Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

By Dustin Halse

18 November 2021

It is a pleasure to rise this morning to speak on this bill, the Casino and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. I have been listening to some of the contributions of members from this side of the chamber for the last hour or so and the insight that they have provided to this debate. One of the themes that has permeated this debate has been that focus on the harm that gambling causes and problem gambling causes. I think it was the member for Mount Waverley who said that we do not spend on gambling, we lose on gambling. That is a theme that has permeated the contributions from this side. He noted that every year in Victoria, per capita, the loss to an individual is $292. We all know someone within our community, perhaps within our family, that likes to have a flutter, likes to gamble. We have just been through the most significant racing week that the country holds every year, the Spring Racing Carnival week, and some of us will have put some money down.

But we do—it is a cultural practice here in Victoria to have a punt now and then and to have a go in whatever sort of gambling forum. But it is where that practice becomes so comprehensive and so pervasive that it can cause considerable harm to people’s lives, particularly to families—that is the point that the member for Mount Waverley was making. I note it was a time before my era, this notion of sort of driving to the border or driving to certain locales to have a punt somewhere or to put some money in the slot machines. I have not lived through that. I do not know that experience.

On Tuesday night this week, or whenever it was—I think it was Monday night—I went down to my local pub, the Mitcham Hotel. It was great to see that venue open and full. It has got an adjacent gambling room, and lots of people in my community partake in that activity and that exercise. So it is a part of our culture, but we need to do more to address the harmful impacts of problem gambling. For years and years and years groups, alliances, lobby groups, the Council of Churches and a whole range of different bodies have campaigned for reform in and around gambling and casinos. They have spoken most specifically about the introduction of mandatory precommitments with respect to pokie machines. I think of people like Mark Zirnsak and others who have been in this space, and Tim Costello for a very long time. There is that song from the Australian band, I think it was the Whitlams, ‘Blow Up the Pokies’.

I remember the member for Burwood in his first speech here a number of years ago referenced that and referenced problem gambling and his experience and intersection with that. Going back to what the member for Mount Waverley said, he spoke about walking past a number of people at Crown Casino and seeing two people, I think he said, who were the picture of dejection, potentially for the loss that they may have incurred through a night’s activity on the pokie machines and at Crown Casino. That is where he went to see a movie, but at the same time other people were obviously losing significantly through that activity of problem gambling.

There has been some significant detail of the purpose of this bill and the findings of the royal commission. This is the first step in putting in the recommendations of the royal commission. It implements the nine most urgent recommendations that the royal commission set forth. It is appointing a special manager who, as we have been told, will be the ultimate decision-maker at Crown, bringing unprecedented oversight, strengthening regulatory powers and imposing obligations on the casino, ensuring that the state can act swiftly on the commission’s recommendations. The bill will also establish a new regulator with a dedicated focus on the casino, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission.

I do want to touch also upon the remarks that the member for Narre Warren South made and note that there are thousands and thousands of workers who have been caught up in this mess at Crown. In my district I am friends with a number of casino workers who are delegates of the United Workers Union and who work the tables and have worked the tables for many years. I want to give a shout-out to Max from my district of Ringwood, who is a delegate with the union. They are caught up, like I said, in this mess that has not been created by them but has been created by this systemic lack of regulation and oversight of the practices that have occurred at Crown Casino. I am really glad that the minister has had the foresight to bring this bill to the chamber and has worked diligently to assess the best way forward for the operations at Crown. As has been touched upon through contributions throughout the course of the morning, the risk of just abandoning the complete operation there for workers, their families and the associated economic output that intersects with the casino has been taken into account. I am glad that the minister is cognisant of that.

I am glad that this bill will go to setting a new course for the way in which the complex is managed and the way that we particularly approach the issue of gambling. We have a long road to chart here in this state. It is very difficult to untangle the state from the casino and the gambling industry. I think as a state we have gone unfortunately too far. It is imperative for us and for people in this chamber to make sure that we can balance the ledger a little bit here, to make sure that we address the terrible consequences of problem gambling, the really destructive externalities that are created through this enormous behemoth in this industry. We need to make sure that people are looked after, are cared for. They do have a right to have a punt, have a flutter, to go to the casino and those things, but also we should make sure that the operations of these entities are done in a way that is actually beneficial to the state of Victoria, not detrimental. It has been a pleasure to listen to the contributions of a number of members on this bill. I thank the minister for her work in bringing it before the house this morning, and I commend it to the house.