Betting Tax Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

17th November 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [5.52 p.m.]: I speak to the Betting Tax Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, primarily to outline some of my concerns about moves to further the encouragement of gambling in this State. My views on this matter have been publicly stated and are quite consistent. While I am not a fan of gaming, I am a realist—I accept that many people like to gamble, and that this pastime, whether you approve or disapprove, underscores what has become a substantial industry in this State. This industry, in turn, provides jobs, and to some it brings prosperity. But it is also an industry with a dark side. Without going into the sickening revelations about practises by some in the greyhound and horseracing industries that have been well articulated by the member for Sydney, the well-known dark side is illustrated by the effects of problem gambling. As the Productivity Commission articulated in its 2010 report on gambling:

The potential for significant harm from some types of gambling is what distinguishes it from most other enjoyable recreational activities—and underlines the community's ambivalence towards it.

That is quite different to the excitement and enthusiasm spoken of by other members in this House today. That report estimated there are approximately 115,000 problem gamblers in Australia—and many more whose lives are also adversely affected but not to the same extreme extent. The report said one large-scale survey had found that three-quarters of Australian adults thought that gambling did more harm than good for the community. Australians are the world's biggest gamblers per capita, and we are also one of the best at losing money through gambling—we rank number six in the world at doing our dough.

The Economist reported last year that Australians generated a staggering $18.4 billion a year in gambling losses. Wagering accounts for about 15 per cent of that figure, or about $2.6 billion. The average gambling loss per adult in 2014 was more than $1,200. This is the inconvenient truth of this legislation. The dilemma I have in considering a bill that offers tax breaks to an already highly profitable gambling industry is that any measure we as legislators introduce that encourages or promotes gambling will inevitably lead to more hardship for some people.

I appreciate that the Government intends that the money realised by the tax breaks in this legislation be put back into the industry in the form of infrastructure and events, but it is all with the intention of growing an industry that already has significant harmful side effects on our community. The Roar website reported that New South Wales Government modelling suggested these tax breaks would bring an uplift in wagering in New South Wales of about 9 per cent a year. That is a lot more dollars in a sector of the overall economy, and in some pockets, sure, but also it represents a lot more money coming out of punters' pockets.

I question the logic of introducing these measures to level the playing field with Victoria. Queensland has a lower tax rate again—will that be our next target? Or will we shoot for the South Australian model, which returns no money directly to State coffers? Where does this process of parity end? Would our efforts not be better directed towards pressing for a consistent scheme of national regulation and harmonisation, an option preferred by many parties? For all this talk of evening up the market, we are not talking about assisting an industry that is on its knees. Far from it, Tabcorp announced a $122 million half-yearly profit in February—a figure that has shot up 64 per cent in a year.

People who have no or little interest in racing—and there are many of them—are rightly wondering how many infrastructure projects could be funded or hospitals and schools staffed with the money we are giving to an industry that is, by any measure, doing quite well. There certainly does not seem to be a crisis in gaming, unless of course you are a family or individual impacted by the effect of bad gambling decisions, particularly in an industry that sells itself as being fun, exciting and glamorous. Indeed, there is no shortage of companies that want to get into the action.

Ever since community outrage saw betting agency Tom Waterhouse reduce its bombardment of our television screens just a few years ago, we have seen a ramping up of activity by existing gambling companies and a proliferation of new players, such as Centrebet, Sportsbet, Ubet, Ladbrokes, Crownbet and William Hill to mention just a few industry players. Their advertising is so pervasive that they must be normalising the idea of gambling in the minds of potential new customers: our children and our youth. I trust that it is no more than ironic coincidence that this growth in gambling opportunities is perhaps eclipsed in the advertising stakes by offers of payday lending companies.

The Leader of the Opposition has come out strongly on this matter and indeed is pushing for even greater support by advocating an accelerated implementation of the scheduled tax breaks. But, of course, it was a similar position that was his first major policy announcement in the lead-up to the March election. That policy announcement was met with incredulity by the average person; I spoke to many in Lake Macquarie and I do not believe that there was more than minimal support for his policy and not one thought that it should have been announced as a cornerstone policy.

I do not for a moment suggest that we seek to penalise the racing industry through the taxation system. However, I do not believe the case has been made for this industry specific largesse. The dice are however cast and this legislation, mostly uncontested and supported by the both the Government and Opposition, will pass through both Houses this week. I would therefore ask that the Government keep in mind those who will not be beneficiaries of the glamorous and appealing aspects of the industry— those who will be impacted by gambling of any kind, not just racing, through irresponsible and poor decisions that we know all too often impacts on families—and be just as generous in supporting social support services throughout New South Wales when asked.

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