Tuesday August 27,2013 : AUSSIE ELECTORAL STORM OVER PROBLEM GAMBLING
Political challengers want an industry-led body to take over watchdog role
The Coalition, which is challenging the Rudd Labor government in the Australian national elections, has come under fire for its proposals regarding problem gambling – a sensitive issue that has received a huge amount of publicity in the country.
If it unseats the present federal government, the Coalition has said that it intends to abolish the national gambling regulator and replace it with an advisory council made up of representatives of the gambling industry, which would act as a watchdog on compulsive gambling.
Such a group would meet four times a year with the minister responsible to develop a plan for "targeted" counselling and support services.
Land gambling body Clubs Australia supports the proposal, along with another Coalition intention to halt the Labor government’s current trial of mandatory pre-commitment in the Australian Capital Territory, under which punters have to specify their overall bet limit when playing the pokies.
Whilst the Coalition supports the concept of voluntary pre-commitment, it believes this should be a matter of choice.
Under a Coalition federal government, the responsibility for problem gambling support services would be derogated to the individual Aussie states, and there would be a federal ban on the extension of credit to online gamblers.
Clubs Australia told The Guardian newspaper this week: "The Coalition's approach recognises the work already done and reflects the reality that policies based on proper consultation and consideration work better for problem gamblers than those that are the product of hasty political deals."
The idea that gambling entities should be given the power of key advisers on matters gambling has dismayed and even outraged some high profile anti-problem gambling personalities, who have been quick to draw a number of negative analogies.
"It's just bizarre to put the gambling industry in charge of the advisory group," said Dr Colin McLeod, a senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne. "What you're asking the industry to do is to find ways to curtail the spending of its most profitable customers."
Another public health expert, Charles Livingston of the Monash University, characterised the Coalition stance as "…like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse."
Tom Cummings, a former problem gambler turned reform advocate, said the Coalition's policies were "pretty shocking".
"The industry has consistently refused to accept that the product it is selling has something wrong about it, so the focus is always about self-exclusion and counselling," he said.
"That completely ignores the fact they can do something at the machine level. This is pretty much like putting the anti-vaccination crowd in charge of hospitals.
"One of the worst parts is the move away from a national platform, given the dog's dinner the states have made of gambling. If the Coalition comes in, it will take the issue off the national agenda and hand it to the states, who are reliant on money from gambling."
Cummings says the simple expedient of imposing a $1 bet limit on pokie machines could help, but admits that some 90 percent of Australian punters only bet $1 at a time anyway.
Tim Costello, the chairman of the Churches Gambling Taskforce, has described the Coalition's advisory council idea as: "Dracula in charge of the blood bank."
Other experts have opined that the huge amount of cross-media, intrusive advertising and promotional activity on gambling, especially in association with sports competitions, is increasing the danger of problem gambling.
Explaining the Coalition perspective Kevin Andrews, its spokesman for families, housing and human services, rejected suggestions that the gambling industry is uninterested in fixing problem gambling.
"The industry itself is concerned about problem gambling," he claimed. "They've put in place many measures in various places including voluntary pre-commitment and self-exclusion schemes. We want to enhance that."
Andrews added that if government does not consult with industry, it will end up with solutions that do not work.
"Working with the industry, getting them into formal agreements with recognised counselling services, these sorts of things will have a very positive impact," he said.