The new Coalition government is facing a head-on clash with independent senator Nick Xenophon and other crossbench MPs and senators over a proposal for poker machine bets to be limited to a maximum of $1 and sweeping bans on gambling advertising.
Xenophon and Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie have pledged to re-introduce legislation to tackle problem gambling; legislation that failed to materialise in the 2010 hung parliament despite a promise by then prime minister Julia Gillard.
Joined by anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello, the independent MPs announced their intentions at a press conference in Melbourne last Thursday.
“This is an issue that will not go away,” said Xenophon. “There are 400,000 people with a severe gambling addiction or well on the way to getting one. We are here to say that we will be planning a whole series of measures, both in the parliament and outside the parliament to deal with the issue of gambling reform.”
The South Australian senator added that the proliferation of sports betting advertising on TV would also be a target.
“So many parents have approached all of us to say they are appalled their seven and eight and ten-year-old children are talking about the odds of a game rather than the game itself.
“There is a specific exemption that applies to gambling ads during sports broadcasts, which is an anomaly, and that loophole needs to be shut down in accordance with overwhelming community sentiment in relation to this.”
Andrew Wilkie told reporters that the new parliament presented “the perfect opportunity to put gambling reform back on the national agenda and to finally achieve meaningful action”.
“We will be introducing legislation to rein in the harm caused by poker machines, including by implementing the Productivity Commission’s recommendations of $1 maximum bets.”
Mr Wilkie withdrew his support in 2012 for Julia Gillard’s minority Labor government after he said she had breached an agreement signed after the 2010 election to introduce measures to deal with problem gambling.
The Productivity Commission has estimated that gambling losses in Australia totalled more than $19 billion − an average of $1,500 per gambler.
About 600,000 Australians, or four per cent of the adult population, are reported to gamble at least weekly and about 15 per cent of those were problem gamblers.
The commission has put the social cost of problem gambling − and particularly gambling on ‘pokies’ − as at least $4.7 billion a year and has said evidence showed “strong grounds” to lower the poker machine bet limit.