Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (20 May) . . Page.. 427 ..
MS CARNELL (continuing):
Mr Speaker? We were penalised for that by none other than the Federal Government - a Federal Government that now seems to think that gambling is a problem. I hope, as I said earlier, Mr Speaker, that they take that into account with their new inquiry.
I think it is very important in terms of this debate that we look at what the Salvation Army and, for that matter, Lifeline's Gambling and Financial Consulting Service have said about the ACT. I understand that the Allen Consulting Group, who have been commissioned to look at our gambling legislation and are due to report very shortly, asked representatives of the Salvation Army about problem gambling in the ACT and the Salvation Army said that it was not a significant problem. I believe that the Salvation Army would be right. That does not mean that it does not exist. It just means that it is not increasing at the sort of rate that Ms Tucker would tend to indicate.
Lifeline's Gambling and Financial Counselling Service statistics, taken from annual reports over the last three years, do not reflect any disturbing increases in problem gambling in the ACT either. Yes, there have been some changes in the figures. Telephone counselling has gone up and other forms of counselling have gone down. Again, that does not mean that it is not a problem; not at all. In fact, one of the promises that my Government made before the last election was to give another $40,000 to Lifeline's Gambling and Financial Counselling Service because we believe it is an essential service. But there is no data to indicate that, in the ACT, problem gambling is increasing at a huge rate, or even increasing significantly.
Poker machines in the ACT have been around for some 20 years. It appears that the ACT has a very mature market in this area. When you look at the amount of money that ACT residents spend on gambling per capita, the ACT is well below the Australian average. That is something we should be really proud of, Mr Speaker. That is not only in regard to the percentage of household disposable income; it is also in regard to the Australian average.
It is always good in this place to debate things that are real, with real information on the table. To cap it off, we now know that over the last four years the amount of tax from poker machines, as a percentage of our total tax base, has not increased. According to the Salvation Army and Lifeline statistics, the amount of problem gambling has not increased exponentially, or not increased at a huge rate. The average amount of gambling dollars spent by people in the ACT is well below the Australian average. The amount of revenue obtained by the ACT Government is below the standardised level. Just to add to it, the ACT is already doing a consultancy on this exact issue, using a very reputable consultant. Mr Speaker, what does this tell you about this motion? What is it going to achieve that is not already happening? We have no problem with the select committee, but let us not make the taxpayer pay for the same consultancy twice.
MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (4.37): Mr Speaker, I think it is important that we get this right. As all here would appreciate, the issue of poker machines and gambling and the spread of gambling in our society is an issue that I think would concern all members of this place. That Ms Tucker would bring on a select committee is an indication of the strength of feeling. But, in looking at the number of clubs that I know of that are coming on line or that may have applied for extra places, I think we need to