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.

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