Legislative Council Thursday 10 November 2016
GAMING CONTROL AMENDMENT (COMMUNITY INTEREST) BILL 2016 (No. 65)
[12.40 p.m.] Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I will make a brief contribution and I will speak further in the Committee stage.
To give members the heads up, the amendment has to be redrafted slightly to properly reflect my request to have retrospective nature removed from this bill.
I have an abhorrence of poker machines. I have never used one and I never intend to. I feel sad for families who are negatively impacted by poker machines. We see them everywhere. It is a shame we have them in Tasmania at all, but we are not here to debate that. We already have 3550 in place. We are talking about 20 in a new application and another 110. It is not very many, compared to the 3550 in place. That is not the focus of this legislation either, but it gives context to this debate.
I support the implementation of the community interest test. We should have had it from the start. I am not sure about the process in renewal of licences. Maybe the Leader can indicate the process around licence renewal for poker machines. Do they come up for renewal, and how often do they come up? The time we should be imposing our community test is before they are renewed.
Mr Valentine - There is an amendment being drafted.
Ms FORREST - Okay. That is the process you put in place. It is well established before that process is undertaken. The community wants to have a say in this. The community has seen the harm and the damage that is done. I prefer them not to be there. I do not go to places where they have them, generally, unless it is the only place you can go if you are away somewhere. They used to have them over the road at Customs House, but not any more. They took them out and it changed the place.
Ms Rattray - They only had six.
Ms FORREST - I do not know how many they had. It is a blight on our society, but the government relies heavily on the revenue.
I put my hand up for the committee and I missed out, but that is fine. I am sure the members on the committee will do a fine job. It is not going to be an easy job, I accept that. It is a very complicated area and they will receive some complex submissions, to look at the whole picture, which is a good thing. I hope they are receiving adequate support, to make sure they can work their way through it all. It will be complex information to understand.
The committee needs to look at things like returns to the house, the super profits being creamed off the top by the business owners, and by the government through their taxes. The taxing arrangements should be looked at and the settings on the machines themselves. If anyone has not watched Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation, watch it and see how they are set up to rip people off. There are no two ways about it, they are set up to rip people off. They are set up to lull people into that feeling - they have near misses often enough to make them think to hang in there. The music, the lights, everything is so thoroughly researched to ensure people become addicted. This is young people, old people, older people, it is anyone. Poker machines are not the only scourge on our society, online gambling is also as bad. It does such harm, but it is part of our culture, in many ways, in Australia. We have to work with what we have. They are the overarching comments.
In terms of the overall intent of the legislation that reflects the Government's policy, I support the introduction of a community interest test. The issue is how and when it is done.
As the member for Huon said, businesses have gone out in good faith, purchased the property, spent a significant amount of money on it, they have applied for a range of licences and one of them is a gaming licence. Whether or not they should have 20 gaming machines out there, I probably will not go there. I am sure I will not. I do not go to Glenorchy very often but if it has poker machines I am not interested in being in a place like that, unless there is no other option. There are plenty of other options for me if I want to have a meal somewhere, so I will not go there, but other people will. Some will go because there are poker machines there and some will not go there for that very reason. People make their own choices. Those who are addicted find it very hard to stay away.
The process we now have is a business invested in a property last year. The Government made a policy announcement in March saying they were going to introduce the public interest test. The planning and development of this property was well underway at this time. They had put in the application for the gaming licence, so they had done the keno, liquor licence and other licences required. I have not looked at the Glenorchy City Council planning documents to see what was suggested at the time. The approvals they needed for planning were received, as Glenorchy City Council can as their job is the planning approval, not the gaming licence - that is the liquor licensing board's process.
We now have two applications on foot. One of the arguments made in the second reading speech was that - it did say only one - because there are only two, it is okay to apply it retrospectively. No, you could use the same argument to say it should not apply retrospectively. As the member for Huon said, you have a business that has gone out in good faith and got on with things and now we are adding an extra barrier to jump over. If this legislation goes through as it is, the proponents can continue on their way. They can proceed with the gaming licence application, it will not stop that. They may well get their gaming licence and they can get their gaming machines in the building and have them ready to go but they cannot turn them on. They will have to wait until this other process is determined and put in place. To determine this other process it is going to take some time.
There will need to be a period of public consultation on what the public interest test should look like and what will be required. Sometimes consultation periods are quite short, sometimes longer. In a discussion I had with Treasury yesterday, I was assured it would be a couple of months of consultation. I said, 'You've got Christmas in the middle of this. That's not a good time to go out for consultation on something as important as this'. It will probably take at least two, maybe three months, if they are going to be fair to give people the opportunity to make contributions. Particularly as it is the busiest time of the year for people involved in hospitality and other industries that may have a concern about another competing business.
The Liquor Gaming Commission will have to report back to the Treasurer to say, 'This is what we believe it should look like'. The Treasurer will then need to ensure regulations are drawn to reflect that and then the regulations will be made and gazetted. Then there is the disallowance process if we get some concerns this is not adequate. There is the risk of a disallowance motion being put on the Notice Paper and being held up again. This is all for someone who has invested in good faith in the business and has applied through the proper process for a licence - and there are only two at the moment.
The amendment I am seeking means for any current, live application to be treated the same way as every other of the 3550 licence holders now. We are not giving them a free pass, as has been suggested by some. It is allowing them to follow the same process as every other business that has any one of those 3550 machines now in place. That is a fair process. It is then incumbent on the Government. If this amendment is supported, it will have to go back downstairs next week. Assuming it was supported next week in the lower House then it is incumbent on the Government to get it out to the Governor pretty promptly so that it can receive royal assent. Then anyone after that is subject to the provisions of the bill, which would be a community interest test.
As the member for Rumney said, there are only 120 or 130 machines, or 150, in total that are still left to be allocated until the caps are reached. One does question whether now is the right time to put it in and why wouldn't we just do it on renewal of licences or if there is a significant policy change, or something comes out of the Gaming Committee that may suggest we are doing it wrong the way we are doing it now.
The question is: do we need the legislation in the first place at the moment? It was a good question the member for Rumney posed and I tend to have some sympathy with that view. The least worst option is that we absolutely accept we should have the community interest test because of the harms already mentioned - the member for Windermere talked about those - but remove the retrospective nature because policy is policy and legislation is legislation. Are we suddenly going to ask all the dentists in Tasmania to start treating people's teeth with fluoride because at the Liberal Party conference the Liberal Party passed a policy resolution to get rid of fluoride out of drinking water? Get rid of five cent pieces?
Dr Goodwin - That is not correct. I do not think that got up.
Ms FORREST - Maybe the media misreported that.
Dr Goodwin - It was proposed but I do not think that motion was successful.
Ms FORREST - One that was supported was getting rid of the Hare-Clark system.
Mrs Hiscutt - They can propose whatever they like.
Ms FORREST - I know, but it is a policy position of the party, and we are talking about policy. Policy is one thing -
Dr Goodwin - Ultimately it is a decision of the Parliamentary Liberal Party; there is a process.
Ms FORREST - Policy is one thing and legislation is another. If we changed all of our practice on a policy - in Tasmania we have this thing called the pesky upper House that sometimes changes things and sometimes rejects things.
Ms Rattray - Have we been referred to as that?
Ms FORREST - No, I am referring to us as that. I am talking about myself, nobody else. It is no reflection on the member for Apsley at all. The member for Mersey is a different kettle of fish. You cannot presume by putting out a policy statement that it will pass. People talk about mandates. This was not taken to the election so you cannot even claim the mandate argument here. It was something introduced, as governments have the power and the right to do: to introduce policy and then do their best to get it supported by the parliament where legislation is required to do it.
I do not have an objection to a community interest test. It is an interesting time to be introducing it when you have a lot of work being done on the whole area of gaming, and I am sure it is something that will be raised with that committee. You have the catch-all of 'any other matter incidental thereto' and, as the member for Apsley pointed out, the terms of reference of the committee. It is pretty much there anyway. This House put it there and the lower House agreed.
Ms Rattray - It was supported in the other place.
Ms FORREST - That is right. There is clearly a desire to have this looked at. Maybe this is jumping the gun; one could suggest it is for political purpose at the moment, I do not know what it is. As the member for Huon rightly said, a business has gone out in good faith and if it is one or two businesses that would be negatively impacted, you could use the very same argument for not negatively impacting them because there are only one or two.
I possibly support this into the Committee stage but I will be proceeding with the amendment to remove that retrospective nature.
Legislative Council Thursday 17 November 2016
GAMING CONTROL AMENDMENT (COMMUNITY INTEREST) BILL 2016 (No. 65) - In Committee
Clause 1 – UNCORRECTED PROOF –
Ms FORREST - This has been an unedifying process and not for the first time the Legislative Council is being treated with a bit of contempt in
that we were given minimal information at the outset and then it became apparent that we should have had that information before we made our
second reading speeches because some of us would have made quite different comment in them.
The Treasurer has also said that he wants a stable environment for the joint committee to do their work. It has hardly created that. There has been so much misinformation given.
We were told there was one application for 20 machines. I was attacked in social media for suggesting I was supporting 60 new machines in Glenorchy.
The first I knew about it was this attack that was going on. I also heard through the media that the Treasurer was hoping to hang me out to dry because of that.
This approach, in this place, does not help in trying to get to the bottom of what we are dealing with and fully understand it. I would like to see an end to that sort of approach being taken by
whoever it is who is driving this. We have every right in this place to seek information. We have every right to be sure what we pass through this place does what it
intends to do and does not have unintended consequences or intended consequences we have not been told about.
It is very tempting to support the member because much of what we were told is not on the public record. This is the problem we have time after time with our briefings.
I appreciate the briefings, they are very helpful and useful, but when you have competing interests, contentious arguments and all this public comment where people are being attacked,
or suggested they are doing a certain thing, then that is not okay. We cannot easily test one person's evidence against another's.
We could not ask the proponents of the venues in question here, 'How many machines are you actually applying for? How many could you apply for? What is the deal around that?', on the record.
If we had a committee we could.
That is my point: if you go to a committee you can do this. You could get the network of gaming people in to talk about how the process really works
because most of us, including myself, did not fully understand that. I should have because I have been here a long time.
I have said on Public Accounts committees when we have looked at this stuff - the member for Windermere and the President have been on Public Accounts committees when we have looked at
the deed with Federal Hotels, and we have looked at other aspects of this whole sorry arrangement. I call it that because it is a sorry arrangement.
We have this terrible process where the person who actually gains the most, except for the Government with their taxes, out of these poker machines is the final arbiter in whether or not
you can have a machine.
Looking at any competition and behaviour, I have a real issue with legislation that applies retrospectively. Yes, there was a policy position in March; no-one denies that.
There were many policy positions made pre-election, and following elections in budget announcements that require legislative change.
We find there is an expectation that they will be automatically ticked off by this place.
I am sorry, as I mentioned before, we have a pesky upper House that sometimes does not agree with your policy, regardless of what colour government it is.
While you have an independent - or predominantly independent - upper House, that is always going to be the case.
None of this information is on the record. We cannot test it. Anyone in 'public land' out there who may be sad and tragic enough to watch this, what they can see or read of it on Hansard,
would not know why some of us may change our minds because there is no evidence there to support that.
When we fully understand what the circumstances are in how gaming licences are granted, what the process is for finally getting a machine if you want to use one - I wish we did not have any in this state.
I do not see that any machine would really pass a community interest test. People will claim they will, based on the fact that if you do not have something in there to raise a bit more revenue for the business,
it will close in a small rural community - that may be the only time. But surely we could look at other ways to improve the businesses' revenues. Anyway, that is a separate point.
My problem here is that we have been boxed into a corner in many respects, dealing with legislation that has a negative retrospective impact on at least one, if not two, proponents.
Normally, from my personal perspective, when I support retrospectively applied legislation, it has a positive impact on people, such as the first home builder's grant, where people would have been
disadvantaged if they had missed out. This is a different circumstance, and we would need to assess them all on their merit.
When I first suggested that we should remove the retrospective nature of the legislation, suddenly it was all about me approving poker machines in Glenorchy and wanting more there -
which could not be further from the truth.
I am sure, if the member for Rumney moves his amendment or the member for Huon moves his, this House will be accused of allowing more poker machines
in Glenorchy, even though I firmly believe they will not get them because [Bookmark: OLE_LINK4] Network Gaming has the ultimate say. They have already said no to Moonah, for reasons we do not understand.
We could have got them into a committee and found out, but we do not have that opportunity. It is terribly tempting to support the referral to a committee to get this sort of thing on the record and get all the
facts and know exactly what we are doing here because there will be consequences, one way or the other.
If we get into the debate - and I am saying this now in case we do not - if there is support for the member for Derwent and we support the bill as it is, I believe we will potentially deny
the proponents who have a gaming licence application on foot, the right to try to take legal action against Network Gaming, should they refuse to deliver the machines, and say no
even if they get a licence and pass the mini interest test.
If they go through now and their opportunity is lost, if we support the amendment they will have that opportunity because their gaming licence will be considered.
You would assume that will be approved, because they have a suitable building and they have already met the fit and proper person test with other facilities around the state.
That is how it seems to me. So, a rock and a hard place. That is where we are.
Ms Rattray - Again.
Ms FORREST - Again, yes. I take umbrage with some people suggesting without the full knowledge of what is going on because there is nothing on the public record as to whose fault this is.
I am sick of being at fault in this place.
I will listen to other people's contributions on this, but it has been an unfortunate process. We are dealing with this on our last sitting day for the year so the pressure is on.
Get it done and get it sorted. If this is delayed there could be another 10, 20, 30 applications for poker machines, not just in Glenorchy, but anywhere around the state.
I do not want to see any more anywhere around the state. What to do? I will listen to the other members, but it is a difficult place to be.
I can see both sides of the story.
Even when I sat down with representatives from Anglicare and the Mayor of Glenorchy earlier in the week they could hear where I was coming from even though they had their
own strong view about the poker machines in Glenorchy. For the Mayor of Glenorchy, in Glenorchy, but for Anglicare and TasCOSS representatives around the state, they realise it is not an easy position to be in.
The last thing they needed to do was to criticise me or anyone else in this place, who may put forward an amendment to try to fix a retrospectivity.
That is a legitimate role we have in this place and we should do it properly.