Dr Chris Back - Liberal Senator for Western Australia

Sports betting on TV and Radio

May 16, 2013


Senator BACK (Western Australia—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:41): I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the motion put by Senator Di Natale. I have listened very carefully to the comments around the chamber. There is absolutely no difficulty. There is a unanimous view from everybody that we do not want to see a circumstance in which children are placed at risk.

However, recognition has not been given, in my view, by Senator Di Natale or Senator Xenophon to the voluntary action by those who actually produce and present this type of material. I speak, of course, of the draft code of practice regarding the promotion of live odds in sports coverage. We have a circumstance in which that document is out for public comment at this very moment. I do not know how many comments there have been, but I understand that it closes for comment on 21 May, which is only the beginning of next week. So we should have information very, very quickly as to what the reaction of the public is to the voluntary code that has been put into place by those, both from Free TV and subscription television, who actually present sports broadcasting to the Australian community.

I would just like to reflect for a moment on what the size of the audience is—the size of the audience of children under the age of 18. This was advice presented to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform this year by those two groups—Free TV and ASTRA. The Free TV figures are that around 12 per cent of the audience at home watching TV are between the ages of five and 17, with the balance being adults. Interestingly enough, between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of those children under the age of 17 are in the company of adults. The figures presented by the other organisation, ASTRA, were very similar.

Gambling is something which I am not associated with. I was involved in the horseracing industry for many, many years as a veterinary surgeon. Senator Mason would be interested to know that very early in my career an old fellow said to me, 'Chris, the only way you will make money following horses is with a broom and shovel.' I took that on board and I believed it, and I am very happy to say that neither my wife and I nor any member of our family is afflicted.

Senator Mason interjecting—

Senator BACK: I went into politics, but it took me some years, Senator Mason, before I did. The point I want to make very, very strongly is that there is a responsibility of parents and of carers toward the attitudes, the actions and the behaviours of children. I disagree with Senator Di Natale, because we are not going to wipe out this risk to children by totally banning—certainly until nine o'clock at night—the advertising of sports betting services on television and radio. In my view there is a responsibility of carers, of adults, of parents, of grandparents and of those responsible for children's behaviours and attitudes to influence them in relation to the wider community. We are assaulted these days, as you know, with vast media. We have smart phones, and people can gamble in any location using their smart phones. The other point that I want to make in relation to that comment is that there is not only online gambling in Australia but also operations overseas, which the Australian government has limited capacity to regulate.

Having been a member of the gambling reform committee from the time it was established, when Mr Wilkie originally sought the agreement of the Prime Minister to put it in place—and Senator Xenophon has always been active and involved in that—I have had it brought home to me, and my experience tells me, that if you deny people one form of gambling, if they want to gamble, they will find another way. The last thing we want is for people to be participating in uncontrolled, internet accessed gambling overseas where we have no control at all. We have no knowledge of where these participants are and we have no capacity as an Australian community to protect them. Of course nobody wants to see problem gambling in adults and we certainly do not want to see it in children.

I spent a good deal of my early life in the goldfields area of WA where two-up was a tradition—

Senator Mason interjecting—

Senator BACK: not necessarily to the extent that it is now, Senator Mason—and there has not been an epidemic of gambling as a result of children growing up in families where their parents may have tossed pennies.

When I look at this voluntary code there does seem to be some confusion. This voluntary code says in the appendix:

(2) During a Live Sports Broadcast, a Licensee must ensure there is no Promotion of Live Odds:

(a) by a Commentator at any time; or

(b) during Play.

I support that 100 per cent as I am sure others do. I have heard Senator Di Natale and Senator Xenophon question it and say that it is irrelevant because there is quarter time and half time in the case of Australian Rules and three-quarter time and half time in the other code north of the border. The simple fact of the matter is that, as we all know, during those periods of time in the household, or wherever else sport might be watched, it is the case that people move around, go out to get a drink, go to the toilet, or converse, and that may well be the time in which they discuss what the progress of the game is. For us to stand up here and support a total ban does not make common sense to me.

Of course, it is not just the voluntary code that will come into operation. Once it is in its final form it will be the subject of review and will then be the subject of registration by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA. It may be into the future—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to Senator Di Natale—that over time this is not seen to have achieved its goal or been strong enough in its objectives. Let us not rush into this. This is the best situation at the moment, in which industry has voluntarily, at short notice, determined to put this code of practice into place.

Senator Di Natale: It has done nothing.

Senator BACK: It is not doing nothing. I, for one, want to see the code come into existence in its final form. The coalition, of course, have a proud record when it comes to being the first to legislate to control online gambling in this country. As my colleague Senator Humphries said, we were the first in the world to so do. We are not blind to where the responsibility lies or where the opportunities lie. I say in conclusion—to allow colleagues the opportunity to comment—that I do not support the motion but certainly, as Senator Xenophon quite rightly said in reflecting his comments with our leader Mr Abbott, 'It is an issue which definitely requires control. Children have to be protected, but we have not yet got to the nanny state.'



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