The ACT clubs industry group is in disarray as the president and vice-president of Clubs ACT resigned on Monday night, with a breakaway group now being set up, spearheaded by the powerful Tradies group.
President Athol Chalmers and vice-president Rob Docker resigned from the Clubs ACT board after less than four months in the job.
Clubs ACT has been in turmoil since its decision to bankroll a campaign against the government decision to allow poker machines in the casino, including funding an anti-Labor election campaign led by candidate Richard Farmer. It spent $240,000 on the election, borrowing the money from Clubs NSW, and leaving it in financial strife.
The Labor clubs, the Tradies clubs and the Burns Club disaffiliated from Clubs ACT over the campaign. After the election, the Burns and Woden Tradies came back to the fold and took control, with Mr Chalmers from the Burns Club becoming president and Mr Docker from the Tradies becoming vice-president.
Clubs ACT has been trying to sell its Deakin office building to repay the campaign loan, so far without success.
Mr Chalmers also took a suite of savings to the board last week. But that meeting appears to have sparked the end of the shortlived reunification.
On Monday night, Mr Chalmers and Mr Docker resigned their positions.
It is understood that the pair had expected resignations from board members who led the failed and financially disastrous election campaign. But other than the resignation of the Raiders club's Max Mercer as president late last year, no one else has stood aside.
It is unclear what else sparked the angry split, but it seems the renegade group believes Clubs ACT became a political organisation and has not changed, retaining a belligerent attitude towards the government and not acknowledging its mistakes.
Mr Chalmers would not comment on the reasons for his resignation.
"For my own reasons I've resigned. I'm not going to go into the detail of that. I had some differences on some key issues with the board, issues that were important to me," he said.
"I think it's important we have an industry group representing the industry to government. Ideally, one industry group talking to government is obviously the best way forward."
Mr Docker said he took on the role as a "quinella" with Mr Chalmers and had shown his support for Mr Chalmers in resigning.
"Athol clearly feels strongly about where the club industry needs to go and he felt for his own reasons that he wasn't going to be able to achieve that through the structure of Clubs ACT."
Clubs are set to lose thier monopoly on poker machines, and also face a cut in the number of poker machines by almost 1000, to 4000 machines.
Chairman of the Woden and Dickson Tradies Dean Hall confirmed a new industry group would be set up, with both Tradies joining. He expected the vast majority of small and medium clubs would follow suit. But none have so far confirmed. Mr Chalmers said he would talk to his own board before making a decision. The Labor Party owned Labor clubs will be asked to join the breakaway group.
The Tradies, the Burns club and the Labor club are all Labor friends - the Labor group owned by the party, the Tradies owned by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and the Burns Club less directly connected, but with two Labor Party members as its vice-presidents. The Burns Club is a leader among the small to medium clubs.
Mr Hall said Clubs ACT had lost its way. Clubs had to start seeing their control of gambling and alcohol as a privilege, he said, accusing Clubs ACT of focusing on the business of clubs rather than their community purpose.
"The industry needs a voice and it needs to be a voice of reason," he said. "It has to relate to what clubs are really about and what they started for, which is for their members and the communities they're operating in."
Clubs ACT board members Simon Paterson of the Ainslie group and Maurice Reilly of the National Press Club would not comment. Others, including representatives of the Raiders and Vikings, did not return calls. Nor did the Labor club return calls. Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees is yet to respond to questions.