Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Repeal and Advisory Councils Bill 2024

30 May 2024

I too rise to speak on the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Repeal and Advisory Councils Bill 2024. I have stood here many times over the past six years or so since being elected, and in relation to the bills and legislative reform we have put before the house when it comes to gambling harm minimisation, it often makes me reflect on gambling within my own family. I feel like it skipped a generation with my sister and me but certainly found its way to my brother. I would not say he is someone who has an addiction to gambling, but he loves a good punt and loves being down at the local RSL or bowls club, having a cheap meal and cheap drinks with his friends and playing the pokies.

That was certainly something that I saw growing up with my nanna, the great Nanna Jean, who was a wonderful woman. She loved going to the same bowls club, and she often played the pokies when her pension came in. She was actually deaf – completely deaf – and I think part of the isolation for her was that Grandad had passed away many years prior. Being deaf – she went deaf at I think 50 or 60 – and having that kind of disability was really isolating. She loved going to the bowls club and she loved playing the pokies. I think she used to put in the 5-cent pieces, because I remember she used to try and push them into our hands when we went down the bowls club when we went with her for a meal and say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to have a go, you’ve got to have a go.’ It was something that was never passed on to my sister and me, but my brother certainly loves it.

But like Nanna Jean, her brother Les, who we would probably say today was someone who was an alcoholic, also had a gambling addiction, and he was a man who lost his family over it and was completely estranged from his children. You know, as you get older and you learn about family history, I think there was an element of family violence there as well – so alcoholism, addiction to gambling and family violence, the three things that have been talked about I think many, many times over in this chamber whilst contributions have been made on this bill.

This is a really important bill, and it is looking at the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, which functions as an important pillar of our gambling response, and seeking to basically update and modernise the roles and functions of the foundation by dismantling it and transferring these roles. This is something that I wholeheartedly support, and I say from the outset that I commend the bill to the house. It goes without saying that addressing mental health and addressing the social and financial impacts of problem gambling is something that has popped up time and time and time again on government agendas right across this country. We know that gambling harm impacts more than half a million Victorians either directly or indirectly. But what is worse is that it costs Victoria an estimated $7 billion each and every single year, including over $3 billion lost on poker machines alone – and that was a stat from 2022–23. It is something that I know has been raised time and time again with me.

The member for Kororoit spoke quite eloquently about the City of Brimbank having I think she said the highest number of people gambling and problem gamblers in the state. That is certainly not something that any local government wants to be recognised for – and indeed it is something time and time again for a number of local governments in my electorate of Laverton. As I always say, I have got the best of the west with the mighty four local governments that cross over in my electorate, but especially Brimbank and Wyndham. There are problems out there with gambling and the amount of money that venues are taking in from people with gambling addictions in my community.

I acknowledge that those two local councils, Brimbank and Wyndham, in particular have been very vocal in their advocacy on this issue with very, very good reason, and I thank them very much for keeping me on my toes when it comes to gambling and what this government is doing in this space.

It is an issue that I heard about and discussed at length last year with the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) inquiry into gambling and alcohol legislation. The committee heard firsthand from stakeholders about how we are tracking when it comes to gambling reform in this state and what else we need to do. One of the really great things about governments is that when there are things that you need to do to improve outcomes for Victorians, whatever that is, governments should always be seeking to improve upon that and close those gaps to better support and empower sometimes, be what it may, Victorians regardless of their postcode, amount of money in their bank, where they come from and so on. That is what this government is doing. In that inquiry we were looking at how the state government is tracking, is the legislation working and what else we need to do. One of the things we certainly did hear, though, was that this is a problem that is highly complex. There is no particular silver bullet when it comes to minimising, reducing or completely wiping out gambling harm. It is something that presents itself in many, many ways, including feelings of regret – we heard about that – of shame, of guilt, of depression and of anxiety; abuse of alcohol and other drugs; and even more extremely, in forms of family violence. Another member, and I think it was the member for Kororoit, quite rightly pointed out it also presents itself in the form of suicide.

When you factor in these very serious mental and physical health issues it makes it harder to identify that particular root cause. As we heard in the inquiry from the executive clinical director of Turning Point, Australia’s leading national addiction treatment organisation, people do not normally disclose that they are struggling with gambling harm, and we have a workforce that quite frankly does not understand it and what it is. There is a lot of shame; there is a lot of stigma. People struggle to talk about it, and we need to be able to break that down. In 2017 the foundation found that 30 per cent of people presenting to mental health community support services were experiencing problems with gambling and also around three-quarters of people presenting to a gambling service had mental health issues, so we know there are underlying problems there that we need to address. What we can learn from that is there is a major mismatch between our gambling harm treatment services and our mental health support services. What we need to do is we need to synchronise them more closely. They need to work together, and that is what the aim of this bill is.

This bill will build upon our government’s previous commitments and our record on tackling this issue. Last year we did some great things, and they happened during the PAEC inquiry. Certainly we heard from organisations that work directly on the front line, supporting people to minimise their gambling harm, about these reforms making direct inroads to assisting people and preventing gambling harm for those who had an addiction. Last year we committed to the mandatory precommitment of cashless gaming, we instituted uniform closing and opening times to prevent staggered gambling models and we lowered the speed, can you believe it, on new slot machines so that in future folks playing round after round on the pokies will not be throwing away so much money in the blink of an eye. I think that is a really good thing, whether Nanna Jean was here and she was putting in her 5-cent pieces or for my brother hoping that he will not lose so much in his pay cheque when he is playing the pokies. That was a really good thing. These are some really good steps that directly address just some of the issues that we are seeing on the ground.

But we need to look at the broader picture as well. That is what this bill is about. It is about taking the foundation, which I believe was set up 12 years ago, having a look at it and thinking about: does it reflect what we need today? The answer to that was ‘maybe not’. We need to do something else, and that is what this bill is going to. It is going to transfer those roles and responsibilities into other areas and other departments, which will be able to take a more hands-on approach and hopefully help improve and offer support to people and also their families that are suffering with gambling harm and having someone in their home that is addicted to gambling. I commend the bill to the house.