Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP Speaks on Interactive Gambling Amendment (Credit and Other Measures)

18 October 2023

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment (Credit and Other Measures) Bill 2023. This bill seeks to ban the use of cards and cryptocurrency for online gambling and I acknowledge that it is long overdue. I would like to acknowledge and thank the member for Mayo, on the crossbench, who introduced a very similar private member's bill to this, and it was good to see the government act in a similar fashion. This bill delivers on the government's April commitment and implements recommendation 2 of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services.

Gambling is such a scourge; 80 per cent of Australians believe that gambling with credit cards should be restricted and banned. This is research from the Australian Banking Association. So it should be clear to all sides of the political divide that this must occur. I do hope this will be passed through the House with multipartisan support. It is quite nonsensical to think that we are allowing people to use credit cards, which use money people do not have and which they will pay a high interest rate on, to gamble.

Warringah constituents want to see action taken by all levels of government to reduce gambling harm. We know that, at the recent state election, gambling was very much on the agenda as a policy issue. I should say it's been disappointing to see what the Minns government has in fact put in place. It really has failed to take leadership and a strong position in relation to reducing gambling and its incredibly harmful impacts. The Northern Beaches Council is currently seeking community consultation on the review of its gambling and poker machine harm minimisation policy, which was a leading local government policy when it was first introduced in 2018. It aims to educate the community about the services available to help reduce harm.

Too often we hear of tragic cases in our community where gambling has taken over the lives of people who are addicted to it. It's an issue that impacted our local community. A local man, a father of the Northern Beaches in his mid-40s—I won't name him, out of respect for his family—went on a 13-hour gambling spree. He was well known to local facilities and, incredibly tragically, he ultimately committed suicide due to his gambling. The impacts of his gambling addiction are just so incredibly tragic. No person or family should be experiencing this.

I've stood before this House and expressed my support for the government to do more to address gambling—in particular, online gambling, which is a huge issue in Australia. There is no doubt that the growth in online platforms has meant it is so much more readily available. It is immediate. It is instant. It is there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has changed the addictive nature of gambling by having it so readily accessible to people.

I am concerned, though, at the slow implementation of the recommendations that were included in the recent report in June 2023, named You win some, you lose more. The report provided a significant list of changes to how we consider gambling and restrict gambling advertising. The government has indicated that it accepts the recommendations, but it has a very slow time line for implementation—over several years. I'm really horrified when I think of how many more families are going to be impacted by gambling while the government decides to implement and gradually get there on those recommendations, especially when the evidence of the impacts happening now is already so stark.

Compounding on all of this is that we need a national strategy, and we need states and territories to come to the table. But we also know that the COVID restrictions over the last few years have had a massive impact on gambling in communities. We saw a huge increase in online gambling. The government, I would say, is just catching up. It's such an issue that, in fact, during COVID I held an online forum for constituents to engage and so I could hear from my community about the impacts of increasing gambling during the pandemic. I gave them access to experts to really raise the alarm in relation to those concerns. Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows that the proportion who gambled four or more times a week increased from 23 per cent to 32 per cent during the COVID pandemic, and one in three people who were surveyed signed up for a new online gambling account during COVID. Those statistics are incredibly stark.

Whilst this bill is welcome in seeking to prevent people from gambling money on credit—money they do not have—it fails to close all loopholes, thus undermining its efficacy. We need to keep in mind that young men are the population group that is most at risk of this. With access to online gambling so readily available, we need to make sure all loopholes are closed so that we really don't let this get a hold on people.

Professor Sally Gainsbury from the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic at the Sydney university highlights the need to prevent loopholes, acknowledging that those suffering from gambling addiction seek to circumvent laws and management tools, and they are failing to address this, engaging with unsecured and small creditors, including payday lenders, pawnbrokers and family members, and using illegal offshore wagering websites and third-party mechanisms, such as e-wallets. I'm therefore calling for reviews of this legislation to take into account the extent to which this occurs. We must make sure loopholes are closed.

Alliance for Gambling Reform's Tim Costello opposed the carve-out for online lotteries and said that the harm from online lottery and Keno products is being understated. As outlined in their submission to the Senate committee, with the Lotto app you can easily spend $10,000 on tickets immediately. That's $10,000 going on credit from people who do not have that money. With Keno there is a maximum of $1,000 every three minutes. There is a carve-out in this legislation such that this can continue with credit cards. That is concerning, because that is still a loophole that will be used. Online lotteries absolutely need to be included in this bill, and I'm moving amendments to include those during consideration in detail. I urge the government to support those amendments, to really make this legislation as good as it can be and close those loopholes.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge the incredible toll on families where there are family members with gambling addictions, and I urge them to seek help from services in our community, whether they be the one suffering or whether it is their families who are suffering. And I'd like to thank those people who do that work on the front line. It's incredibly distressing. This problem leads to the destruction of family units and, in tragic cases, to people taking their life. It's incredibly important that we close the loopholes and deal with gambling.