Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation
Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) – My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Liquor and Gaming Regulation, and the action I seek is for him to fully investigate and publicly respond to the growing concern about the nature of the compliance activities being undertaken by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) and advise whether the VCGLR is providing a robust regulatory and enforcement regime in liquor and gaming.
Clearly it is vital for there to be not only strong regulation of liquor and gaming in this state but also strong enforcement of those regulations. We know the gaming industry, for example, is always vulnerable to infiltration by criminal elements. We know that many people suffer the harms of problem gambling. With respect to liquor, we are confronting major issues regarding under-age drinking and the consequences of excessive drinking more broadly, which require engagement, monitoring and action from the regulator. These problems affect the whole community.
Early in its term the Liberal government announced with much fanfare the harmonisation of the then Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation and Responsible Alcohol Victoria and said it would strengthen the regulatory environment for these two industries. The reality, however, has been very different. The harmonisation process has been plagued with problems, and there is genuine concern within the community that the standards of regulation and enforcement in these industries have slipped markedly. Regional inspectors have been abolished, with the consequence being that enforcement activities in regional areas, including the presence of inspectors at major events, have dramatically fallen away.
Inspectors have advised that they are spending time on such things as hand-delivering letters to cafes, with no engagement or audit of the venue taking place. Desktop audits — which pretty much amount to self-regulation — have been introduced for gaming venues.
Inspectors spent Christmas Day, on double time and half pay, driving around and checking whether supermarkets were closed.
It is of particular concern that these low-level activities appear to all be recorded as compliance activities. In fact sources indicate that visiting or phoning a venue when it is closed is counted as a compliance activity. Most Victorians would think that compliance activities in these areas are genuine enforcement actions designed to ensure that rigorous standards are maintained — for example, stopping the sale of alcohol or use of gaming machines by minors, stamping out excessive alcohol consumption at pubs, clubs and events and making sure that operators and gaming staff are of good character and that money is not being laundered. Ringing up local sporting clubs during weekdays when they are not open does not meet this expectation. Driving around and looking at closed supermarkets does not meet this expectation. Boasting about increased compliance numbers on the back of these sorts of activities does not meet expectations.
At the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) hearings last month many questions were put to the Chair and to the CEO — who incidentally has announced her resignation — of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) about these matters, particularly regarding the nature of compliance activities, the number of physical inspections of venues and the future of the monitoring at Crown Casino. Some of the answers given appear to be at odds with what inspectors are saying. We are still waiting on data from the VCGLR about these things, as that data was not on hand at the PAEC hearing.
It has clearly passed the point where the minister must take responsibility and act to fix this mess. The public needs to know what the VCGLR has been doing, what it counts as a compliance activity and whether or not it should be recorded as such. The public needs to know what is happening, or not happening, with inspections and stakeholder engagement and management in rural and regional communities.
The public needs to know whether desktop audits are being followed up with physical inspections. The minister must provide these answers. The health and safety of Victorian communities across the state depend on them.
Hansard, 13 March 2014