By TONY FOSTER
THE Parliamentary Joint Select Committee that is currently considering the future of gaming in Tasmania must consider the views of the community in reaching its recommendation.
For too long, too many Tasmanian families have suffered from electronic gaming machines ripping money out of the community. Unfortunately, successive governments are as much addicted to gaming tax revenue as the casino owners are to the profits from pokies in pubs and clubs around the State.
The Parliament established the Joint Select Committee to inquire into and report on the Tasmanian gaming regime from 2023 onwards and it is hoped that it gives sufficient weight to community concerns, rather than be influenced by the vested interests of Federal Hotels (who own all the poker machines as well as the State’s two casinos) and Treasury bureaucrats who only want to preserve the government’s tax take and avoid the extra work involved in establishing a more competitive and fairer gaming environment.
On behalf of the Brighton Council and our community, I made a submission to the committee and addressed what I believe are two key issues – community attitudes, particularly to poker machines and credible socio-economic studies that clearly point to the damaging and destructive impact of this form of gambling.
The Local Government Association of Tasmania, the Hobart and Glenorchy City Councils also presented verbal submissions focussing on issues of social harm and social exclusion, community consultation that showed that people want poker machines out of pubs and clubs and outlined the community impacts that councils were addressing regularly.
I reminded the committee members that the issues, concerns and problems we faced today were the same, if somewhat exacerbated, as those that I and the Brighton Council had raised some 20 years ago.
Community attitudes are also unchanged. We do not want poker machines in our communities and we particularly do not want them in lower socio-economic areas.
In a motion I put to the Brighton Council in January 1997, I asked for then Liberal Government to undertake ongoing independent social and economic studies in to the effect that poker machines would have on our communities. I am pleased to say that the Council was very supportive of the motion and I believe that today’s Council still shares that view.
The then Minister for Finance Ron Cornish advised that a baseline study had been done in 1994 by Professor Mark Dickerson and that a follow up report done in 1996 would be available shortly after that time. In the circumstances the Government did not consider it necessary to conduct a further study as proposed by Brighton Council.
Remember, the Dickerson studies were conducted before 1997 and successive Governments have done little else since that time, except collect millions and millions of dollars in revenue.
At the June 1999 meeting of the Local Government Association of Tasmania, I successfully moved the following resolution: “That the Association requests the State Government to immediately call for tenders to conduct an ongoing social and economic impact study into the effects of the introduction of electronic gaming machines in hotels and clubs in Tasmania and in particular the effects they are having on families and small business in rural and regional communities.”
So almost 20 years later, the Joint Select Committee is now examining this.
At annual Local Government conferences between 1999 and 2016, I regularly sought and received the support of other Tasmanian councils concerned at the effect that electronic gaming machines were having on our communities. Our concerns are not just about problem gambling. They are about the money being bled from local communities and the impacts on families, small businesses and the health and wellbeing of Tasmanians. Of particular note, we recognise these effects on our rural and regional communities. So for at least 20 years, local government has expressed its disquiet at the introduction and proliferation of electronic gaming machines in our communities.
At the same time, successive State Governments and Oppositions have adopted a cynical approach. While politicians may have questioned the number of poker machines and the misery they cause while in opposition, they readily support it in government because of the massive taxation take. They are so concerned with protecting their revenue from the poker machine cash cow, that they lose sight of protecting the wellbeing of the Tasmanian community. To be fair, only the Greens have consistently opposed the introduction of gaming machines in hotels and clubs. However, considering the attitudes of the majority of our politicians, I wonder if it is at all possible for the Select Committee to make a decision that fairly considers whether the people of Tasmania actually want to see electronic gaming machines in our pubs and clubs.
You may ask why I say this?
As far back as 1993, in his submission to a Legislative Council inquiry, Federal Hotel’s principal Greg Farrell argued strongly that poker machines should not be allowed in Tasmania’s pubs and clubs saying that money gambled on gaming machines would represent a redirection of household disposable income and the impact on restaurants, theatres, cinemas and retail would be disastrous. Mr Farrell then went on to say that direct access to gaming machines in pubs and clubs would have a disastrous effect on the social and special culture of Tasmania. It seems he rapidly changed his attitude as soon as his company was granted the pokies’ monopoly.
To emphasise the point, the latest research by the respected Anglicare clearly supports Mr Farrell’s initial view and shows that most Tasmanians in fact want to see poker machines removed from pubs and clubs, restricting them to the two casinos.
There is no doubt in my mind that in 1997 when Brighton Council refused a permit for the introduction of poker machines at the Derwent Tavern in Bridgewater it was correct in that determination. I believe the decision at the time, by the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal supported our decision but Council’s position was overridden by the Gaming Control Act.
The same provisions of the Act remain in force today overriding the authority of any council to deny a permit to install electronic gaming machines.
In summing up my submission to the Joint Select Committee I suggested that the Act be amended to enable councils, on behalf of their communities, to permit or deny the installation of poker machines in their municipalities and that our politicians fairly consider their impact on the Tasmanian community.
Importantly, I called for a referendum at the next Tasmanian State election, asking the people of Tasmania if they want electronic gaming (poker) machines in hotels and clubs.
Let us hope that after 20 years of community concerns, our Members of Parliament finally listen to the people of this State.
Written submissions can still be sent to the Joint Select Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org and I urge any interested people to provide their views on this important issue.