Debate resumed from 25 June.
Mr OAKESHOTT (Port Macquarie) [10.34 a.m.]: Three bills are about to pass through this House: the Liquor Amendment (Gaming Machine Restrictions) Bill, the Gaming Machine Tax Bill and the Liquor and Registered Clubs Legislation Amendment Bill. The Coalition will not oppose any of those bills, but we repeat our assertion regarding cutbacks in the Department of Gaming and Racing and the backlog of work in areas such as the Licensing Court. It is one thing to introduce pretty legislation to Parliament but another to introduce measures that will work on the ground. Despite this legislation and the assurances of the Minister for Gaming and Racing and the Government, the Opposition does not believe the Government is committed to dealing with the significant issues of compliance, monitoring, enforcement and regulation in the gaming, liquor and racing industries in New South Wales. The three bills that I have mentioned are proof of that.
What are the current responsibilities of the Minister for Gaming and Racing? The TAB has been privatised and we have seen the somewhat questionable flicking of the central monitoring system, which will remove all departmental responsibility for revenue collection and monitoring. The police are now playing a much larger enforcement role—as evidenced by incidents at the weekend. Therefore, we must ask: What does the Minister do? I believe his responsibilities are in four areas: compliance, enforcement, licensing applications and licensing prosecutions. The Minister has failed his responsibilities—there are four big crosses—in all those areas. The Minister has no responsibilities; he is doing nothing to enforce and regulate properly liquor and gaming in New South Wales. That is disappointing, and I believe the Minister's failure to take a strong lead in this area reflects poorly on the industry. The community is looking to the Government for direction, but that is not forthcoming at present.
The industry would love to see the appointment of a group of untouchables within the Department of Gaming and Racing. It would love to see regulatory bodies take a firm lead and deal with issues promptly—not two or three years after the event. Unfortunately, as confirmed by its internal documents, the Government is dragging its feet on this issue. Treasury now runs the show and it has made substantial cuts to the budget of the Department of Gaming and Racing. This has reduced the department's work to a minimum and, as a result, every Friday and Saturday night in any location around New South Wales there is irresponsible service of alcohol. Drunks are wandering our streets. I am more than willing to take the Minister to a location of his choice to show him what is happening on our streets.
Mr Face: Point of order: I have previously taken this point of order against the honourable member for Port Macquarie. The three bills that he has mentioned are quite restrictive. The Liquor Amendment (Gaming Machine Restrictions) Bill is simply an administration bill. Mr Speaker, I know that you and your predecessors have shown some latitude to honourable members in debate—particularly to shadow Ministers—but the line of argument being followed by the honourable member for Port Macquarie is not new. We have heard these comments before—you must almost rule him out of order for tedious repetition under standing order 159. I understand that the honourable member is trying to make a point, but most of his comments are not relevant to the legislation before the House. This bill is extremely restrictive. The honourable member may get some leeway from the liquor bill, but the other bills are quite simple and straightforward and have absolutely nothing to do with the honourable member's comments.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I admit that I was not listening as closely to the debate as I perhaps should have been. However, I ask the honourable member for Port Macquarie to comply with the standing orders.
Mr OAKESHOTT: The Minister is flicking responsibility for these matters to areas such as Treasury—an issue that is relevant to debate. We have in New South Wales an environment in which revenue collection from liquor and gaming appear to be more important to the Government than the priority issues that serve the public interest—compliance, monitoring and enforcement. These issues are regarded as secondary issues. The Government is so reliant on the revenue from liquor and gaming that it is not willing to deal responsibly with important issues that are in the public interest. Whilst the Opposition will not oppose all these pretty pieces of legislation that are being introduced in the Parliament, across-the-board cutbacks within the department make this sort of legislation ineffective.
Mr Face: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am aware of the matter the Minister intends to draw to my attention. The Minister has correctly pointed out that the bill is prescriptive: it seeks to extend the freeze on poker machines. The bill does not deal with the administration of the Department of Gaming and Racing, the administration costs of the department or any of the other matters the honourable member for Port Macquarie seeks to highlight. If he wishes to draw the attention of the House to those matters he will have an opportunity to do so at the appropriate time.
Mr OAKESHOTT: I accept that the Minister is yet to introduce an upcoming gaming package. The Minister said earlier that this debate was relevant to that upcoming gaming package. I hope that all honourable members recognise the significance of this issue—the significance and importance of legislation such as this that is passing through this Parliament. I represent the country area of Port Macquarie. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee and the honourable member for Lismore, who are in the Chamber, also represent country areas. Hoteliers in country areas are greatly interested in this upcoming gaming package.
One of the issues that has been raised in debate is whether this legislation will have an impact on the number of poker machines available for country hoteliers. Will the legislation limit their opportunity to fulfil their quota—a quota promised to them by this Minister for Gaming and Racing? Will this legislation limit their ability to come back to the Government once this gaming package has been delivered, as has been stated publicly by inside sources? Country hoteliers will be restricted in the number of machines to which they can have access. Several years ago this Minister promised to deliver on that quota—a highly political issue that was fully supported by the hotel industry.
We are about to see country hoteliers lose out. They will not be able to fulfil their quota. They were not as quick as city hoteliers to fulfil their maximum quota. I would like to hear from the Minister whether this legislation is of relevance to country hoteliers. Will it place restrictions on their ability to fulfil the quota promised to them by the Minister in 1997? What are the Minister's views in relation to hardship provisions? In recent months the Australian Hotels Association has been lobbying to try to get hardship provisions included in the upcoming gaming package—an issue of relevance in this debate because of the extension of the freeze on poker machines.
From a country hotelier's point of view I would be interested to hear the Minister's views in relation to that issue. I have been intrigued by debate relating to the upcoming gaming package. This is yet another example of Della Boscultation—consultation that takes place behind closed doors. I am referring to a whole new definition of the word "consultation". The community does not see it; industry is limited in what it can access; and, during that process, we are not able to access fully and fairly information that will become legislation. We witnessed that over the last fortnight in relation to workers compensation legislation. Government members were not able to access information relating to substantial reform. I think we are entering a whole new era of Della Boscultation—the consultation you have when you do not have consultation. It is a front and it does not provide for good legislation. It is not good public policy. The Government has far too much power and it is centralising that power around a handful of people, which is dangerous for public policy in this State. This gaming package is yet another example of that.
Mr Face: Point of order: Three bills will be debated today. I understand that the Opposition spokesman has had limited time within which to examine this legislation. However, I am seeking guidance as to whether those three bills could be debated together, as the honourable member for Port Macquarie appears to be jumping from one bill to another. This bill relates to restricting the use of poker machines. It has nothing to do with the gaming package.
Mr Oakeshott: You should have asked me before.
Mr Face: We could deal with all three bills at one time. In that way the honourable member would be required to make only one speech, which would save the time of the House. I am sure that the honourable member will only repeat what he is saying now in debate on the other legislation. However, the provisions in this bill are fairly limited. Perhaps the honourable member has confused this bill with the taxation bill.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister may deal with that matter in reply. The honourable member for Port Macquarie is at liberty to allude to the manner in which he believes the Minister, the Government and the department have come to this arrangement.
Mr OAKESHOTT: The legislation will result in an extension of the freeze on poker machines. There has been no consultation in relation to that extension. No information has been released that relates to the upcoming gaming package. It is one thing to consult with industry lobby groups, but I am referring to groups such as Chester Carter's and problem gambling organisations. The Wesley group, another leading problem gambling organisation, said that it has not even met with the Minister. If we are talking about legislation for the betterment of the broader community, I hope consultation is held with all groups and not just a certain community sector.
The Opposition will not oppose this legislation. We do want to hear the Minister's views about the impacts on country hoteliers. We want to hear whether hardship provisions are in or out. Now might be the opportunity also for the Minister to reflect on current cheque-cashing arrangements, which are not working in many centres throughout regional New South Wales and are significantly impacting on many rural lifestyles and industries. The exemption clauses are not working appropriately in certain centres, as has been made very clear in the most recent edition of Hotel News. Let us have proper community consultation. Let us have the debate about the proposed reforms, instead of this toeing and fringe. None of us, including the Minister, is fully aware of what the proposed package will contain. The program is being run by a handful of people who are centralising power in a dangerous way, similar to what happened with the workers compensation legislation. Let us get it all out in the open and debate it.
Mr FACE (Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [10.51 a.m.], in reply: I shall try to inform the House about what the Government is doing, but before doing so I say to the honourable member for Port Macquarie that he should not mislead the House with throwaway lines like, "You haven't met Chester Crater." Chester Crater is domiciled in the Hunter region. I have regular contact with him because I happen to live in the area; in fact, I had lunch with him only three weeks ago at the Bogey Hole Restaurant. The honourable member should not exaggerate or mislead the House. The honourable member is developing a regular pattern of misleading this House by making statements that are just not true. That does nothing for his credibility.
The Government is continuing the freeze by legislation rather than by regulation. The freeze was imposed by regulation because the Government needed to move quickly to prevent a sudden increase in the number of hotel gaming machines. The honourable member would be aware of that as he expressed concern about it. The need for the freeze arose as a consequence of media speculation about the Government's gaming reform package. It was more appropriate to continue the freeze through this amendment to the Liquor Act because that course is consistent with the approach taken in respect to the freeze on gaming machines under the Registered Clubs Act. The amendments will also ensure that the State cannot be required to pay compensation in respect of the freeze, consistent with the freeze on gaming machines in registered clubs.
The honourable member said the bill should contain an exemption for financial hardship similar to that for registered clubs. The bill is intended to continue the status quo until the Government announces details of the gaming machine reform package. It is important that gaming machine numbers in hotels remain steady until that announcement. The honourable member would know from media speculation and from talk around the industry traps that that will not be a long period of time. The details of a complete reform package will be announced in the very near future. It would not be appropriate to introduce hardship exemptions for hotels when the Government is so close to announcing a complete reform package for hotels and registered clubs. A hearing will be set when that is imminent.
The honourable member asked why the Government was not ready to announce its reform package. Despite what he might think, gaming regulation is a highly complex area. The Government wants to make sure that it gets the reforms right. That has been the reason for the continued delay. Growing community concerns about increases in gaming machines must be considered and balanced against the interests of the industry. The position of hoteliers and registered clubs must be, and are being, taken into account. The issues are complex and the Government is giving them proper and detailed consideration. This measure will maintain the status quo in a legislative form until that stage is reached in the very near future.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.