WARRNAMBOOL City Council last night doubled the stakes in its bold fight to stop electronic gaming machines from being installed in two new venues.
It took another potentially expensive gamble to lay its cards on the table at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal by opposing a planning permit application by the Flying Horse Bar and Brewery for eight poker machines.
The vote came almost six months after it opposed an application by Rafferty’s Tavern for 19 pokies.
In both cases, the majority of councillors disregarded advice from their planning department, which was to approve the applications under planning law.
Instead, they argued on higher moral grounds that pokies were not in the best interests of the community, particularly those from the lower socio-economic sector.
They called for the government and Municipal Association of Victoria to also take a strong anti-pokies stance.
The tribunal will hear a challenge from the Rafferty’s applicants on April 5 and the Flying Horse Bar and Brewery applicants have already lodged a challenge, which is expected to be heard in the next few months.
Flying Horse spokesman Graeme Rodger said last night he was confident the council would be defeated on both cases purely on planning grounds.
“The council is using ratepayers’ money to pay for their moral views. It’s not fair to the people of Warrnambool,” he said.
“I’ve been advised the hearing could cost council about $80,000.”
Two councillors did not participate in last night’s debate — Cr Andrew Fawcett was on holidays and Cr Rob Askew declared a pecuniary interest and left the room.
Only Cr Michael Neoh backed the planners’ recommendation to grant the permit.
“If we send our planners to VCAT it will be like sending lambs to the slaughter,” he said.
Cr John Harris again spearheaded the debate by outlining why he believed it was not in the community’s best interests for new gambling venues to be approved.
“It’s time for councils to stand up and say enough is enough,” he said. “The cost to families and the community from gambling needs to be pointed out to VCAT.
“I commend Moyne Shire Council for deciding to keep pokies out.”
His view was based on the venue being close to disadvantaged residential areas, within walking distance to shopping areas and near a McDonald’s restaurant frequented by children and families.
He also said the Gaming Commission was skewed towards economic benefits to the venue rather than social and economic costs to the community.
Mayor Jacinta Ermacora and councillors Peter Hulin and Jennifer Lowe also spoke strongly against the application, arguing that the council had a duty to protect vulnerable community members.
“There’s an enormous net loss to our community through gambling,” Cr Ermacora said.
“This application reduces the options for people to visit venues without pokies.”
Neither application exceeds the total city cap for pokies