WEST Warrnambool residents have been insulted by a planning tribunal ruling that labelled the suburb as poor.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) refused last week to allow Rafferty’s Tavern to gain a poker machine permit, blocking the pub’s bid to install 19 machines as part of an $800,000 planned refurbishment.
In its public statement, VCAT suggested “the risk of harm to the more vulnerable community of west Warrnambool represented a social and economic disadvantage which outweighed any (business) benefits”.
Several long-time residents of west Warrnambool gathered around the tavern’s bar yesterday to voice their disdain at having the area branded as a poor neighbourhood.
Doc Keats, Greg Lane, Bert Edwards and Brian Douglas have all shared a beer at Rafferty’s Tavern since the hotel first opened its doors in 1989. All four men are supporters of the tavern’s planned expansion and told The Standard they were insulted by how VCAT and the city council had handled the issue.
“It is discrimination at its most blatant,” Mr Keats said yesterday.
“Warrnambool shares the one postcode, whether you live near the Merri or the Hopkins river, we’re all the same city.
“To say that one area can’t have pokies because it’s seen by council as a slum is just plain insulting.”
Warrnambool is classified as one survey district by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, although it excludes Allansford and Dennington. VCAT used Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) of Disadvantage data as part of its investigation in whether the new development was appropriate for the neighbourhood.
Mr Lane was born and bred in west Warrnambool near the present site of the tavern.
He has operated several businesses in the region and said he believed council had an “anti-small business agenda”.
“I’m not a huge fan of pokies and I believe that their should be one-dollar caps instead of people feeding in $50 notes or whatever,” Mr Lane said.
“Having said that, I understand its importance to pubs who are struggling with the pressures of below-cost beer and spirits from the supermarkets.”
Mr Edwards and Mr Douglas both criticised city councillors for taking a “top down” approach to the issue and claimed the VCAT decision was patronising.
Rafferty’s Tavern manager John Hodge organised the gathering and said the business was planning further legal action.
He said he had received numerous complaints about the VCAT decision since it was handed down last week. “This whole process has been a repeated slap in the face to west Warrnambool,” Mr Hodge said.
Warrnambool mayor Jacinta Ermacora told The Standard last week she was pleased VCAT had acknowledged the city council’s position on poker machines.
“The decision is a victory for those who are worried about the impact of gambling on our community and it’s a victory for council’s policy in this area,” Cr Ermacora said last week.
“(The tavern’s) proximity to disadvantage neighbourhoods was a major factor and the disproportionate impact gambling has on those neighbourhoods.”