Gambling Regulation Amendment Bill 2023

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:16): Acting President McArthur, I am very pleased to see you in the chair. I am pleased to speak on the bundle of bills that form today’s debate, the Gambling Regulation Amendment Bill 2023 and the Gambling Taxation Bill 2023, and I will start my contribution on the Gambling Taxation Bill, which stems from the recommendations from the 2021 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, headed up by the honourable Raymond Finkelstein.

As for the purpose of understanding the origins of the royal commission, it was discovered that for many, many years Crown Melbourne was engaged in conduct that could only be described as disgraceful, and there are other terms – illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative. I want to put on record my thanks to my former Nationals colleague and former shadow gaming minister Steph Ryan, who has an amazing talent that we sorely miss, for her investigative powers and her nose to smell out and find a story, an issue and in this case as I have just said the dishonest, unethical and exploitative actions and really ways of doing business that Crown had. It also comes off the back of, of course, the New South Wales inquiry into the Sydney casino, where they found that money had been laundered there and it was a front for organised crime.

This bill, then, seeks to remedy some of the recommendations at least from the royal commission and in doing so strengthens the arrangement from July this year, which will be administered by the commissioner of state revenue as a taxation law under the Taxation Administration Act 1997. It also introduces a new increase in casino tax. This will be the only acceptance – or not opposition – to taxes that the Andrews government has put in over the 8½ years that it has been in operation. We have seen so many taxes, and we will see more that I will speak to at great length when I make my budget contribution. But the gaming machine tax on electronic gaming machines operated by Crown will be increased so that from July this year the tax rate will be the same as for those operated by club venues – an equalisation, you could say. I note that Crown Casino’s current electronic gaming machines are at a flat rate of 31.57 per cent of machine revenue plus a community net benefit of 1 per cent; alternatively, those operating in clubs are taxed on a sliding scale with progressive tax brackets.

That is all quite technical. What we do see here is that in terms of the racing industry – the three code racing industry – we also see an increase on monthly repayments in terms of the point-of-consumption tax, and this will have an increase in terms of payments from 3.5 to 7 5 per cent.

I note that the Greens have chosen not only to oppose this but to propose to take all revenue from it and redirect it. One of the things that the racing industry does – must do and should do – with funds that are directed from betting revenue is look at, support and improve animal welfare standards, the standard and professional development of their vets and the whole professional development of the industry. If you are going to withdraw that funding, then the level of oversight, capability and support for those very important issues – animal welfare and professionalism – is going to be affected, so it does not make sense. In one way you are sounding quite pious about this, but you are actually withdrawing important funding that helps Racing Victoria to do its job to ensure that it is an industry of integrity and an industry where there is support for animal welfare. Whilst I understand the Greens, I think that they are ill informed and misunderstand the point.

On to the next bill, the Gambling Regulation Amendment Bill 2023. It amends the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 to allow the government to issue more than one wagering and betting licence and removes the requirement for the racing industry to receive ‘no less favourable’ treatment under a new wagering licence. My colleague the Honourable Tim Bull is the Shadow Minister for Racing, and he wholeheartedly embraces his work. It is also part of his life’s interest. He is very focused on the importance of racing in terms of revenue raising within the community within Victoria – and I want to go into some of those stats because I think it is important to put them on record – but he also has a flutter himself and quite regularly has a fetlock, a foreleg or at least a tail’s worth of a horse going around on any given racetrack, so he casts his eye most interestedly.

Across the three codes, in Eastern Victoria Region we do see the really important economic stimulus that the racing industry provides. Right across Victoria it provides $4.7 billion to the economy. In a report from last year, Size and Scope of the Victorian Racing Industry, we see that almost 150,000 jobs and participants support the three codes – thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing. More than 121,000 people are directly employed, volunteer or participate in the industry, and it supports around 120 charities across Victoria by investing, producing or supplying much-needed funds of around $3.4 million to charitable organisations. When we go to our local race days, and we often do right across Victoria, it is really important to see how our local charities and local sporting clubs benefit from race days. My local one, just down the road, is the Stony Creek Racing Club. It has four meetings a year, and they are very well run. Many of the committee members are longstanding committee members in the racing fraternity and really take their job and their volunteerism most seriously. You see the CFA benefiting from it and you see the local football clubs benefiting from it, and it is really important for revenue raising for them.

You also see that it is a social outing. I was up in Benambra a few months ago, and that is at the very beautiful top end and north-eastern part of my electorate in the High Country. There is a beautiful picnic race cup right beside Benambra. Go and have a look one day, because it is just a beautiful, beautiful area – Hinnomunjie I think it is called, but I may have got that wrong.

It is absolutely beautiful. Their catchcry is ‘Swap your fascinator for a sun hat and leave your suit and tie for an open-neck shirt and shorts’. The key things are just to enjoy and to socialise with people. For as long as we have had human beings we have had someone betting on a fly going down a windowpane or a snail on the ground. So it is important to continue to support our rural and regional racing fraternity.

In conclusion, it is really important that there is better oversight. It is important that we have greater rigour. We can see that there will be benefits from both bills. One of course comes off the back of the royal commission, which the Andrews government was dragged kicking and screaming to – thank you very much to Steph Ryan, a former member for Euroa. But also there is the importance of having greater oversight and greater integrity in our three codes.