Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Repeal and Advisory Councils Bill 2024

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It is a pleasure to rise to speak in favour of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Repeal and Advisory Councils Bill 2024. From the outset I would like to thank the Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation and her team for putting an immense effort into this piece of legislation. Their work to do all they can to ensure that the government’s gambling harm prevention and response is up to date and effective should be commended. I would like to acknowledge the member for Eureka and her ongoing contributions to this house with regard to gambling and the effects that it has had on her life. Her contributions are always very raw and emotional and give us a good sense of the consequences of gambling here in this state.

The importance of continual reform in this space cannot be overstated. Victorians lost an estimated $3 billion in the last financial year. Let me repeat that: $3 billion. Residents in the Glen Waverley district, unfortunately, were no outlier to this horrific statistic. Across the City of Monash $122.5 million was lost last year, and $56 million was lost in the City of Whitehorse. Just last month, in April, more than $9 million and $5 million was lost respectively in Monash and Whitehorse. There can be no clearer picture painted of the serious harm that these electronic gaming machines cause to my constituents and Victorians as a whole.

It is extremely alarming that each year more than half a million Victorians experience gambling harm, either through their own gambling or because of others’ actions. This costs Victoria some $7 billion every year. We know that gambling harm does not just stop at financial distress, as profound as that is. It brings a profound sense of guilt and shame, often leading to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. And with these serious struggles we tragically lose too many of our fellow Victorians to suicide. Symptoms can also present as mood swings and general irritability as well as lashing out at others. Many lose relationships with their friends and loved ones, which further perpetuates the downward spiral filled with negativity and sorrow. Further, there is quantifiable evidence to link gambling harm to both substance and alcohol abuse as well as increased family and domestic violence. What this clearly highlights is that gambling harm is a multifaceted problem, not just in the pure numerical and financial sense but much more so in a holistic sense. Such a complex and complicated issue requires sophisticated and tailored responses to target both preventative and response measures. That is why this government is introducing this bill – to tackle these issues with efficacy and conviction.

This bill seeks to amend the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 to establish the Gambling Harm Response Fund and abolish the Responsible Gambling Ministerial Advisory Council and the Liquor Control Advisory Council. It will also amend the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission Act ‍2011 to transfer certain functions from the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission as well as amend the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 to abolish the Liquor Control Advisory Council.

In essence, these changes establish and implement the framework of the government’s new gambling harm prevention and response model. To put it simply, the government has decided that programs which serve a preventative purpose are now better suited to the Department of Health to facilitate fluid integration and multiple services. Gambling harm prevention campaigning will now be the responsibility of the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission, fitting in with the commission’s key goals of harm minimisation, and research and evaluation will be transferred to the Department of Justice and Community Safety, giving this multifaceted issue a cross-portfolio overview and response.

These major reforms have come about through a process of extensive stakeholder engagement and communication. Not only were the government agencies and departments consulted, the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s staff and board were also engaged. Further consultation occurred with Gambler’s Help and harm prevention providers as well as the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Alliance for Gambling Reform and the Victorian InterChurch Gambling Taskforce. Through this process it was made clear that a publicly accessible and accountable model of addressing gambler harm will continue. This, in conjunction with the opportunity for better cooperation and coordination of integrated services, would provide an environment in which these functions could complement each other.

Another significant point raised was the current governance structure. It is outdated and in need of updating. In reflecting upon the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Act 2011, this bill removes the Responsible Gambling Ministerial Advisory Council and the Liquor Control Advisory Council. These are historical forms of stakeholder and community engagement which are no longer fit for purpose. The methods in which such engagement occurs can now be hindered by older structures, and this bill seeks to create more opportunities for greater consultation. This includes reaching out to those with lived experience – either directly or indirectly – of gambling harm, making for an up-to-date system. Being provided with a diversity of views and perspectives will better inform how policies are made and implemented.

As aforementioned, gambling harm is an issue which extends beyond financial means, which is extremely dangerous in itself. This is a public health problem which needs to be addressed in a way which encapsulates all the other issues that follow it. We must recognise the stigma which follows from both gambling and mental health issues and how that can act as a deterrent to individuals reaching for support. Around 75 per cent of people who present to a gambling help service also have a mental health issue. A study showed that over 30 per cent of people who seek mental health support have a gambling issue. The interconnectedness of these symptoms means that if we do not have a coordinated approach, people can fall through the cracks. This bill seeks to address this specifically, formulating a pathway for a more integrated and inclusive approach and providing a warmer and more welcoming environment for people to speak up.

On top of the prevention and protection programs, gambling harm awareness and research will continue to be funded. We want to see services delivered with a basis of understanding which stems from publicly funded research. With more knowledge and data, any possible improvements in policy can be evaluated and actioned. The reform also provides community-based gambling harm prevention activities, including at schools. We know the younger children, especially teenagers, are more likely to be negatively influenced in their formative years. I remember recently just walking down the streets of Kingsway in Glen Waverley and seeing a group of probably 15- or 16-year-olds – four of them – all discussing what they were currently going to bet on with regard to a multi on their phones. So we need to make sure that we protect our future generations from the scourge of gambling harm. Another popular form of gambling aside from the pokies is sports betting, which is why we are having a positive engagement with young people at sporting clubs to communicate harm prevention measures, seeking to mitigate longer term risks. And finally, this bill, through the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, will deliver training and support to venues which have electronic gaming machines.

The foundation has done tremendous work in helping those who suffer from the consequences of gambling harm, and I congratulate all of those who do such incredible work in this space. It is great to hear that all existing staff will continue to have a job in this critical sector helping people in some of their most vulnerable moments. We all recognise the significant emotional toll this would have on staff, which is why funding is provided for suicide prevention and mental health supports for them too. This government has a strong record to stand on in investing $165 million into supporting Victorians who are experiencing or who are at risk of experiencing gambling harm, but we know that there is always more work to do.

This bill will make improvements to the functions of the foundation so that there can be greater coordination for a more integrated approach. It will facilitate the creation of pathways for other public health responses to be intertwined, including mental health, alcohol and substance abuse, financial counselling and family violence services. It recognises that there is always potential for better public campaigns to raise awareness to prevent potential harm and better support for those who work in the industry. I am proud to support these measures which seek to promote positive and honest conversations about gambling harm from an early age in schools to sporting clubs and sporting venues. In the case that people do experience the financial, emotional, mental or societal harms from gambling, this bill forms an empathetic yet strong network of support for victims.

I again commend the work being undertaken in this process, from vast and extensive consultation to listening to the recommendations of the Victorian Auditor-General’s Reducing the Harm Caused by Gambling report. I am proud to be part of an Allan Labor government which takes tackling the stigma around gambling harm seriously to provide a warm and caring environment for people to open up and find the help that they need. I believe this bill takes the appropriate measures in modernising our response to gambling harm, from an understanding that this is a broad issue which has diverse intersections. It correctly addresses wider public health issues. It places a necessary focus on the prevention of and response to gambling harm as well as the policy research and evaluation functions which are all in conjunction required to deal with this significant issue. I am proud to commend this bill to the house.

John Mullahy MP
Author: John Mullahy MP

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