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