The recent Australian government initiative concerning the reform of gambling in the country as one of the main issues posed the question who holds the power in this domain – whether those are individual territories of the Commonwealth or the federal government.
According to the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) in Canberra, which this week released an answer to the recently appointed prime minister, Julia Gillard’s question, the “State and territory governments are responsible for the regulation of the gambling industry, except for online gambling, which falls under federal authority.”
However, whether this counsel will be heard and adopted remains to be seen, since in a similar development last year, when the government’s Productivity Commission advised that prohibition of online gambling should be replaced with regulations and taxation, the government stayed at its previous position and introduced no changes.
Still, with this advice, the AGS will not only contribute to the strengthening of individual territories’ rights to take care and regulate gambling as they see fit, but it will also inform the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform.
But while this reinforcement of individual states may be good news to some, others, like the federal minister responsible for the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, think that only together with the government individual states can adequately respond to the threat of problem gambling.
She pointed out to research which shows that three quarters of serious problem gamblers derived the habit thanks to poker machines. "Problem gambling is a serious issue and the Australian Government believes more must be done to help problem gamblers and their families, particularly by reducing the harm caused by poker machines," she said.
An average of A$21,000 is spent by problem gamblers a year on gambling – a sad amount which could be spent more prudently, specified the minister.
"We have written to.... [the] chair of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform; to our state and territory colleagues on the Council of Australian Governments Select Council on Gambling Reform; and to Professor Peter Shergold AC, chair of the Ministerial Expert Advisory Group on Gambling Reform, to provide them with the legal advice," the minister continued.
"The advice from the Australian Government Solicitor confirms there are a range of constitutional heads of power available to the Australian Government, including corporations, trade and commerce, telecommunications, banking, currency, taxation and territories powers.
"While this advice identifies the legislative options available to the Commonwealth, the Australian Government remains committed to reaching an agreement with the states and territories to progress these important reforms.
"Gambling is a legitimate industry and a valued form of entertainment for many Australians. We will work with industry to implement these reforms in a staged, evidence-based way. We have established the Ministerial Expert Advisory Group on Gambling, chaired by Professor Peter Shergold AC, to seek advice from the industry, academics and gambling support services on how to best implement the reforms.
"The Productivity Commission recommended the Commonwealth intervene if the states and territories do not agree to implement gambling reforms Australia wide.
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