The Canberra Southern Cross Club.

The Canberra Southern Cross Club.

The Canberra Southern Cross Club has experienced an exodus of its so-called "religious members" since being forced to charge clergy for the privilege of enjoying its facilities.

It seems that the $5 annual fee was too much of a cross to bear for some priests and nuns who have long been accustomed to free membership of their favourite club.

The Canberra Times reported last August that the Southern Cross Club was outraged over being forced by the ACT government to charge religious members, who had been exempted from paying since the club's establishment in the 1970s.

The club has six branches across the ACT, including the Yacht Club in Yarralumla, and a membership of about 85,000.

Only a small percentage of the membership falls under the category of "religious members", but of those about one-third have withdrawn their patronage since their honorary status has been changed.

Club management did not wish to comment, saying only that it had not undertaken a review of its membership numbers recently.

But other sources have confirmed that quite a few clergy had left the club since the rules changed.

"The ministers didn't like being made to pay so a lot of them just quit the club," one well-placed contact said. "Priests believe they are supposed to collect money, not hand it over."

ACT legislation requires that every member of a club that is licensed for gaming must pay a membership fee unless they have been given a life membership.

The Southern Cross Club had not been adhering to that requirement.

Its membership guidelines stipulated that "any priest, brother, nun, minister or spouse or full-time student of a recognised religion" did not have to pay annual fees.

When the anomaly was brought to the attention of the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission last year, it acted to pull the club into line and pointed out that it was in technical breach of the legislation.

Commission chief executive Greg Jones told The Canberra Times at the time that it was a simple matter of the club having to obey the law.

"Every member of a club in the ACT needs to pay a fee unless they are a life member," he said.

"It is about being consistent with the legislative requirement that has been in place for 15 or 20 years now."