'It's not going to happen any time soon': clubs reject calls to reunite
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'It's not going to happen any time soon': clubs reject calls to reunite

Canberra's two peak bodies for clubs will not reunite, despite the recommendation of a review into the future of the industry.

Former Commonwealth departmental secretary Neville Stevens was tasked with looking at how clubs could diversify their revenue away from poker machines, as the Barr government moves to cut the the number of gaming machine authorisations in circulation in Canberra by almost 1000.

But in his review, Mr Stevens took aim at the tension between the two peak bodies representing the clubs industry - Clubs ACT and Canberra Community Clubs - saying the split reduced the effectiveness of their advocacy for their members.

Former Commonwealth departmental secretary Neville Stevens was tasked with looking at how clubs could diversify their revenue away from poker machines.

Former Commonwealth departmental secretary Neville Stevens was tasked with looking at how clubs could diversify their revenue away from poker machines.Credit:Peter Braig

He called for the clubs groups to reunite, saying it would be an opportunity for the industry to "reinvent and strengthen itself".

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Canberra Community Clubs was set up by the CFMEU's Tradies Club and the Burns Club 18 months ago, after the territory government cut ties with Clubs ACT following their $240,000 campaign against Labor's re-election.

Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees would not be drawn on whether he was open to a reunion, saying: "Clubs ACT will consider the report in detail and make a statement later when it can provide an informed response on behalf of its membership".

Canberra Community Clubs chair Athol Chalmers said, "I don't think that's going to happen any time soon", citing the groups' divergent philosophies and relationship with government.

Mr Chalmers backed the incentives and the new diversification fund, saying the announcement gave clubs a level of policy certainty they had been missing for years.

“The policy certainty provided by today’s announcement is critical. By committing to no changes to key elements for five years from May 2020, the government is providing the industry with the confidence it needs to undertake the significant investments required to restructure business models and lay the foundation for long term sustainability," Mr Chalmers said.

The ACT government plans to give small to medium sized clubs $12,000 per authorisation they voluntarily surrender by January 31, 2019.

Smaller clubs could also get a discount of $25,000 per licence on lease variation charges and planning fees, while larger clubs would get a $15,000 discount per authorisation they handed back.

However if the 4000 cap is not reached, clubs would be forced to surrender their machines in two tranches - April 2019 and April 2020.

Canberra Liberals gambling spokesman Mark Parton said the incentives were "insulting".

"These machines are their core business. The hardware alone is worth $35,000. The turnover if you want to base it on the Labor club group, we’re talking $50,000 per year, $200,000 over the forward estimates and you’re going to offer $12,000?" Mr Parton said.

“I just don’t think there’s enough money on offer to genuinely help clubs diversify."

He also said the diversification fund was a tax that would hit clubs that did not turn over enough poker machine revenue to pay gaming taxes.

"I’m at a loss to see how it’s going to help diversification," Mr Parton said.

However ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said the plan was a "real breakthrough" in Canberra's gambling policy.

"For years this sort of discussion would imply never have taken place. We will now see a mechanism to reduce the number of poker machines by 20 per cent in the ACT. This is an important step forward," Mr Rattenbury said.

"At the same time the ensures that have been put in place will enable clubs to hopefully remain viable. These clubs do play a really important social role in the ACT, providing meeting rooms for sporting clubs or a range of other community groups, through to being a warm dry place for our senior citizens to get together.

"Our beef has always been that they’ve been propped up by an unholy reliance on the profits of poker machines and we cannot sustain that. We need clubs to go forward without this terrible over reliance on gaming revenue."

In April, Mr Rattenbury said the Greens would not support a "simple payout" for poker machine authorisations, saying they were a "privilege" not a "right to print money".

Mr Rattenbury said on Tuesday the Greens supported this plan as it wa sa transition fund that could help small clubs without capital make a major new investment or change their direction.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a situation where as we’ve just seen argued by Mark Parton in the chamber that we should give large amounts of money to the clubs to pay for these machines and their licenses," Mr Rattenbury said.

"These were given out for free in the first place and we just have to find that right balance to enable this transition to a sustainable clubs model that’s not so reliant on poker machines."

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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