DEPARTMENT OF GAMING AND RACING STAFFING
My question is to the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Is there a plan to slash, in the forthcoming State budget, the majority of positions in the Department of Gaming and Racing which relate to the inspection and monitoring of gaming and racing activities in New South Wales and to hand the function directly to gambling operators?
I did not intend to go into details of the budget, but I understand where the honourable member is coming from with regard to recent press reports that suggested that, as a result of budget cuts, gaming manufacturers are to be granted interim approval to inspect gaming machines. The Liquor Act and the Registered Clubs Act regulate machine gaming in New South Wales, and the Liquor Administration Board [LAB] is required under those Acts to ensure the security and integrity of gaming machines. Included in this role is the approval of gaming devices, which no doubt is what the honourable member is referring to. The LAB bases its decision in part on evaluations of the devices by the technology services branch of the Department Of Gaming And Racing. However, I emphasise that over the past 18 months that branch has sustained significant staff losses, including almost all of its senior staff who have been recruited by the industry. This has seriously diminished the effectiveness and efficiency of the technology services branch.
The program’s operation has been reviewed in the light of its inability to attract and retain highly skilled staff, the need for effective regulation, orderly industry development, and the availability of appropriate resources in the private sector. It has been determined that continuance of gaming machine evaluation at public expense is not the most cost-effective option. The evaluation can be performed by the private sector more thoroughly and in a shorter time, and almost $1 million of public funds can be diverted to higher priorities.
There are a number of well-respected, privately owned, Australian gaming laboratories that are performing highly satisfactory services on behalf of the gaming regulators in other States and in New Zealand, North America and South Africa. At a recent national conference of gaming regulators in Adelaide it was resolved that a national accreditation process should be developed for gaming laboratories as a matter of urgency. Recent press reports, to which the honourable member has referred, have indicated that the LAB intends to allow gaming machine manufacturers to inspect gaming machines on its behalf.
The facts are these: The Department of Gaming and Racing retains this function. There is no intention that the manufacturers will be accredited to test facilities, as that would be a clear conflict of interest. Only service providers who are totally independent of gaming machine operators and manufacturers, and who demonstrate a high order of competency, will be accredited to evaluate gaming machines. This process in my department has been going on for some time; it is not as a result of any budget cuts. Accredited testing facilities will provide a greater amount and range of skills, experience and equipment than is currently applied to gaming regulation. The present high levels of consumer protection will be maintained and enhanced through these initiatives.