SPEAKING ON A BILL | GAMBLING REGULATION AMENDMENT (WAGERING AND BETTING) BILL 2018

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan)  — I also rise to speak on the Gambling Regulation Amendment (Wagering and Betting) Bill 2018. I have been sitting here listening to Mr Finn talking about various bets, including one in 1999. Mr Gepp was talking about the 2018 election odds: the Andrews Labor government is $1.66 and the Liberal coalition is $2.20. But then I looked at something else for tomorrow night, Mr Finn. You made reference to how wrong the bookmakers were in 1999 with their odds for Jeff Kennett and how he finished up losing. I am feeling a bit concerned for your wellbeing and also for that of Mr Gepp because you are both in the same camp tomorrow night. The odds are: Richmond at $1.38 and Collingwood at $3.15. I hope your theory about Jeff Kennett in 1999 is not going to repeat itself and Richmond do not fall over by 2 points.

Mr Finn — What were we again?

Mr MELHEM — Richmond is $1.38; Collingwood is $3.15.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Mr Melhem, through the chair, if you do not mind.

Mr MELHEM — Absolutely, Acting President. I will pay attention and I will go through you. The bill talks about closing some loopholes which currently exist in the Victorian legislation in relation to people based in Victoria who are wagering. They are customers based in Victoria but they do their betting using companies online which may be located in different states. Let us call it what it is: Victoria is missing out on income as a result of this. That sort of wagering does exist in the other states, and hence an extensive consultation process has been put in place by the minister and the government in the last couple of years, whether it has been consultation with the racing industry or consultation with various other stakeholders, to try to come up with a system to close that loophole. That is how the 8 per cent came about. There has been some argument about whether we adopt the South Australian model or the Northern Territory model in relation to how much we should charge. We can go backwards and forwards about whether 8 per cent is the right amount, but I believe it is the right amount.

That is why that has now been proposed in this bill to be charged to customers who are based in Victoria placing bets with agencies that are actually operating in other jurisdictions. Unfortunately it will not be able to catch the people who are wagering internationally, because we cannot reach that far. Also, we understand that people wagering for companies or organisations that are based offshore should not be wagering or placing bets in Australia as they would be in breach of federal laws.

The Victorian point-of-consumption tax — that is what it is called — on wagering and betting will regulate and replace the current place of supply, which I talked about earlier. We are missing out on close to $30 million of potential income every year and probably more. That will be determined by the location of the customer rather than where the wagering and the betting entity is located or licensed. Again, why should South Australia and Northern Territory be benefiting out of Victorian taxpayers money? Instead we believe that if the customers are based in Victoria, and they are placing the bets, then the Victorian taxpayer should be benefiting from that. The tax will apply at the rate of 8 per cent, as I said earlier, and will be derived from wagering and betting entities and from wagering and betting activities of customers located in Victoria. An annual tax-free threshold of $1 million of net wage revenue will apply equally to all wagering and betting entities or entities grouped for the purpose of the tax.

My understanding is that, if the bill passes through the Parliament today, it should take effect on 1 January 2019. As a result of that, the tax threshold will be reduced to $500 000 as it will be half of the financial year.

People will say, ‘Well, why are we bothering to do this?’. I think it is important to note that currently Victorians spend approximately $1.2 billion annually wagering and betting on thoroughbred and greyhound racing, sports and other events. Increasingly wagering and betting are being conducted with online corporate bookmakers licensed outside of Victoria that are not captured by the current Victorian wagering and betting taxation framework. That is a lot of money we are talking about. This reform will ensure that all wagering and betting by customers in Victoria, whether online or in person, will be captured by the Victorian wagering and taxation system.

As I said earlier, there has been wide consultation in relation to introducing this bill. In fact in August 2016 the Victorian government released a consultation paper seeking views on policy design considerations and potential industry and customer impact of a point-of-consumption tax. A number of submissions were received in response to that consultation paper, and they have informed the tax design. The bill has not just been drummed up in the Treasury office. We have spoken to a lot of stakeholders. The government and the Department of Treasury and Finance have also met with a number of stakeholders, including Responsible Wagering Australia, the Victorian Bookmakers Association, Tabcorp and the current wagering and betting licence-holder. It has been a very extensive consultation process to capture the views of all the stakeholders in the industry to make sure we get it right.

Part of the proposed legislation is that some of the income collected from the 8 per cent wagering point-of-consumption tax will be put back into general revenue. A lot of that will be put into hospitals, into building schools and into other infrastructure projects which the government has been doing. There has been massive investment in infrastructure projects, whether it has been health, education, public transport — you name it — over the last four years. Every bit of money we can find we have been investing back into these infrastructure projects. I note the other side have been harping on about Premier Daniel Andrews saying, ‘There won’t be any new taxes should I become Premier’, et cetera, but they forget one thing —

Mr Finn — That he can’t tell the truth to save himself?

Mr MELHEM — Let me tell you, he is the most truthful Premier this state has ever seen. Let me tell you, one thing Premier Andrews will be known for is that he does what he says he will do. He does exactly what he says he is going to do. Some people may not like some of the stuff he does, but let me tell you, people say to me in the street, ‘At least when he says he’s going to do something, he goes and does it’. He does not, unlike your leaders —

Mr Finn interjected.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Order! Mr Finn!

Mr MELHEM — He does not flip back and forward like your previous leaders. He said he was going to rip up the contract for the east–west link, and he did it, so it was no surprise. Instead you went and did a side letter, which cost us a lot of money. You knew it was not going to go ahead. He said he was going to deliver on level crossing removals; 27 of them are already done and the other 23 are on the way. He said he was going to invest in infrastructure projects, and he did one after the other and so forth. One thing you can accuse this Premier of is honesty, along with integrity and delivering on what he said he is going to deliver. He is the one who gets things done. That is what he has been doing over the last four years.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr MELHEM — Guess what, Mr Finn, if you are a wagerer and you want to waste your money —

Mr Gepp — 1999, a ‘Brackslide’.

Mr MELHEM — 1999, but let us look at the current odds — $1.66. If you want to waste your money on Mr Guy, be my guest. You can bet that he is going to be the next Premier of Victoria, but let me give you the mail. It will not happen. Daniel Andrews will continue to be the Premier of Victoria come 24 November because he is the man who delivered everything he said he was going to deliver, and he will continue with that approach. I know which side I would rather be on; I would rather be on his side than Mr Guy’s side.

Ms Pennicuik — Take your time.

Mr MELHEM — I am taking my time. I have got 4 minutes.

Mr Gepp — Go back to the ‘Brackslide’.

Mr MELHEM — Again? You reckon?

Mr Gepp — 1999, what a great year.

Mr MELHEM — It was a great year. As I said, talking about new taxes and old taxes, if Victorians are already paying tax on wagering but their money is taken by the other states, why would we continue to do that? It should be paid back to the state in which the wagering was made. If I live in Victoria, instead of my percentage going to South Australia, I would like to keep it in Victoria, thank you very much. If you want to call that a new tax and you would rather give that money to South Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales, well, that is a foolish thing to do.

We do not apologise for wanting Victorians to get what they are entitled to get. This bill will deliver that. If a customer based in Victoria wagers with a company based in South Australia or Northern Territory — and Northern Territory has become a huge place for business in wagering and online wagering because it has attracted a lot of these companies due to its taxation system — who is missing out? Victorian taxpayers are missing out. This bill will at least level the playing field a bit to make sure we get our fair share so that we can put some of that money back into the services that Victorians need, like health, education and trying to assist people to get help for their gambling habits and into gambling rehabilitation. That money will go back in.

I reckon that putting taxes on gambling is probably not a bad thing — it is a good thing, because you want a disincentive for people to gamble. I do not want to see gambling grow in this state; I do not think that anyone does. But the fact is that Victorians spend about $1.2 billion a year on gambling, and putting on an extra 8 per cent in a way could be a disincentive for someone to gamble. If they use that money to buy stuff for their kids, that is great. We do not want the 8 per cent. We do not want their gambling money, but when they do gamble, we will take 8 per cent.

I would rather that the amount of money that is being generated by gambling went backwards and was reducing instead of increasing. I would rather see Victorians gamble less, not more. I think we all would. But the fact is that we are always going to have gambling. Gambling has existed for as long as the human race has existed on this planet, and it will probably continue forever. Therefore we might as well take the 8 per cent tax and generate some revenue, instead of the other states getting the revenue, and invest that back into Victoria, into our infrastructure projects, including hospitals, education and so forth.

I know the opposition have said they will be supporting the bill, and I think the other parties will be supporting it as well, perhaps with some debate in the committee about some amendments. Nonetheless, they have spent an hour and half rubbishing the bill and the initiatives put forward by the government. I hope they will be true to their word and pass this bill today so we can get on with it and get it implemented as of 1 January 2019. With those comments, I commend the bill to the house and wish it a speedy and safe passage.