Clubs harness members in campaign against pokies in the casino

Clubs harness members in campaign against pokies in the casino

ACT Clubs began reaching out to as many as 200,000 members in a new campaign against poker machines in the casino this week, adorning drinks coasters, posters, banners and a direct mailout with their message.

The campaign directly targets Chief Minister Andrew Barr, saying: "Barr's decision to help out the Hong Kong-owned casino has dire impacts on your club, the locals it employs and the community and sporting groups it supports."

Gwyn Rees, head of Clubs ACT: Labor deal with the casino "the last straw".

Gwyn Rees, head of Clubs ACT: Labor deal with the casino "the last straw".

Clubs ACT expects the Labor Party-owned Labor clubs will not distribute the materials, but board chairman Mark Nelson did not return calls on Monday to confirm.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union-linked Tradies clubs also are not taking part, having recently disaffiliated from Clubs ACT.


But as clubs seek to harness the power of their wide membership, visitors will see an array of anti-Barr materials on drinks coasters, banners and posters bearing the message: "Labor Leader Barr's deal with the foreign-owned casino is the last straw."

Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said the government had told clubs it planned to introduce legislation in August, allowing poker machines in the casino for the first time in its history.

"The ACT Labor government has turned their back on not-for-profit clubs," Mr Rees said, accusing Mr Barr of reneging on its memorandum of understanding with the clubs sector.

His campaign is running alongside lobbyist Richard Farmer's attempt to launch a political party before the June 30 deadline, to contest the October election and put further pressure on the government and on Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury, whose casting vote will allow the casino to get 200 machines.

A spokesman for Mr Barr said ultimately it was up to clubs whether poker machines were in the casino.

"There will never be a single poker machine in the casino unless the clubs choose to sell them," the spokesman said.

As for Mr Farmer's party, he said: "Creating a political party to do your client's bidding is an extraordinary move – even for a former tobacco industry lobbyist, who is now working for the sector he once accused of bold faced hypocrisy."

Mr Rees said allowing poker machines in the casino would "decimate" already struggling clubs, which were already at their most vulnerable.

They would be hit hard by another government plan to vastly increase liquor licensing fees for late-night venues trading after 3am.

Twenty-two clubs trade until 4am, making up a substantial proportion of venues trading after 3am.

Clubs wanting to stay open till 4am will face a four-fold increase in licence fees, from $16,400 for the biggest clubs (more than 350 patrons) at the moment, to $65,700 a year. Clubs say the fee hike is unfair, as they are the safest of the light-night venues.

Mr Rees said clubs were also facing massive rates hikes and had been hit by "exorbitant water charges".

The Canberra Irish Club paid $37,000 a year in rates in 2015, up $14,000 in three years. The Raiders club in Belconnen faced a rates bill of $78,000 in 2015, up by $35,000 in three years.

Water charges had increased substantially in a decade, with clubs paying $1.05 per kilolitre in 2004 and $5.22 a kilolitre this year if they used more than 548 lires. The figure compared to $2.44 for Cooma Monaro, $2 for Riverina Water and $2.80 for Yass.

Mr Rees pointed to the cost of water for the Ainslie Football Club, which maintains the Alan Ray oval, using 23,000 kilolitres in 2004 at a cost of $38,100 and 10 years later charged $112,000 for 19,500 kilolitres.

Some clubs had recorded their first losses in their history in recent years, one club making a loss in five of the past 10 years.

Ten clubs had closed or merged in the past decade.

Kirsten Lawson is news director at The Canberra Times

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