It’s #MelbourneCup Time. But did you know, #Australians are the #Biggest #Gamblers in the World

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By Debra Russell. Images courtesy of Pixebay

According to the gambling industry’s leading global market data intelligence agency, H2 Gambling Capital, Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world gambling more per capita than any other country. With Australia’s most prestigious horse race the Melbourne Cup being run tomorrow, I thought it would be an appropriate time to write about problem gambling. The Melbourne Cup has been tagged ‘The race that stops a nation’ but that certainly doesn’t stop Australians from spending around 140 million annually betting on this race alone.

As a nation Australians spent nearly 20 billion on gambling in 2011 according to the Parliament of Australia paper ‘Waiting for the wins’, by 2015 that figure had risen to 23 billion with half of this amount being spent in slot or poker machines. There are approximately 19 million adults over the age of 18 and 200,000 poker machines in Australia, averaging out at about 1 poker machine for every 86 adults. When you also consider that Australia’s population is only .5% of the world’s population and we have approximately 20% of the world’s poker machines, these are quite alarming statistics.

Australian government data suggests that approximately 1 in 6 Australians who play poker machines regularly, have a serious addiction. For years #anti-pokie lobbyists have been trying to expose the dirty tricks the gambling industry use to gain information and entice people to play. Loyalty cards for example were introduced not to benefit the player but to allow venues to track information such as what time of day patrons play, how often and how long they play, the amounts they bet and how often they win and lose.

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Other devices used to keep patrons in venues longer include removing clocks so visitors lose sight of time and providing complimentary food and drinks. Everything from over friendly and accommodating staff to decor, lighting and music are designed to make playing addictive. Machines are programmed to give out small wins that hook the player into thinking their on a winner. If you would like to read more about this, there is a compelling article titled How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts at the following link https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/12/losing-it-all/505814/

Other areas such as sports betting and online gambling are the fastest growing areas of the Australian gambling industry. The Australian Government’s Department of Social Services paper Gambling, states that “Online gambling is the fastest growing gambling segment, growing at 15% per annum, with over $1.4 billion gambled online each year. Digital technology is also enabling illegal operators to reach our phones, our televisions, our home computers at any time of the day or night.”

Peak Australian mental health organisation Beyond Blue states in their factsheet ‘Problem gambling and depression’, that “about 300,000 Australians have a gambling problem that may affect many parts of their lives” and furthermore that “for every person with a gambling problem, between five and 10 others (eg partners and children) also experience serious consequences, including: emotional distress, the breakdown of family relationships, financial difficulties. This means that more than 2 million Australians are affected by problem gambling.”

A Sydney Morning Herald article titled Gambling is killing one Australian a day, but it rakes in billions in tax claims that the “ social cost of gambling to the community is estimated to be at least $4.7 billion a year”. These are truly frightening statistics for Australia as a nation. Any rational person would have to be asking the question, why has the Australian Government not taken this problem seriously?

There have been attempts by some Australian politicians in recent years to tackle this huge social problem, notably independent senator Nick Xenophon, Greens senator Larissa Waters and independent MP Andrew Wilkie. But according to the Sydney Morning Herald article Gambling is killing one Australian a day, but it rakes in billions in tax, the Australian Government “States and territories reaped $5.8 billion in taxes from gambling in the year through June 2015”. This begs the question, why would governments want to solve this problem and lose such a huge source of revenue? Another reason that would dissuade politicians from solving this problem is the issue of political donations.

In February 2017, an article in The Conversation titled Gambling lobby gives big to political parties, and names names, suggested that donations to political parties in Australia from the gambling industry reached just over 1 million dollars in 2015-16. Their analysis of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) donation disclosures “shows various branches of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) were by far the biggest donors among gambling industry groups….Overall, the Coalition parties were the “winners” from gambling donations reported in 2015-16, receiving a total of $770,861. The ALP received $523,640. This was a 60:40 split.”

Former World Vision CEO and now head of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Tim Costello has said that the “The pokies lobby’s influence compares to the power wielded by the National Rifle Association in the US”. The Alliance for Gambling Reform has joined forces with GetUp to try and stop the rot in the poker machine industry in Australia and are calling for signatures from the public. If you are interested in supporting this campaign follow the link to https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/pokies-play-you/pokies-petition-costello/you-don-t-play-the-pokies-they-play-you?t=Q38A2IKkx

I believe the time has come for all Australians to get behind the move to clean up the gambling industry in this country, because it is clear that political parties have too much to lose to do what is morally right. For me this issue is personal as my own brother lost everything he owned including his life, as a consequence of his gambling addiction. I know the impact his addiction had on my family and it was something you would not want to see other families go through. According to Beyond Blue “Anyone can develop a gambling problem – it does not depend on age, gender, income, education or ethnic background – and the transition from being a non-gambler to someone with a gambling problem can be swift.” So come on Australians lets show our politicians that we care and walk with our votes if they are not prepared to put moral integrity over financial gain.

If you or someone you know needs help refer to the Beyond Blue Fact Sheet listed below.

References
Australian Government: Department of Social Services. (2017). Gambling, Retrieved from https://www.dss.gov.au/communities-and-vulnerable-people/programmes-services/gambling
Beyond Blue. (2017). Problem Gambling and Depression, Fact Sheet 45. Retrieved from http://resources.beyondblue.org.au/prism/file?token=BL/0773
Livingston, C. and Johnson M. (2017) Gambling lobby gives big to political parties, and names names, Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/gambling-lobby-gives-big-to-political-parties-and-names-names-73131
Scott, J. and Heath, M. (2016). Gambling is killing one Australian a day, but it rakes in billions in tax http://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/gambling-is-killing-one-australian-a-day-but-it-rakes-in-billions-in-tax-20160927-grpypl.html

 

 

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#Australia’s New National Broadband Network (#NBN) #Liberal Government #Incompetence: Australia’s International #Embarrassment

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When Australian Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed a modern telecommunications network using optical fiber based broadband to 93% of the Australian population at 100 Mbit/s in 2007, Australians believed we would finally have access to a world-class telecommunications network. This was to be the largest infrastructure project in our nations history taking 13 years to complete and launching Australia into the 21st century as a world leader in telecommunications. Unfortunately, what we thought we were going to get in 2007 and what we have now in 2017, are two very different things.

Kevin Rudd’s original vision was to replace the whole outdated copper cable network with optical fiber. However, Labor’s plan was abandoned half way through the project after the government changed in 2013 to the Liberal government of Tony Abbott. Both the Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband, Malcolm Turnbull and Abbott stated in the lead up to the 2013 election, ‘that the demand for such a service was not significant, and thus the estimated cost was too high and the timeline for implementation too long’ and they would demolish the NBN if elected. After they were elected they said that copper was still a viable option and made the decision to swap out areas with fiber to the node and fiber to the curb, with copper to the premises downgrading speeds from 100 to a minimum of 25 Mbit/s.

Another 4 years down the track and not much has changed with the whole NBN debacle, with the exception that Malcolm Turnbull is now Prime Minister instead of Tony Abbott. As more Australians are connected to the ‘new’ already ‘outdated’ network, the list of unhappy customers is growing rapidly and significantly. According to ABC television’s Four Corners on the 23rd of October 2017, the NBN rollout “is a lottery. About one-fifth of Australians are getting direct fibre connections, but the majority are being connected with older technology such as copper phone wire and pay television cables.”

Expert Rod Tucker from the University of Melbourne told the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network that, “there has been a relentless growth in demand for higher broadband speeds. But the 2014 Vertigan report underestimated Australia’s future broadband needs by a factor of ten. Vertigan supported the Coalition’s game-changing shift from fiber to the premises (FTTP) to fiber to the node (FTTN)” and furthermore that “Australia’s FTTN network will be obsolete by the time it is rolled out and will not be able to deliver the speeds that will be needed in the future.” If you would like to see further recommendations from experts to the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network follow the link https://theconversation.com/expert-panel-the-state-of-the-national-broadband-network-56073

While experts and politicians debate the issue, ordinary Australians are finding out first hand for themselves about the efficiency and reliability of the NBN. My personal experience since connecting, is that I now have the worst internet broadband I’ve ever had in terms of speed and reliability. As soon as the NBN started rolling out in my area I started having problems with both my existing phone and internet service and had no internet at all for two months prior to connecting to NBN. Technicians who came to try and fix the problems said that others in the area were experiencing similar problems and that they believed it had something to do with the rollout in this area.

Eventually, I mistakenly believed that if I changed over to the new NBN at least it would fix my internet problem. When I changed over, I did have internet again but had no phone at all for weeks and the NBN refused to move the socket they had installed in my spare bedroom upstairs to downstairs where my computer lives.

Since I connected in June I have had ongoing problems with both phone and internet. More than 20% of the time I can’t even connect to the internet. Yesterday for example, it took me 30 minutes to get a connection and then it was so slow that every time I tried to connect to a site it timed out before connecting. My internet also drops out all the time whilst I am attempting to do things online. Even when my internet is on its best behavior, it is no better than what I had with the old ADSL broadband. I also have ongoing phone problems. Often when I try to answer a call on the home phone it disconnects the caller. Other times I will be in the middle of a conversation and an incoming call disconnects the previous caller.

I have heard many people say over the last couple of years that they have had similar problems since connecting to the NBN. My sister who has life threatening health conditions has not had a phone for 3 months since she changed over to NBN and in her case she has had no luck resolving the issue with either NBN or her provider. If you are lucky enough to have been amongst the 20% of Australians who received fiber to the premises before the Liberal government stepped in and destroyed the NBN, spare a thought for the rest of us.

Sadly this is not only about the impact and frustration this is having on the majority of Australians, it is also about our reputation and prospects on the world stage. The latest report in the New York Times talks about Australia’s incompetence around technology and our bungling of the NBN rollout. According to Stephen Fenech from Tech Guide, Australia’s “internet speeds are slower than that of the US, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea despite the $49 billion National Broadband Network rollout.” and furthermore that Australia “came in at an appalling No 51 on the Akamai ranking of internet speeds behind countries like Thailand and Kenya.” Even our smaller neighbor New Zealand is smart enough to know that fiber is the way to go.

Rod Tucker has said that “Australia’s increasing use of fiber to the node (FTTN) has locked the country out of world-class broadband for years to come. If Australia is ever to obtain first-class broadband services, it will be necessary to replace FTTN with higher speed technologies.”

I remember the uproar in Australia during the Rudd government’s term in office over the Home Insulation Program (pink batts debacle). This was believed to have cost Australian taxpayers 2.5 billion dollars, including costs to rectify problems the program had caused. In financial terms, the Pink Batt debacle of 2.5 billion looks like small change in comparison to the 50 billion price tag of the NBN debacle. This does not include the loss of revenue that Australian businesses will lose trying to compete on the world stage with inferior technology. Taxpayers in this country have every right to be upset. I believe this Liberal government has underestimated the anger and dissatisfaction out there in the Australian community over this issue and will pay dearly at the next Federal election.

References
The Conversation. (2016). Expert panel: The state of the National Broadband Network. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/expert-panel-the-state-of-the-national-broadband-network-56073
Fenech, S. (2017). Why Australia’s NBN rollout has become a world wide embarrassment. Retrieved from http://www.techguide.com.au/blog/australias-nbn-rollout-become-worldwide-embarrassment/
Tucker, R. (2017). The Tragedy of Australia’s National Broadband Network Retrieved from https://telsoc.org/node/1728