Consumer And Other Acts Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2020
'Everybody who rents their homes should be able to trust that they are habitable, that they have working toilets and bathrooms, hot water, a functioning stove and other basic facilities.'
Dr READ (Brunswick): I rise to speak on the Consumer and Other Acts Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2020, which makes a range of amendments to our consumer affairs legislation. I want to focus today on the amendments in the gambling and residential tenancies spaces. The bill makes changes to the keno and the wagering and betting licensing system. I understand from the government that these provisions are about modernising these systems and about reducing red tape, but whenever we cut red tape from a regulatory system we have to be careful that we are not removing the protections and safeguards that are also an essential part of the system, especially for harmful industries like the gambling industry and especially for industries that this government continues to favour with special treatment.
We saw it a few weeks ago when the government attempted to grant special rules for the Cox Plate and allow racehorse owners to attend the race despite the fact that the rest of Melbourne was still prohibited from gathering in groups. The community backlash against that announcement was swift and decisive, and the government rightfully reversed its decision just hours later. But it was a clear indication of how much this government depends on gambling revenue and how much sway the gambling lobby continues to hold over the government. It seems like we have one set of rules for the gambling industry and another set of rules for everyone else.
We have seen the gambling industry continue to exploit Victorians during the COVID-19 crisis, even when in-person gaming venues were closed. During the pandemic we have seen a spike in online gambling and a rise in sports betting, including on horseracing and greyhound racing. Tabcorp, the holder of the wagering and betting licence in Victoria, saw digital wagering turnover grow to $7.1 billion in the last financial year.
I would also like to touch on the reopening of pokies venues this week in Victoria. While it is good to see community venues reopening and providing a space for people to gather and socialise, too many of our clubs are reliant on revenue from pokies. It would be terrible if reopening our social venues coincided with a big jump in pokies losses, similar to the experience in other states. In New South Wales and Queensland pokies losses have increased since the venues reopened compared to this time last year. Queensland in particular saw a massive 32 per cent increase in losses compared to the same months last year. In a year where we have successfully tackled one public health crisis, it is irresponsible to turn a blind eye to another, because problem gambling is also a public health issue and pokies are the most harmful form of gambling. We need to see stronger harm minimisation provisions in place for our pokies industry, like $1 bet limits, load-up and jackpot limits and restrictions on opening hours. We also need to see more support for those clubs who want to transition out of the pokies industry and into new forms of revenue.
The Greens are also disappointed, but not surprised, that Crown Casino has been given the green light to reopen this week despite continued evidence about Crown’s illegal conduct. In New South Wales the inquiry has heard evidence that suggests that Crown is no longer fit to hold a casino licence, yet in Victoria the casino is opening its doors once again despite the fact that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation’s inquiry into the casino is still ongoing.
To turn to the residential tenancies provisions, the bill is amending the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to allow for the new minimum standards to require compliance with an industry or a statutory standard. Minimum standards was a reform the Greens called for for many years, and we are pleased that it has been finally introduced into the 2018 overhaul of our Residential Tenancies Act. Everybody who rents their homes should be able to trust that they are habitable, that they have working toilets and bathrooms, hot water, a functioning stove and other basic facilities. While not set in the legislation, the new Residential Tenancies Act will give the minister the ability to set minimum standards through regulation, and we are pleased that this amendment specifically mentions energy and water efficiency standards as an industry standard that may be prescribed. We know we need to do more to futureproof our homes and ensure that they are easy and affordable to keep warm in the winter and cooler in the summer, and the Greens have been calling for the new minimum standards to also cover measures like weather sealing, ceiling insulation, basic standards for hot-water systems and heaters, energy-saving lighting and similar energy efficiency measures, but this is a start and it has our support.
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