With controversy swirling around the question of gambling reform in Australia, the recently appointed prime minister, Julia Gillard, has commissioned legal advice on who holds the power - the individual states and territories making up the Commonwealth of Australia or her federal government.
The legal opinion of the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) in Canberra was released this week (PDF format) and in summary counsels that State and territory governments are responsible for the regulation of the gambling industry, except for online gambling, which falls under federal authority.
Last year, the federal government rejected the recommendations of its own Productivity Commission urging that internet gambling should be regulated and taxed rather than prohibited, as is the case at present.
The conclusions of the AGS are important not only in reinforcing the rights of individual territories to govern their own gambling affairs, but also because the advice will inform the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform.
This week Jenny Macklin, the federal minister responsible for the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, said that whilst recognising the authority of the territories, the Australian government is committed to working with them and the industry to introduce key reforms addressing the harm from problem gambling, including a full pre-commitment scheme for 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 in a statement, noting that research has shown that three-quarters of severe problem gambling is associated with poker machines.
The minister claims that problem gamblers spend an average of A$21,000 a year on gambling - money that isn't being spent on food, bills or the family mortgage.
"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.
Source: InfoPowa News