Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:27): Senator Xenophon, we will continue to have these discussions in this chamber, as you well know. You will be bringing back your range of issues around gambling in Australia, as you need to do and as I know you will.
The bill before us is the Anti-Money Laundering Amendment (Gaming Machine Venues) Bill 2012 . I am disappointed that we did not have the chance to consider this bill in the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and that I could not refer to the evidence that we had received in committees that we have served on in the past on a range of gambling bills. I did go back and checked out the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, to which this bill and three others went. They brought down their report in June 2013. Quite disappointingly, considering the amount of discussion that Senator Xenophon has brought to us today and in statements over the last year and a half to two years on this issue, when this bill was brought to the joint select committee there were only two submissions. It was probably one of the bills that attracted the least interest in the wider community. Perhaps they were scared away by the legal nature of it. Perhaps they did not want to get involved in the discussions of AUSTRAC and the various processes there. It is really difficult to get a sense of where the rights of the argument are when you only have two submissions, as anyone would know. These submissions came from Clubs Australia and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. Unfortunately, whenever we get into these discussions, these two groups-who both have knowledge, who both have a passion and who both make public statements expressing concerns about problem gambling-consistently do not agree.
On this bill, there was again a great divide in the evidence they presented. The church antigambling group pointed out their worries about the process and about their inability to communicate effectively with people in positions of authority. They expressed their concerns about the sorts of issues Senator Xenophon was raising-the problems of money laundering and the extra pressure that puts on people. They had already identified the problem of compulsive gamblers and the awful consequences for them and their families-and no-one knows more about those issues than the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. Those were the issues they raised.
Understandably, the submission government received from Clubs Australia talked about the existing processes-just outlined here again by Senator Reynolds-the existing provisions under the act and the Anti-Money Laundering Amendment (Gaming Machine Venues) Bill. They talked about the kinds of regulations and restrictions that already existed. Then, as we consistently hear in this debate, they emphasised what the impost on them, their businesses and their staff would be of any kind of restriction or any kind of regulation. Once again, then, as has consistently been the case in this debate, we have two groups who do not agree-two groups who, I think, far too often talk at each other rather than to each other and too often speak with third parties instead of with each other.
The Labor Party is not willing to support the bill as it is written-and Senator Xenophon knows that. We are concerned that there continues to be conflicting evidence. I take your point absolutely, Senator Xenophon, about the academic research you brought to us today-which I have not read and which was not with your bill-from the well-regarded researcher you named in your contribution. I put a great deal of value on that sort of work and would like to see it continue, especially since one of the main things that has came out of our debates over the last two years is the absolute need for more independent research-that is something that everyone agrees on, I think. When we get such research, we need to discuss it from all perspectives. We need to see how the data supports the different arguments about what the impacts would be, for example, of a reduction in the amount of money that could be gambled-that thousand-dollar limit. In that context, and referring also to the evidence from AUSTRAC and the work that has already been done, we could objectively assess the claims that we hear: that there are strict regulations in place, that clubs are already regulated, that they have responsibilities which they regularly review, and that they try to ensure that their processes for discharging those responsibilities are clearly set out and transparent.
That is the argument that is going on. Clubs Australia-and, to an extent AUSTRAC-are saying that the way they are implementing the current legislation is effective. I do not believe that any piece of legislation should ever be sacrosanct. I think it is very important that, as questions are raised and as the process attracts interest, there should be an opportunity to go back and review what is going on. I think Senator Xenophon's bill highlights exactly that kind of discussion point.
The government position has been put by Minister Andrews, that he was moving away from the work that had been done by the previous government-options for various trials and the concept of having a central regulatory point. Senator Reynolds outlined that in her contribution. The government's position was that they wanted to start anew, that they would like to move forward in a reasonable and effective way to consider the important issues of gambling. That received some media attention at the time. Certainly we had a discussion in this place about what was happening-the change from what the previous government had put in place. The budget then took away money that had been allocated by the previous government in this area, replaced by a promise from the incoming government that they would take us down a reasonable and responsible path towards finding some solutions. I say, 'Let's get on this path.' Let us get on this path so the kinds of issues that Senator Xenophon is talking about can be dealt with. Let us look at the evidence that has come forward and let us undertake engagement so that we can understand exactly what is going on in this disputed space.
I shared a number of weeks on the community affairs committee with Senator Xenophon and other senators, all of whom were genuinely concerned about problem gambling in Australia. There was no doubt about that. There was no difference between the senators. In hearing them talk about the issue, you would not have been able to tell which party they belonged to or which group they represented. Certainly they took a genuine interest in these issues. We sat there for a number of hearings. First we heard, 'The sky is blue', and then we heard, 'The sky is black'-nothing, there was no agreement. As I said, what we have is an unresolved dispute.
We now have a commitment from the new government to put in place this new, responsible process to look at gambling issues in our community. Well, we have been waiting-because there are many of us who would like to walk down this path together with the government in a responsible and responsive way. So far there has not been a lot of action.
Certainly I believe the issue that Senator Xenophon has raised in this bill, which is the opportunity for criminal behaviour and money laundering to occur in our clubs, specifically around gaming machines, is a real issue. We need to see whether it is accurate and can be backed up by evidence and then balance that against the kinds of arguments we have heard pretty consistently from the clubs industry, which is about what impact bringing in yet another level of regulation would have on their business, their viability and the pleasure they provide to a number of people. If we are going to have a responsible, cooperative approach, then I stress this one paragraph we received from the government which talks about this new process 'engaging all stakeholders'. This has to happen. If you have heard me speak on this issue before, Mr Acting Deputy President, then you would know it has been the major process I have put on the table: we must engage all stakeholders. So far, I do not think we have been able to come up with any kind of common approach in this area.
In hindsight, whilst our Senate community affairs process followed the standard model where we invite people to put in submissions, we call for public hearings, we have them, we put all the evidence together and then we talk about where we will go with our report-and I would think it is a very similar process to that of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform-we did not get the people together at any of these hearings. We heard sequential pieces of evidence from witnesses who were putting forward their own views. It should be done with everyone together, with the senators, so that we can see how people are interacting and responding to particular positions.
In this case, the kinds of evidence that Senator Xenophon has concerns about is money laundering, the ease with which this could happen and the fact that, under the current provisions of the act, AUSTRAC would not be able to gather evidence into their process for consideration. I think it probably would be more useful to hear those voices together, not speaking over each other-which sometimes happens when we get excited in these processes-but face-to-face so that we can ask questions in an engaging way rather than one where we hear the evidence, we close it off, we sit down and we do not have a chance to say, 'What do you think about that?' So perhaps in the responsible and reasonable way that the government has said they are going to move forward on the gambling issue, we could look at having some cooperative process whereby we get people who care about the issue together.
I would be particularly interested to hear more about the evidence that Senator Xenophon has just put forward, because if that kind of information has been put forward by researchers it would be useful to see the reaction to it by people who one would expect from previous experience would not share a similar consideration. This could be such a process, and I think many people would like to be engaged in it. Again, I stress that the difference is not the concern about people who are damaged by problem gambling. The difference is certainly not any concern about whether there should or should not be illegality in our registered clubs-and I think that is clear. In fact, in their submission to Senator Xenophon's Senate select gambling reform bill, Clubs Australia were very quick to point out that they actually take their legal responsibility particularly seriously and that they already have a relationship with AUSTRAC that is focused on ensuring that there are minimal opportunities for the kinds of issues Senator Xenophon describes in terms of people being able to launder money-money that would have been obtained in an illegal way and then put into legal tender so that it could be used in other ways. 'Cheque change' is one process whereby you can cash a cheque and then use that money in other ways. The clubs were clear that it was not common practice in their business. We need to see what evidence they have for that view, as opposed to the concerns about what could happen.
The other thing that was raised-and this widens the whole thing-is that Senator Xenophon's bill is particularly about gambling machine venues, and we heard that consistently. I know that a series of the bills put forward by Senator Xenophon at the time were looking mainly at the area of gambling machines. If these things are occurring and there is an opportunity for people to invest money and for it to be used in ways that are illegal or inappropriate then surely that should exist across the board in all gambling areas. My experience of the gambling world is walking through a casino, and my observation of the activities while on those walk-throughs is that there are a whole range of temptations for people who want to be involved in gambling-and they are not just in the machine area where people can win significant amounts and then get into the kind of temptation that Senator Xenophon has specifically pointed out in his bill around gambling machines.
As Senator Xenophon well knows, this debate will continue into the future in whatever way it will do so. At this stage, we are not supporting the bill in its current form. What we are supporting is that there needs to be continued action, because the problem has been identified. The reasonable and responsible response has yet to be identified.