By TONY FOSTER AM OAM JP
THE July general meeting of the Local Government Association of Tasmania supported Brighton’s motion to lobby Parliament to expand the terms of reference of the proposed Joint Select Committee Review into gaming in Tasmania to consider banning electronic gaming machines outside the State’s two casinos.LGAT also supported a statewide poll on the issue as well as a review of the Gaming Act to remove its power to over-ride other acts, such as local planning laws.
While I am the first to appreciate that gambling is an accepted part of the Australian way of life, there can be no doubt that the proliferation of electronic gaming machines and particularly their disproportionate location in lower socio-economic areas, is causing serious harm in Tasmania. And it’s not just problem gambling. It is more about the magnitude of losses on poker machines that takes money out of our communities impacting on families, small businesses and employment.
Without doubt, the existence of poker machines in a local community changes that community and to this end, local government should have a say over whether, where and how many poker machines there are in their municipalities. This should apply to existing poker machines as well as any future machines. A private company, be it Federal Hotels or any other business, should not be able to decide to introduce poker machines without seeking local government approval.
Brighton Council has long been opposed to the proliferation of poker machines in our community and particularly their concentration in lower socio-economic areas. Indeed, in 1997, Brighton Council initially rejected the planning application for the installation of poker machines in the municipality, but this was overturned by the State Planning Tribunal as the Government’s gambling legislation currently overrides local government planning powers. That is what we want changed and the Local Government Association supports that move.
It is worth noting that Tasmanians lost almost $200 million on poker machines last financial year, much of it taken from people who can least afford it. Independent research released at the end of last year by respected social welfare agency Anglicare, shows 84 percent of Tasmanians believe that the community receives no benefit from poker machines and 50 percent of the population wants them removed from hotels and clubs.
Where incomes are low, money spent gambling on poker machines can mean that families go without food, medical treatment, heating and other basic, even vital, necessities, as well as subjecting many to domestic violence.
Tasmanian councils have now decided we cannot stand idly by while this occurs.
Some six Tasmanian councils (Brighton, Southern Midlands, Meander Valley, Kingborough, Hobart and Glenorchy) have taken the lead and joined the community coalition campaigning for electronic gaming machine reform. The councils joined because we sincerely believe that poker machines are causing harm in our communities.
The outcome of the recent Federal Election should provide a lesson to all levels of government – we must listen to our communities. It is a clear message that our State Parliamentarians considering the future of gaming in Tasmania should heed.
In proposing the Joint Select Committee into gaming, the Government directed that it consider licensing arrangements for poker machines. This included how tendering arrangements could effectively auction licences and also the most effective taxation arrangements. In short the Government wants to know how it can get more revenue from licences and ongoing taxation on poker machines.
Simple economics will tell you that the more a bidder pays for the licence to run the pokies in Tasmania the more they will want to take from gamblers. Make no mistake, the pokies are rigged for the machine to win and designed to addict. The result is that the profit-seeking of poker machine owners causes real harm to people including loss of homes, marriage break-ups, criminal acts of desperation, and worse. Similarly, the Government’s increasing demand for revenue means that it is dependent of ripping more from the pockets of players.
This situation is not confined to Tasmania. A recent report into poker machine gambling in Victoria released in mid-July shows the situation to be just as dire and again, disproportionately pulling money from lower socio-economic areas.
Gambling on pokies has often been described as the voluntary taxation of those who can least afford to be taxed. All the research shows that statement to be true.
The status quo cannot be allowed to continue. Local Government is showing leadership on this issue and it is now up to our State MP’s to follow. Local communities must be consulted and heard on this important issue and to have a clear say on whether or not they want poker machines in their local hotels and clubs.