Warrnambool City Council’s legal counsel was grilled yesterday over the refusal of a permit for installing pokies at Rafferty’s Tavern based on the neighbourhood’s perceived status.
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal deputy president Mark Dwyer questioned counsel Andrew Walker over how the west Warrnambool area was determined to be socio-economically disadvantaged.
The tavern wants to introduce 19 electronic gaming machines as part of an $800,000 refurbishment of the business, but the council in October 2011 rejected a recommendation by its planners and refused the application, arguing it wanted to rein in the number of pokies.
One of the main refusal reasons was concern over social impact on local residents, particularly those from the lower socio-economic sector.
Mr Dwyer noted that poker machines were later approved for the Flying Horse Bar and Brewery in the east of the city despite there being another disadvantaged area — the Wanstead Street zone — in fairly close proximity.
The Rafferty’s Tavern refusal by council triggered an initial VCAT appeal hearing, which upheld the council’s decision.
Then followed a challenge to the Supreme Court which sent the matter back to VCAT. In the first VCAT ruling in April last year socio-economic factors were also noted, with a decision saying “the risk of harm to the more vulnerable community of west Warrnambool represented a social and economic disadvantage which outweighed any (business) benefits”.
During yesterday’s hearing Mr Dwyer said he found it intriguing that the council was putting a position in direct contrast to the view of its own expert officers.
Mr Morris, for the Cook Beaumont Group for Rafferty’s Tavern, said there was a raft of evidence to support his client’s proposal on planning grounds and the group relied on the assessment of the council’s own officers.
He said the Cook Beaumont Group was also willing to agree to contribute up to $35,000 a year to not-for-profit or sporting groups or for problem gambling counsellors.
Resident Brian Douglas said he had lived in his Caramut Road home for 45 years and the west Warrnambool population had doubled during the past couple of years.
He said Rafferty’s Tavern was the only licensed premises in west Warrnambool and the area would benefit from the refurbishment of the hotel.