoming a nanny state and going on to say that we're not going back to prohibition days and talk like that, well, that has never been what our discussions or our comments have been about. It's been about concerns for our community, concerns for our families, concerns for small business and concerns for health of the people of Tasmania.

You know, I make that comment that it's about time that the premier of this state stood up and was accountable because I see that somewhere down the line, if a duty of care is not shown by state government and by the Federal Hotels network, gaming and hoteliers, there's going to be civil litigation in this state because we cannot go on continuing to ignore what is now not just anecdotal evidence but factual evidence and will continue to be.

This Saturday morning just gone I was in a plant shop, Lifelike Plants in Derwent Park in Hobart, and people in the gallery here will know the place I'm talking about. The lady there said to me, "I've got a good one for you, Tony. This gentleman was in yesterday and he was buying lifelike plants to take to start up" - and she actually asked him, "What do you want them for?" He said, "I've just got an apartment. I haven't got a thing in it and I want some lifelike plants to at least give me some colour and happiness because my wife has just blown the last $80,000" - and that's the exact figure, $80,000 - "on electronic gaming machines at a local hotel." They are now separated. He's gone to get an apartment and he's going to start off with lifelike plants.

(Later in the discussion)

MR FITZGERALD: Just in relation to the Internet, as I understand it, Tasmania does have legislation in place in relation to the Internet which permits operators in Tasmania to offer Internet gambling but it doesn't permit Tasmanian residents to actually access that. Is that currently the case?

MR FOSTER: I have seen two scenarios in it. One is that which is the original viewpoint put forward by the previous government when we questioned them on it and I had that in writing from them to say that that was going to be the case. I believe that Internet gambling is going to be legislated to come into place in Tasmania in December this year, but I do believe that Tasmanian residents are going to be able to access it, otherwise why would the state government want to bring it in? How would you bring it in and stop people in Tasmania from - and with the way this state government views gaming at the minute, I couldn't see them saying to Tasmanian people, "You can't access it."


MR FOSTER: So I don't know what the current legislation is.

MR FITZGERALD: Okay. Perhaps we can find out more about it while we're here.

MR BANKS: All right, we have got the points you have raised, yes. We don't have anything further. Perhaps if you were going to make some more points in a written submission there might be an opportunity for us to get back and seek clarification at that time but thank you, as I said, for your participation and for making these points. Certainly for us that's one part of our report that we will have to keep working on in terms of both community impacts and then the question of the regulatory framework at the end of our report and how that takes account of community interest, so thanks very much for your help.

(Discussion continues)

MR BANKS: Our next participant this morning is Anglicare Tasmania. Welcome to the hearings. Could I ask you please to give your names and your positions.

MR JONES: My name is Chris Jones and I am the CEO of Anglicare Tasmania.

MR BANKS: Thank you.

MS HUTCHISON: I'm Jane Hutchison and I'm a financial counsellor at Anglicare.

MR FITZGERALD: Just one area that you haven't touched on and I'm sure you did touch on it in your earlier submission but I would just like to go back to it and that's about the Internet. Did you have any views about our approach to the Internet issue? We've been specifically asking all participants for a view about that. The document asks genuinely for feedback because it has been a difficult part of the report to write and a difficult issue for the community to grapple with. So if you have any views now or into the future we would be keen.

MS HUTCHISON: Yes, Internet gambling - I'm glad you reminded me actually - is an area of great concern to me, particularly that I think it's an area that maybe young people are going to get very caught up in because young people are very au fait with computers and use the Internet a lot. I think we're going to see a lot of young teenagers maybe getting carried away with this area. Once again, I realise consumer protection mechanisms on the Internet are very difficult but I do believe that there needs to be something there for protection. Also, because with Internet gambling you are getting into credit gambling, you are gambling with credit. There is very little other ways of gambling over the Internet without using a credit card. You can't stick cash into your hard drive and send it down the line and I'd like to maybe see those sort of areas explored more and proper protection being looked at for people.

It's a great worry to me with kids using mum and dad's credit card and typing it in which I'm sure they already do for certain sites. I can see this escalating in those areas. It's also that fact of yes, virtual money. At least while you're actually putting a coin into an electronic gaming machine or you're at the casino handing over a note -buying your chips with dollars - there's a correlation with the fact that you're using money. You become virtual and there's no correlation with money. You don't see money until at some stage you have to pay a bill somewhere along the line. That, I think, will also bring with it a certain number of problems as well.

MR BANKS: If you had time - and I know that's a big ask - but we have made a number of points in relation to some of the dangers that people have raised about Internet gambling perhaps being overstated and we've responded to a number of those in the report, including under-age gambling which on close examination we felt may not have been as great a problem as others had seen because of either protections in place or the nature of the activity allowing detection to occur by the parent much more rapidly than some others. But if you had a chance to have a look at some of those arguments and respond and tell us whether we're on the right track or not, we would appreciate that.

MS HUTCHISON: Yes, I'll try and do that.

MR BANKS: Any further comments?

MR JONES: No, that's fine, thanks.

MR BANKS: We appreciate you coming to see us on what was a very busy day for you and we'll allow you to get back to your other conference. So thank you very much for that. I'd just ask for the record now whether there's anyone else who would like to appear here in Hobart. We've had a small group but a high quality group and no doubt there will be other submissions coming in. We realise it's a long report and people still no doubt need time to go through it, but if there's no-one else, I'll adjourn the hearings. We're appearing tomorrow again in Melbourne - we had some unfinished business - and then we're proceeding around Australia according to the schedule that's in our report. Thank you.