Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (20 May) . . Page.. 414 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
Recently the Federal Government announced the establishment of a national inquiry into the effects of the gambling industry in Australia, as we heard in question time. While the terms of reference of that inquiry have not been finalised, the broad parameters for the inquiry are as follows: The extent and social cost of gambling; whether it is accounted for properly; its effect on the rest of the economy; and whether its contribution is positive or negative. It is expected that this inquiry will take 12 months. Mr Speaker, in the absence of a political willingness to tackle this issue head-on at the local level, I believe that this inquiry would provide us with some evidence about the impacts of gambling in our community and ideas for how to deal with the issue.
I was amused to hear Mrs Carnell saying in the media on Monday night that a national inquiry would not be of any use for the ACT. My understanding of the inquiry is that, while it will not come up with specific recommendations for the Federal Government, it is meant to be an extremely useful source of information and policy ideas for politicians and policy-makers. The overall objective is to develop a framework for good public policy in the area of gambling by providing a critique of the various regulatory frameworks and public policy responses across Australia. It is obviously not relevant to say that because there are no specific recommendations it would not be a useful document. As part of its inquiry process, the Productivity Commission will conduct research on the social and economic impact of gambling across Australia, including regional variations, as well as examining mechanisms to deal with the impact of gambling across States and Territories. A draft report should be ready before Christmas.
This motion recommends that we set up a select committee to look at the issues of gambling in the ACT. I do look forward to being part of a select committee of this Assembly to look at this important issue and to examine the findings of the Productivity Commission's inquiry. I also look forward to this committee examining the report being prepared by the Chief Minister's Department as part of the competition policy review. It is clear that the two would complement each other very well, and it is a quite appropriate process.
My main concern with an Assembly inquiry is the capacity of the committee to gather any important information that may be necessary but that is not available through the other report, particularly from the Government's competition policy review. In case we see some gap in information, we would need to be able to have resources to get further information. For example, it may be about the socioeconomic impact of gambling, the social profile of gamblers, the extent of problem gambling, the social fallout of problem gambling, et cetera. However, if the committee has the resources to enable us to do this research, perhaps by working with well-recognised researchers in the field, I believe it would be a very worthwhile exercise and obviously of interest to the broader Australian community as well. Obviously, some of the work, as I said, will be done by the Government review, and we would be happy to work with that process.
Mr Speaker, the fact is that we cannot simply allow poker machines to keep multiplying virtually unregulated. As we all know, the number of poker machines has increased dramatically in recent years. Between 1986-87 and 1996-97 the number of poker machines increased from 1,891 to 3,914, and just since that latest figure we now have 4,600 poker machines. That is another 700. In the absence of any regulation or cap of any kind, the numbers are simply going to keep increasing. Mrs Carnell expressed