23 November 2017, Sydney, Australia
Susan Rennie is a Councillor in Darebin, Melbourne.
Thank you Mr Chairman. I'd like to start by acknowledging that we're meeting today on the lands of the [Wurundjeri] people of the [Kulin] nation and pay my respects to elders of the past, present and emerging and any Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people here today.
Woolworths, the pokies people. It doesn't quite have the same ring as Woolworths the fresh food people does it? But Woolworths is Australia's largest operator of pokie machines and if you judge the money that they manage to extract from vulnerable people as a measure of their success then they're extremely successful in that business. But pokie machines are doing extraordinary harm in our community. Harm from gambling in fact is almost on a par in terms of the health impact with harm from alcohol or harm from depression and most of that harm is related to pokie machines.
Did you know that postcodes with 7.5 pokie machines per thousand adults have 20% more family violence that postcodes with no pokie machines. It raises a question about how much family violence is an acceptable outcome to Woolworths for the operation of their pokie machines. A question I put to every director who is elected today, how much family violence do you think is an acceptable trade-off for the operation of your pokie machines? Woolworths, the family violence people doesn't have a good ring either does it? There were 400 gambling related suicides in Australia every year. Woolworths, the suicide people, not really what you want to be known for.
But you can actually have your cake and eat it too. You can have your pokie machines and operate them more safely and despite what the Chairman has said, Woolworths has done nothing to achieve this outcome. It is as a Company the most aggressive and predatory pokie machine operator in this country, actively lobbying against changes that might make machines safer.
I spoke earlier of being able to withdraw cash from gaming venues. Imagine 10 years of cash withdrawals from a vulnerable person in a state of chronic ill health who was gambling with money that really wasn't hers to gamble with. She was getting it off her elderly mother who had early stage dementia. Woolworths in receipt of money that really didn't belong to the person who was gambling and any level of due diligence across the four venues that Sarah lost money at would have found that she was not in a position to lose with a lower job. Not in a position to lose well over $1 million.
As I said, you can have your cake and eat it too. You could actually as a company support a limit on the amount of cash that people can get out in a gaming venue every day. You don't need further research to do this. The evidence is already there and in fact I have shared some of that evidence with the Chairman and with Richard Dammery yesterday. Solid research that's been undertaken rigorously and academically. You could decide that it wasn't appropriate for these venues to be open 20 hours a day because nothing good comes from being on a pokie machine at four in the morning. Most Woolworths venues are only closed between 5:00am and 9:00am. It kind of puts a different meaning on nine to five doesn't it?
You could do what Coles has done and support $1 bets because at the moment every time you push the button and you can do that every three seconds, at the moment you can lose $5 every time you push a button and that can be well over $1000 an hour. You could relieve a huge amount of harm and suffering. You could be part of the solution to family violence in this country instead of part of the problem.
There are a number of other evidence based measures that could actually make the pokie machine industry safer. What we know from research is that for those people who gamble on a pokie machine every week, one third to a half of them are experiencing very significant harm. Don't believe it when they say this is a small problem in a small number of people.
Weekly gambling on a pokie machine is harmful in a very significant proportion of cases. So I think we all know that with recommendations to vote against me it's highly unlikely I'll be elected today. I would ask you then to use your vote as a powerful statement to this Company and to all of the directors that they each, each and every one of them, has a personal responsibility to get involved in the ALH business, to step up to the Board of that business and to make sure that they are taking action to reduce harm from gambling. Because that action is possible and it doesn't need to wait for further research or information or international experts to come from overseas. You have that action in your hands with your vote today and I hope that you will demonstrate that to the Company and save the lives of people like Sarah who died tragically at the age of 54.
Just finally, I would ask that it might be possible to see the results from today's vote, not just mixed in with the previous results. Thank you.