The Hon. Rob Lucas MLC

The Hon

Rob Lucas MLC

Treasurer

Speeches

STATUTES AMENDMENT (GAMBLING REFORM) BILL

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 4 June 2013.)

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (16:06): I rise to speak on behalf of Liberal members to the second reading of this most important bill. At the outset, I congratulate my colleague in another place, the member for Davenport, on his extraordinarily meticulous handling thus far of this particular bill. It is extraordinarily complicated and complex, and there are certainly many different views amongst stakeholders in the community about the implications of the legislation, and there are certainly many varying views, I am sure, amongst members of parliament about particular provisions in the legislation. Certainly, on behalf of Liberal members I place on the record my congratulations to the member for Davenport and his staff on his handling of the bill thus far.

I indicate at the outset that I intend to commence my remarks this afternoon by outlining a few general principles and, on behalf of Liberal members, a proposed course of action we are prepared to support so to at least inform other members in this chamber of our intentions, and I will seek leave to conclude my remarks either tomorrow or on Thursday of this week. I also indicate, on behalf of Liberal members, that we will support speeches at the second reading stage of this debate this week, but we will not support, for the reasons I will outline, progressing to the committee stages of the debate this week. We will support the consideration and conclusion of the committee stages on the next sitting week.

The background to that position is that the member for Davenport, having discussed these issues again in the Liberal parliamentary party room yesterday afternoon, is now proceeding with an agreed view in relation to amendments to the bill. He is still with parliamentary counsel and consulting with stakeholders in relation to the amendments that he has partially flagged and I will further flag this afternoon outlining the Liberal Party's position on the bill.

It is our understanding, as of yesterday, that the government intends to move a further amendment or amendments to the legislation. I know that as of this morning those amendments had not been filed and, as I look through the pile on my desk, I do not believe they are on file as I speak this afternoon. Clearly, the government is further considering amendments.

We are aware the government has indicated that it is proposing further amendments in relation to ATMs. There has been some discussion with the member for Davenport and the government relating to potential amendment, or amendments, relating to ATMs. As I said, as of this afternoon it would appear that those amendments have not been placed on file. So, clearly, other members in this chamber, minor party members and Independent members, I am assuming, have not seen those amendments either.

The Hon. Mr Darley has a considerable package of amendments, as one would have expected of the Hon. Mr Darley on a gambling matter given his original genesis in this particular parliament associated with the Hon. Mr Xenophon, and they have been filed, I think, as of this morning. Certainly, from the Liberal Party's viewpoint, we have not seen those, as a party room that is, and considered a position relating to the Hon. Mr Darley's amendments. We will do so between this sitting week and the next sitting week and come back with a concluded view on the Hon. Mr Darley's amendments. In relation to the government amendment, if it is as simple as outlined to the member for Davenport, our inclination is to support it, and that is the position, but again, with the greatest of respect to the government, we would like to actually see the drafting of the amendment before we sign up to the government's proposed further amendment.

As I briefly outlined, having approval from the parliamentary party room yesterday, the member for Davenport is concluding discussions with stakeholders and I would hope that we would be in a position tomorrow or Thursday, subject to those discussions, to table those amendments, or to file the amendments. To be fair to my colleagues from the minor parties and the Independents, we will give them a period of time between this sitting week and the next sitting week to consider their position in relation to those particular amendments and, to be fair to government members, we will give them an opportunity as well to consider their position in relation to the amendments that we intend to move. So, that is the proposed course of action that we will be supporting. If the government does seek to insist on a committee stage debate this week I will flag now that we would be supporting adjourning the committee stage until the next sitting week of this chamber.

If I can now return to the general principles the Liberal Party will be adopting in terms of its response to the bill. The first point is that we are on the public record indicating our general support for the proposed deal that the government has negotiated with the Casino to allow the proposed Casino redevelopment to proceed. The opposition, or Liberal members, have, over many years, accepted that there are differing arrangements which apply to the Casino as would apply to other gambling venues in South Australia. That has been a longstanding legislative provision under both Liberal and Labor governments. So, we support that ongoing differential in relation to gambling regulation in South Australia.

The government has negotiated a complex deal with the Casino, which, on our understanding and on the undertakings from the Casino, would indicate that if the legislation was to go through as proposed the Casino would then proceed with what we believe will be an exciting redevelopment of the Casino. Whilst this debate is not the debate for a detailed discussion about the Casino redevelopment, can I say that, for members of parliament and staff of Parliament House, one of the important aspects of the proposed redevelopment is the proposed provision of further car parking options within this particular precinct. There is no doubting that the car parking which is made available to members and staff of Parliament House in the Festival Centre car park, as well as to Festival Centre patrons and others, is now sadly deficient. Mere drops of rain result in flooding of the Parliament House car park, and the concrete cancer—

The Hon. G.E. Gago: Condensation.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The Leader of the Government says that mere condensation leads to puddling and flooding, and I suspect that is almost true. Clearly the concrete cancer that has existed for many years within the Festival Centre car park is now at an urgent stage for either renovation or redevelopment, and this particular proposed deal relating to this precinct is an important part of what needs to be done.

As part of this deal, the government has made separate proposed arrangements with Mr Lang Walker for significant redevelopment in this particular precinct. My information is that perhaps that is not as likely to proceed as it might have been earlier in the year, but I understand that, even if the commercial property developments do not proceed in this precinct, the Casino—if the legislation proceeds—would want the car parking option to still proceed. Of course, for that to occur would require the government, through the Festival Centre or other stakeholder options, to adopt an evolved or different position to the one that might currently be agreed with the Lang Walker group and the Casino in relation to this redevelopment.

However, that is not really the substantive detail of this bill although it is obviously an important aspect of why we are being asked to consider the Casino provisions, in relation to gambling regulation, as part of the legislation. From our viewpoint we are supportive of the Casino redevelopment, and it is our intention to support the aspects of this legislation that relate to the Casino.

I think there are one or two important caveats to that. The member for Davenport flagged an amendment, which I intend to move, in relation to the additional gaming machine entitlements which are to be given to the Casino as part of the deal. The member for Davenport outlined that in the House of Assembly in broad terms, but when the amendments are finalised I will speak in greater detail on that in this chamber.

With that caveat, our intention is, in essence, to split the bill. I say in essence because there are some tweaks at the edges in relation to that, but our intention is to move to allow the aspects of the bill that relate to the Casino to proceed, so that if this bill were to pass the parliament in that amended form, the Casino would be able to proceed with its redevelopment, given that those provisions that relate to the Casino would have passed the parliament.

For the reasons that I will broadly outline today, and that I will expand on in more detail later in the week, in general we will be strongly opposing what I refer to as the non-Casino provisions of the legislation. Again, there are some tweaks in relation to that that I will expand on later this week. In essence, as it relates to the clubs and the hotels, or the non-Casino gambling venues in South Australia, certainly from Clubs SA's viewpoint and clubs generally, there is trenchant, almost violent, opposition to the provisions in the legislation.

When one looks at the detail of the bill as it impacts on clubs in particular, when one listens to the passionate advocates on behalf of clubs in South Australia, it is not surprising that they are most concerned at the impact of this legislation on clubs in South Australia. They have described the provisions of this bill as 'club killers', the death knell of the club industry in South Australia if it was to proceed in the form which has been outlined—and that is not inflammatory language invented by Liberal politicians to try to inflame the debate on this bill; that is the language from the representatives of clubs in South Australia expressing their concern at the impact of the legislation on the club industry.

You, Mr President, with your misguided, but nevertheless passionate, support of a particular local football club, would well know the importance of clubs to the community. I, with my equally passionate—

The Hon. T.J. Stephens: Long-suffering.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: —long-suffering support of the West Adelaide Football Club, which I place on the record in speaking to—

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: I thought you were going to talk about St Kilda.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, I'd love to talk about St Kilda, even more long-suffering; the 1966 premiership was the last there, but they are not going to be impacted by this legislation—no, the West Adelaide Football Club and other clubs. I do want to place on the record that I am a member of the West Adelaide Football Club, as I am sure many other members in this chamber are members of clubs of various descriptions that will be impacted by the legislation.

I would be surprised, Mr President, if your football club does not share the view of all the South Australian National Football League clubs. As I understand it, they have a united view on this legislation, in that they are trenchantly opposed to what this legislation might do to the South Australian National Football League clubs and, indeed, other clubs in South Australia. I would hope that, as a loyal Port man, Mr President, you are speaking up on their behalf within the caucus and in the other forums that are available to you within the government.

To summarise the view of clubs—and, as I have said, later in the week perhaps I will go into greater detail—whilst there are a number of provisions in the legislation they are most concerned about, the provision they have highlighted in relation to the bill is this particular provision the government wishes, and that is that certain venues in the state should be able to go up to a maximum of 60 machines.

When this legislation was first voted on (I am probably the only member who was part of that original debate 20 or so years ago), one of the features of the bill from the Labor Party member (the government member at the time) who was pushing the gaming machine provisions in South Australia, was that pubs and clubs would be treated equally and that the total number of machines would be limited. Of course, what we have seen has been a limit of 40 machines in pubs and clubs in South Australia until recent times.

As you know, that is different to what occurs in New South Wales and some other jurisdictions, where there is no limit. Some of the big clubs in New South Wales have hundreds, if not, I suspect, thousands of machines. That has not been the model that we have adopted in South Australia. The concern clubs have is that this particular provision the government is supporting will be a club killer, and that by the government proposing that it should go to 60 machines, there will be this distinction between major and minor venues in South Australia in terms of the extent of the regulation.

That position, as we understand it, is supported by what is euphemistically referred to as the 'concerned sector', represented by SACOSS and others. I note that AHA president, Mr Hurley, has on a number of occasions referred whimsically to the concerned sector and what he calls the 'very bloody concerned sector' (that is, hotels and clubs) as to what the concerned sector gets up to in relation to gaming regulation in South Australia.

The government position is supported by SACOSS and other groups like that. The argument seems to be that having bigger venues (that is, venues with greater numbers of machines) is in some way going to be a good thing in terms of controlling the number of problem gamblers in South Australia. I want to refer to some information the IGA provided to the member for Davenport to challenge that particular notion, but I will do that when I conclude my remarks later in the week.

The most recent figures provided by the government indicate that, in terms of the number of problem gamblers, we are talking about 0.4 per cent of the population. Whilst all of us are concerned about the problems that problem gamblers bring upon themselves, their families, and, in some cases, their acquaintances, if the government is claiming that the changes it proposes to implement are going to assist tackling problem gambling, then the onus rests on the government and its supporters to provide the evidence for that.

As the member for Davenport outlined, and as I will address later in the week, it is our view that the government has not provided any evidence that the changes it is proposing will tackle problem gambling. It seems to be a view that has been expressed by the government and the concerned sector that if you increase the number of machines to 60, that will assist tackling problem gambling in South Australia in some way, but, in our view, there has been no evidence produced to demonstrate that that will be the case.

Clubs SA's view, which they put forward passionately, is that this change in the current and foreseeable environment will mean that only Coles, Woolworths and what they refer to as the 'big end hoteliers' will be able to afford to increase their entitlements to 60 machines. They believe that this change in and of itself will concentrate gaming machine entitlements to the big end hoteliers (to use their phrase) and to those venues which are controlled by Coles and Woolworths.

Clubs SA sees a further diminution in the capacity of clubs to compete for the gaming machine gambling dollar in that particular proposed environment. So, what then is the issue in relation to that particular concern? Clubs SA's view is that clubs are the ones which support local communities. Clubs are the ones which support local sporting groups and recreational groups in the community. Let me be the first also to acknowledge that the hotel industry does have a program which supports local community groups, as well, but the clubs' reason for being, as opposed to being part of the operating profile of hotels, is to continue to provide a service—community infrastructure, sporting infrastructure—to local communities.

Through the changes that are being proposed by the government, we may see the demise of more and more clubs in South Australia. This is at a time, Mr President, when your own government sadly is slashing and hacking sporting infrastructure grants to local clubs, and as you would know widespread opposition has been expressed by clubs to the government about that decision to slash grants for sporting infrastructure at the local level. This would be a further hit or impact on local clubs in terms of providing sporting infrastructure to local sporting communities. For all those reasons, unsurprisingly, clubs are very actively engaged in lobbying against this particular bill as it stands.

The member for Davenport outlined in his contribution in the lower house how the clubs, for a period of almost two years, actively sought to engage with the government in relation to gambling or gaming regulation in South Australia. I will not repeat all the detail, but the member for Davenport put on the record the list of requested meetings, telephone calls and letters to ministers, senior bureaucrats, middle-level bureaucrats and others involved in gaming regulation dating back to May 2011, all of which were ignored until virtually days before the release of the government's position earlier this year.

It was only late last year in about December that there was finally a meeting where some information was provided on an embargoed basis. Then earlier this year, after further urgent requests to the government and its negotiators saying, 'Hey, what are you doing? What are you up to? What are you about to do?', virtually with days to spare they were provided with details of what the government intended to do. The clubs went through almost two years of requesting discussions and meetings to try to find out what was proposed in what we have ultimately seen.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the government would treat the clubs industry in South Australia in such a cavalier fashion. The clubs industry is clearly an important stakeholder wishing to be consulted about the impacts on the industry and unsurprisingly is therefore most upset that for almost two years its members' requests for consultation were ignored. Then the government introduced a bill which the industry believes will be a clubs killer in South Australia, which is the bill that is before us today.

As I said, at this stage, I wanted to outline the Liberal Party's proposed position. I will seek leave in a moment to conclude my remarks. As I said, I would hope to have the Liberal Party amendments filed no later than Thursday this week, but if they are not filed by then it will be very soon after that so that everyone will have sufficient time to consider them prior to the next sitting week of this chamber.

I would hope that any of the government's proposed amendments will be similarly filed in the very near future so that we can finally see the detail of any proposed amendments it might have. Indeed, if there are other members who are considering their position in terms of amendments, we would obviously be interested in seeing them well prior to the next sitting week of parliament.

There is one issue I indicated I would flag which I have not, so let me outline that. Our general position is, as I said, to support the Casino provisions. We will, in essence, be splitting the bill by opposing most of the other provisions that do not relate to the Casino. However, there are some provisions the clubs and hotels have indicated to the member for Davenport that they have no problem with. One example is that there are training provisions in the bill which, we understand, the clubs and hotels industry does not have any problem with.

Whilst the general principle will be to split the bill and to have the Casino package left intact, we will be moving amendments to remove virtually all the other provisions as they relate to clubs and hotels, but there are some of those provisions which they have indicated to us they have no concerns about, so we will propose to leave those intact.

The general principle I put is that by in essence splitting the bill as we have proposed, we hope that the government will allow the Casino bits to go through and that the government will then embark on a sensible course of consultation with the industry before it comes back with an amended package; that is, it commits—as it should have done two years ago—to sit down with clubs and hotels (and, indeed, any other stakeholders), and say, 'Okay, the parliament has spoken. You have spoken. We are now prepared to sit down and commit to working through that process.'

Can I indicate on behalf of the member for Davenport and Liberal members that should the government not commit to that, if a Liberal government were elected post March 2014 at the very least we would commit to sitting down with clubs and hotels to undertake the consultation that should have occurred and then, only after that consultation, would any proposed amendments be introduced.

I would hope that the government, if it hears the message and if that is the view of this parliament and this chamber in particular in relation to the non-Casino aspects of the bill, will go away and commence that discussion and consultation with clubs and hotels in terms of a more sensible package as it might relate to those particular parts of the gaming industry.

I have one question which has been put to me to place on the record at this stage: when the minister replies to the second reading, perhaps in the next sitting week, could they indicate who the members were of the Casino task force? Certainly, from our viewpoint, and from some stakeholder viewpoints, we are interested in knowing exactly who were the members of the Casino task force and who negotiated the deal with the Casino on behalf of the government. With that, I seek leave to conclude my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.
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