DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
I rise to speak on the Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-exclusion Register) Bill and the National Self-exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill. Labor supports these bills, which enable the implementation of an important consumer protection measure for individuals who are at risk of, or are already experiencing, significant gambling related harm from online wagering. But Labor notes that it's taken the government far too long to bring these bills before the parliament and that this delay means these vulnerable Australians may not have access to this key measure as soon as they should have.
The National Self-exclusion Register (Cost Recovery Levy) Bill amends the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 to establish a national self-exclusion register. The register will allow individuals to exclude themselves from being provided interactive wagering services by all licensed interactive wagering service providers in Australia and will limit the amount of direct marketing to the individual. The register will allow people to self-exclude from all online wagering sites and apps in one go, and will be implemented by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The register will reflect the principles set out in the national policy statement for the national consumer protection framework for online wagering as agreed by all Australian governments. The bill will expressly provide that interactive wagering service providers licensed in Australia must not provide interactive wagering services or directly market such services to individuals who are registered on this register. The ACMA will enter into an arrangement with the body corporate to keep and maintain the register, and the ACMA will be responsible for regulatory compliance and enforcement of the register scheme and oversight of the body corporate. The bill also provides for a levy for cost recovery by the ACMA for the cost of the register and regulatory oversight.
The cost recovery levy bill is to impose a levy on persons who provide licensed interactive wagering services and for related purposes. This bill allows for the ACMA to recover its register related costs from licensed interactive wagering service providers.
I want to turn to the national consumer protection framework. Labor recognises that a well-regulated gambling industry has a place in Australian society but must be underpinned by appropriate harm minimisation measures. Labor observes the growth in online betting is in an environment where digital technology, including smartphones, enables Australians to wager and gamble with relative ease. The borderless nature of the internet presents challenges in the provision of consistent and effective protections across jurisdictions.
While the majority of people who gamble do so in a responsible manner, Labor acknowledges that gambling in our community can, in some cases, have devastating social, financial and emotional consequences. That's why Labor has maintained a strong stance on supporting appropriate harm minimisation measures to protect and assist our community. Just as Labor supported the passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 as part of the progressive implementation of the recommendations of the review of illegal offshore wagering, referred to as the O'Farrell review, Labor supports the bills now before the House.
Labor believes it's necessary to do more to protect and assist individuals who are at risk of or already experiencing significant gambling related harm from online wagering and acknowledges the national self-exclusion register enabled by these bills will go some way to doing so. The review of illegal offshore wagering was undertaken and finalised in December 2015 to investigate illegal offshore wagering and how its impacts could be mitigated in order to protect all Australians. The review also examined the efficacy of approaches to protect the consumer, including consumer protection measures, to mitigate the risks of negative social impacts. The review noted that the rate of problem gambling amongst online gamblers is three times higher than all other gambling platforms. The review found that there was consensus among stakeholders that the National Self-exclusion Register is necessary to allow individuals to restrict contact by and their access to online gambling services without having to contact each individual interactive wagering service provider licensed in Australia.
On 26 November 2018, as part of the Commonwealth government response to the review, the Commonwealth government and state and territory governments agreed to a national consumer protection framework which includes the National Self-exclusion Register as a core measure. The register will allow individuals to self-exclude from all licensed interactive wagering service providers through a single process. Under a set of agreed principles, the National Self-exclusion Register must operate as follows. It must allow a consumer to self-exclude from all interactive wagering services in a single process. It must be quick and simple for a consumer to apply to. It must take immediate effect upon registration or sign-up. It is to be effectively promoted so that consumers are educated about self-exclusion and aware of the scheme. It must be offered across all phone and web based digital platforms. It must allow a consumer to choose their exclusion period, ranging from three months to permanent exclusion. It must afford a consumer the option to enter a sponsor, such as a friend or a family member, who will be notified at the end of their exclusion period. Information on gambling support, financial and counselling services, and information about land based self-exclusion tools must be made available to a consumer at the time they nominate to self-exclude. Information on gambling consumer protections must be made publicly available and accessible. An interactive wagering service provider is prohibited from providing any marketing and/or promotional material to a consumer who is registered for self-exclusion during the period of self-exclusion. And, upon registration for self-exclusion, all funds held in a consumer's active account must be returned to that consumer. Once all bets are settled, the account must be closed.
We expect this to be a step-change improvement upon the current self-exclusion tools that are available. Currently, only paper based processes or single-operator systems are available, which means that those most vulnerable currently have to exclude themselves from each online wagering service provider separately to stop wagering online. This piecemeal approach undermines the effectiveness of self-exclusion as a consumer protection tool. The National Self-exclusion Register is one of 10 consumer protection measures that make up the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering. The framework commenced just over a year ago, on 26 November 2018, and the measures in the framework are being implemented progressively over an 18-month time frame through a mix of Commonwealth, state and territory legislation and regulation, as set out in the national policy statement. This statement sets out the agreed implementation arrangements that Australian governments will use to deliver the national framework. It specifies the date each measures is introduced and comes into effect by reference to the commencement date of the national framework, which was November last year. The implementation time frame it sets for the national exclusion register, as I mentioned, is 18 months from the commencement of the national framework. It is subject to the enactment of enabling Commonwealth legislation and establishing, trialling and testing the National Self-exclusion Register.
I note that 18 months from the commencement of the framework in November 2018 would make May next year the implementation time frame for the register. However, given the length of time the government has taken to introduce the bills, the register will not be up and running by May 2020. It's concerning, as the shadow minister expressed, that the government took an entire year to introduce this legislation. A year ago, the government acknowledged that more than 240,000 Australians were already experiencing significant harm from online wagering and called the ability to self-exclude a critical gap in consumer protections in Australia. Financial Counselling Australia warned there was a desperate need for the register and urged the government to make it a priority. Yet six months later, under Labor questioning at Senate estimates in April 2019, the ACMA confirmed it was still waiting for the legislation to be passed and acknowledged that a May 2020 implementation time frame was challenging. Since then, there have been eight parliamentary sitting weeks when the legislation could have been introduced, but this government has only just managed to scrape it in during the final sitting days of this year.
This government, unfortunately, has been in no hurry to protect Australians vulnerable to the harms of online gambling. Yesterday, in response to questions on notice from October 2019 Senate estimates—question No. 100—the ACMA confirmed that the passage of these amendments is the key element to the delivery of the National Self-exclusion Register. The ACMA stated that it anticipates that from the commencement of these amendments, upon royal asset, it will take a minimum of 18 months to implement the National Self-exclusion Register. This means that this critical gap in consumer protections in Australia won't be delivered in 2020. At the earliest, according to the ACMA, the register will be implemented in mid-2021, which will be some 30 months after the commencement of the framework, on this analysis.
I note here that, according to the decision regulation impact statement of the National Consumer Protection Framework, the time frame for the implementation of a functional, centralised self-exclusion register ranges between 1½ and three years. The ACMA has approached the market with a request for expressions of interest and it's expected that a request for tender will be released once the legislation has been passed. The process of procuring, designing, developing, testing and trialling the register will then commence. The national policy statement provides that system functionality will be reviewed at the end of the first 12-month period from the date the register takes effect. Labor will of course be very interested in this review, and we are very hopeful—as I'm sure all the House is—that the measure takes effect as soon as practicable.
So, Labor supports these bills. We note that, despite the critical need for this consumer protection measure, this government has unfortunately not been in a hurry to introduce these bills into the parliament. But now that they are here, as I said, we support these bills. This will fill what has been a critical gap in the consumer protection measures for online wagering, and I believe it's the sincere hope of the entire House that these have the desired effect of harm minimisation and achieving the desired results.