Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (17 June) . . Page.. 1959 ..
time for the government to develop and implement such legislation so that clubs, potential other venues and the community have some form of certainty.
So I say to the government: go; go forth and legislate; provide a long-term framework for gaming machine allocation and use in the ACT and for the community at large, so that they can have some form of certainty.
MS TUCKER(5.50): The aim of this bill, as other members have said, is to extend the current restrictions on the number of gaming machines that can be licensed in the ACT for a further two years. Current legislation restricts the number to a maximum of 5,200 up to 30 June 2003. The current number of machines is 5,064.
I introduced this cap in 1998. It established a legislative means for the commissioner to refuse to grant a licence for gambling machines-pokies-and established, for the first time, criteria for deciding whether it was in the public interest to allow the licence or increase to go ahead. The criteria are not comprehensive, but they are at least something. In the four years, I think, leading up to its introduction, there had been an average of around 350 applications per year, which were generally just rubber-stamped.
Machine numbers were: at the end of June 1987, 1,891; at the end of June 1997, 3,914; in May 1998, 4,600, at which point the select committee was established and the cap was introduced; at the end of June 1999, 4,970; and here we are, with around 5,060. Without the legislation to permit refusal and the cap, and if those application rates had continued, we would have had 6,000 gaming machines now. While the evidence in studies indicates that state-wide caps are not on their own the most effective means of reducing problem gambling, the cap has certainly put a break on the rapid rise of machines. As it is, the ACT has Australia's highest number of machines per capita.
It's also true that the research has shown clearly that proximity to gambling machines is an important indicator of high gambling activity, and the cap has worked to some degree to at least slow the spread of new venues.
After my initial motion, the cap was supported by the Select Committee on Gambling. In our interim report on a cap on gaming machines, we wanted the cap in place to stop increases while the committee continued its work and while the national inquiry into gambling occurred, and then to allow ACT's politicians to consider the implications of those reports and develop policy and legislation in the public interest.
The committee did not believe the sunset clause was absolutely necessary. However, when it was introduced, it was expected to be in place for a year or so. In 1999, Mrs Carnell, with the encouragement of Mr Kaine, extended the cap for two years. Mrs Carnell argued against extending the cap for two years, because she said there would be a demand in that time for more than 5,200 machines. I'm grateful that the Assembly did not agree with this argument, which really made a mockery of the cap. The sunset clause has been extended a number of times, and always with the intention that this will allow government policy to be developed on the basis of evidence.
We have the commission now, guided in the legislation by public interest and harm minimisation principles, and have had the benefit of the select committee's work, the Productivity Commission's extensive work and the survey analysis of gambling in the