HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.51 pm]: I rise because last night, I attended the forum on electronic gambling and harm that was held by the Financial Counsellors Australia WA branch, the Western Australian Council of Social Service, the Public Health Association and the Western Australian Association for Mental Health as part of their ongoing concern to stop the rollout of electronic gaming machines in Western Australia.
Members will well recall what I think was the vehement opposition expressed by the community sector to the inclusion of electronic gaming as one of the conditions in the legislation for the sale of the TAB. Even though the sector was not successful at the time in influencing the legislation, I would like to assure members that it is not deterred from wanting to ensure that electronic gaming does not proceed in Western Australia. The sector is turning its attention specifically to ensuring that electronic gaming is not included in the overall sale of the TAB. I am quite disappointed that this government has chosen to disregard the warnings of these credible people, who are working on the front line and who are all predicting that harm will result from the rollout of electronic gaming.
One of the speakers we heard from is an expert in gambling addiction. She relayed her experiences of what has happened in Victoria around electronic gaming. She made the point that for many years, Western Australia has been held up around Australia as the exemplar of how to minimise harm from gambling, and how devastating it is that the Western Australian government has made the shameful decision to renege on its longstanding bipartisan commitment not to have electronic gaming in our pubs and clubs and our regional settings.
I want to draw members’ attention to an expression of interest document that has come out from the Department of Treasury. I refer in particular to page 4, under “Investment Highlights”. That makes it quite clear just how cynical the whole exercise of including electronic gaming in the sale of the TAB has ended up being. Under the heading “Opportunity to introduce simulated racing products and drive fixed odds wagering growth”, it states —
- Wagering Licence will authorise the rollout of simulated /racing products in retail agencies
The government’s expression of interest document also uses the words —
- Significant scope for product innovation via new products and bet types ...
That is one of the attractions, apparently. Is this not wonderful? The expression of interest document states that WA is ripe for the picking and that there is plenty of opportunity to look at expanding electronic gaming in this state. The government is blatantly marketing this as though it is something to be proud of.
During my second reading contribution on the TAB (Disposal) Bill, I expressed my concerns about Trackside potentially paving the way for the rollout of other forms of electronic gaming, which in and of itself is a legitimate concern. Even if Trackside were not to lead to pokies, or at least pokies in the form in which it exists in other states, we know that Trackside will be bad on its own terms. This is very much the feedback that came from the experts at last night’s forum. I will remind members that Trackside is designed to be addictive—that is the point of Trackside. People can play up to 200 games a day. The point was made, for example, that there is up to a 40-minute turnaround between races in conventional horseracing. There is about a three-minute turnaround between races on Trackside. The very virtue of being electronic means that the algorithms underlying the games are premised on deriving maximum profits. That is what they are about. That will lead to people with gambling problems losing large amounts of money. That is what is going to happen in this state. It is clearly so much better to avoid introducing these addictive machines in the first place. That is why the Greens have held such a longstanding bipartisan position in WA of not allowing this form of gambling outside of the casino. That is why we have had it. The relatively small amount of money that can be made from this is not going to outweigh the social harms that will come. If the government decides to proceed against the advice of people who are experts in gambling addiction, against the advice of the community sector and against the advice of financial counsellors, at the very least it will have to look at investing in more on-the-ground services to support the extra people who are going to need more help and support.
At the forum last night, there were representatives from Centrecare. They provide expert services to assist people who have a gambling addiction. They are anticipating a significant increase in the level of harm. I note that the 2018–19 annual report of the Gaming and Wagering Commission of Western Australia shows that calls to the problem gambling hotline have increased 19 per cent in two years. That is even before electronic gaming has been rolled out in our pubs and clubs, and in regional settings. I think it obviously serves to amplify the number of people who are already experiencing strife. It is clear that the community is going to be paying the price if the government continues along this path. I was very unimpressed when I saw this expression of interest document and how blatant the government was in flaunting the fact that the WA public is going to have electronic gaming foisted upon it, and what an opportunity it is to take more and more money from unfortunate people. It is not too late; the contracts have not been signed yet. I urge the government to remove electronic gaming from the sale of the TAB.