Sunday, 16 May 2010

New Policy Reduces Community Voice in Pokie Applications

I was present at a meeting of the Victorian Local Government Association working group on gambling and was provided with a copy of a presentation about the new timelines imposed upon local councils to react to applications for new or additional pokie licenses in their areas. My recollection was that these new timelines were being imposed as a matter of "policy" and without prior consultation with the VLGA. I listened as participants at this meeting voiced their concerns that these timelines were so short as to preclude Council participation. From my own experience with community groups, it would be all but impossible for them to organise, let alone finance a considered expression of their views within these new timelines.

This decision, apparently by the responsible minister, Tony Robinson and the implementing body, the VCGR, seems to be contrary to their powers as expressed by the Court of Appeal of the Victorian Supreme Court in the Romsey case.

Here are relevant quotes from the Romsey decision that got me thinking about this in the first place:
"There is nothing in the provisions of the Gambling Regulation Act to suggest that Parliament intended the affected community to have only a ‘limited ability to participate’ in the Commission’s (or the Tribunal’s) inquiry into a proposal for approval of premises for gaming. Less still is there any foundation for the proposition that the responsible authority is to be the sole conduit between the community and the Commission/Tribunal in the decision-making process."

"The impact on community members who do not gamble, and do not wish to gamble, is equally relevant. "

"As the GR Act makes clear, Parliament was concerned that the views of the community at large should be heard. The Commission has, as one of its statutory functions, to advise the Minister ‘on community concerns about the economic and social impact of gambling on the well-being of the community.’ Further, the sixth policy principle which the Commission is obliged to implement requires it to establish:
proper consultative processes to ensure that appropriate … input is received from the wide variety of persons interested in gambling including stakeholders, affected parties and, to the widest extent possible, the broader Victorian community.
Contrary to the submission advanced on behalf of the proprietor, there is no basis for treating as irrelevant for this purpose objections based on moral or religious grounds. The views which members of a community have about the kind of community in which they wish to live will reflect a whole variety of interests, aspirations, beliefs and experiences. If – as the Commission found to be the case in Romsey – members of the relevant community ‘find the prospect of gaming at [the proposed venue] so disconcerting that it would have a significant effect upon that community’, it is immaterial whether such concerns are founded on philosophical or moral or religious views (or some combination of these) or simply reflect unarticulated views about the kind of community in which people wish to live.
While the proper interpretation of the law and the weight of the Victorian Supreme Court decision take precedent over anything I write or the government may issue by media release; have a look at this December 2007 paper as to how Government will work with local councils:
"We must continue to work together with the gambling industry, local government, service providers and the community to prevent and minimise the harm caused by problem gambling."

"Giving greater control to local councils
On 18 October 2006, the Minister for Planning amended the Victoria Planning Provisions in order to give local councils greater control over the placement of gaming machines in their municipalities. Previously venue operators did not require a planning permit if gaming machines took up less than 25 per cent of the venue’s total floor space.
These new amendments mean that a council planning permit is now required for any new gaming venue or any increase in the number of gaming machines at an existing venue. This gives local councils a greater say in the placement of gaming machines in their communities.
In response to these changes, local councils now need to develop their own gambling policy and planning frameworks. In November 2006, the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) was contracted by government to administer a grants scheme worth $250,000. This scheme will assist local councils to develop their frameworks.
Based upon what the Court of Appeal found, I believe that the Minister and the Commission are acting both beyond and contrary to their statutory duties. While success is unlikely, I will be urging local councils to take action to stop the Minister from effectively stripping their powers and silencing public input.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Mr Rudd, Don't Bury the Gambling Report

There are rumours I have heard that the Prime Minister will release the Productivity Commission's final report on gambling at the same time as he releases the government's budget.

There is one thing certain in Australian media coverage and that is focus on the budget on the day it is released. It is a certain front page headline. It will displace any other story. Nothing has a chance.

If the Productivity Commission's gambling report is released on the same day, the coverage of its finding will be diminished. The instigation of the gambling report was one of Mr Rudd's first actions as Prime Minister. Yet the implication of his response to Stephen Mayne's question at yesterday's Press Club luncheon is that little he will do quickly.

Have a look courtesy of The Mayne Report:

This is from a Prime Minister who said,
"I hate poker machines and I know something of their impact on families"
12,000 pokie playing Victorians were found to have contemplated taking their own life according to a Victorian government survey. 6,000 pokie playing Victorians admitted that their gambling had led them to do something against the law.

My view is that this constitutes a crises that a government truly serving Australians must fix urgently.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

What A Mess!

Yesterday, I observed a child deep inside the pokie area at the Chelsea Heights Hotel owned and managed by Woolworths and the pokie king Bruce Mathieson. This symbolises how little the Brumby government has done to foster responsible gambling in order to minimise harm caused by problem gambling.

The Chelsea Heights is a pokie pub that aggressively lures families with children to come inside with offers of free meals, free playgrounds and free entertainment. Both entrances of this pokie pub feed directly into the pokie pub feed children into the pokie room housed under a gaudy cavernous pyramid, Woolies markets this venue as suitable for child parties.
Sure, the child inside the pokie room was asked to leave and did so by walking through the whole of the pokie area. But if the child's parent had not been lured into the venue in the first place, she would have never ended up in the pokie room. How could Woolies allow this to happen?

Look at this mess inside the child play area from this photograph taken yesterday (around 2:40PM):Another child sits near a coin operated machine called "A Winner Every Time". Click here to read more about A Winner Every Time. This child sits next to another coin operated machine called Stacker. While I have written about this machine before, it bears repeating. Here's the manufacturer's own description:
Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Here's what the text says:
“Stacker's concept is simple, players have to stack moving blocks 11 levels high to reach the minor Prize level. Players can then choose to collect a cheap Prize or risk it all and play on for something that's worth about 100 times the price per play - So guess what players will do? This is a brilliant game concept, LAI understands player's emotions and exploits their greed that makes them try and try again.”
Attracting children inside pokie venues, exposing them to games intended to exploit greed and encourage repeat behaviour, and, worst of all, exposing them to the sights and sounds of pokie gambling inside the venue encourages children to gamble.

Where is this government's conscience?

The mess continues as I observe adults gambling inside the Chelsea Heights pokie room losing their money as they experience losses disguised as wins where the machine signals a win yet the gambler has been dealt a net loss.

I listen as a group of women sigh again and again as their pokie shows that had the machine only displayed that last remaining symbol... they would have won. This is the phenomena described as a "near miss".

Instead of staff suggesting that Professor Harrigan (who accompanied me) take a break when serving him a meal while he is gambling at a pokie, staff serve the food suggesting only which side of the machine that the meal should be placed. Here's a photo of a couple eating while pokie gambling, also taken yesterday (around 1:40PM), at Woolworths' associated Carrum Downs pokie pub.Until uncovered the practice of people eating in their pokie rooms, Woolworths CEO Michael Luscombe had represented to Woolworths' shareholders that they did not allow people to eat in the pokie areas.

One wonders is they do anything to encourage gamblers to take a break as I also witnessed yesterday a woman playing two machines simultaneously and a man angrily pounding the play button at the Ace's Sporting Club. Click here to read the story in today's The Age about this club failure to report earnings being paid to the disgraced Melbourne Storm rugby league club. This same issue was questioned in June 2008 on

It's a mess.

It is time that this campaign is taken to our elected representatives. Here is the full page advertisement I intend to lodge in the newspapers circulating in the Victorian Minister for Gaming's electorate of Mitcham:My hope is that this will begin action by the Brumby government to do more than just ban children from being inside the pokie room. By also spreading the message to the federal seat of Melbourne, I hope to stimulate the Rudd government to take action as well to remove children from pokie pubs and clubs.