NSW Govt rejects Greens effort to force release of 'secret' gambling harm report

The Government has blocked a motion from the Greens in the NSW Legislative Council calling for the public release of a Gambling Harm Report that has been kept secret from the public for almost two years.

In 2013 the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing awarded a tender for research into the harm caused by various types of gambling, including poker machines, and the report was handed to the Government in December 2015.

The comprehensive report is aimed at establishing the risk from various forms of gambling in NSW, the effects on gamblers and their families, and determine the level of ‘risk’ from each gambling category.

Greens MP and Reducing Gambling Harm Spokesperson Justin Field said, “The NSW Government has hidden the Gambling Harm Report it commissioned from the University of Sydney for almost two years and has today actively thwarted efforts to make the findings available to the community.

“The secrecy and active delay of the release of this report raises the question -- what exactly is being kept from us about the impacts of gambling on people, families and communities?

“Poker machines are designed for addiction and to strip billions a year from the NSW community. These addictive machines ruin the lives of individuals and families.

“I call on Minister Paul Toole to urgently release the Gambling Harm Report. Every day this report is delayed is a missed opportunity for greater understanding and real action on addressing the devastating impacts of pokies.

“I remind the Minister of his responsibility to protect people and communities over the interests of the gambling industry,” he said.

<u>Excerpt from Transcript of Budget Estimates Hearing with Minister Paul Toole, 6 September 2017</u>

Mr JUSTIN FIELD: In 2013 the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing awarded a tender for research into the harm caused by various types of gambling, the report was handed to the Government in December 2015. Why has the report not been released?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: There are a number of reports. Gambling is an issue for any individual in our communities and I consider the harm caused by gambling to be a serious matter. As the responsible Minister I want to ensure that reasonable and balanced measures are being put in place to look at the impacts of gambling in our communities. The Government receives many reports. The Cabinet determines the appropriate time for any report to be released.

Mr JUSTIN FIELD: Minister, I appreciate your concern about the harm caused by gambling but you are very aware of this report. It has been the subject of media reports and of many requests to make this document public. Why has it not been released? It was commissioned for a particular purpose. You are undertaking reviews that go to the heart of these questions about harm. Does not the public deserve to have this report whilst those reviews are being undertaken?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: That is exactly what you and I both want to see. From the reviews that are being undertaken we want to look at how we can address these situations in a more mindful way. We want to make sure that there is not just a review and that is the end of it. Obviously we are seeing various reports being shared with the public, which allows the public to make comment as well. There are a number of reviews currently underway that are seeking feedback from the community.

Mr JUSTIN FIELD: They are government processes. This report was commissioned for a particular purpose and the Government has refused to release it. I am just trying to understand why. What does that report say?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: It will be a decision by the Government at the appropriate time; a decision by the Cabinet. When it is released it be available to be seen then.

Mr JUSTIN FIELD: In this year's budget the Government is anticipating a significant increase in gambling tax revenue over the forward estimates—to the tune of $271 million between 2016-17 and 2020-21. That will equate to a significant increase in loss to the community from gambling, poker machines being the greatest. How can you take the position of being seriously concerned about the harm, in particular from gambling on poker machines, when you are forecasting a significant tax revenue increase?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: I want to put a few things in perspective before I ask Mr Newson to make comment. As I stated before, gambling does impact on a small number of people. I want to make sure that as the responsible Minister we have measures in place to support those who may need help.

I also point out that 65 per cent of people gamble—that is, all types of gambling—whether it be on the poker machines, through lotto, betting on the horses or betting on the dogs. Sixty-five per cent of people in this State enjoy a punt. A harm minimisation report that came out a number of years ago shows that 0.8 per cent of people are impacted by gambling. That is why we have our Responsible Gambling Fund to support those people in our communities who may be vulnerable and who may need support. I will ask Mr Newson whether he would like to add a little more in relation to that.

Mr NEWSON: If it assists the Committee, affirming what the Minister has said around the measure for problem gambling harm, the popularly accepted measure is the problem gambling prevalence surveys. The last two surveys that have been conducted in New South Wales have shown, as the Minister said, a 0.8 per cent rate of adult problem gamblers in New South Wales. This is a serious issue. I think the work of the Responsible Gambling Fund demonstrates the seriousness with which the Government takes this matter. These studies are done every five years. Over the past 10 years there has been stark stability in the rate of problem gambling in New South Wales.

Mr JUSTIN FIELD: I appreciate that. I appreciate you quoting the figures. However, whilst there is a harm report that has been hidden now for a couple of years, the community is right to be questioning whether or not those figures are current and whether or not the true extent of harm is being reported. Minister, under your watch, you have withheld this report. You have withheld Justice Callinan's report into three-strike provisions—we had to force that out of you. By all accounts you have ignored community submissions into the three-strike review and developed reform that was consistent only with the submission from the Australian Hotels Association. You have banked on an increase in revenue from gambling while advocating a harm minimisation policy. Besides calling me an inner city snob on a regular basis, what response do you have to the complete neglect that the community sees, including health and welfare professionals? This Government has a clear bias in favour of the liquor and gaming lobby.

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