Council ‘no stance’ on pokie request
Horsham Rural City Council has voted to take a strategic fence-sitting position in response to a submission to increase electronic gaming machines in the municipality.
The council voted to ‘do nothing’, based on a premise that it was caught in a paradox where the best outcome was most likely to come from inaction.
Cr Joshua Koenig, in moving that the council take the second of three options presented by planning and economic director Angela Murphy, was the best move possible.
The options were to support the application, do nothing or object to the application.
Cr Koenig’s motion came after council debate on a Horsham Sports and Community Club submission to the Victorian Commission of Gaming and Liquor Regulation to increase its electronic gaming machines from 78 to 83.
The issue drew a varied response from councillors, some concerned about the morality of supporting the move, others fearing that failing to support it would lead to a greater lack of control over the distribution of the machines, and one believing the council should maintain a stand against an increase.
Discussion unveiled a belief from some that because the Victorian Commission of Gaming and Liquor Regulation was responsible for gaming machines, that the council would ultimately be powerless in fighting the submission.
This was regardless of a council policy position established in 2012 to advocate against any increase in gaming-machines licences, while encouraging a reduction in licences.
Ms Murphy provided information that if the council was to object, the commission would list the matter for a hearing.
Whether the commission approved or refused the objection, there was an ability by the sports and community club to appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Debate surrounded a strong feeling that there was a risk of wasting money or inadvertently directing gambling money away from the community in fighting the move.
Cr David Grimble, outlining how the club redistributed money generated from the machines into the community, at the same time arguing the move was low-risk, moved to support the submission. Cr John Robinson agreed. “I don’t think legally we have much grounds to object to this,” he said.
“We’re entitled to object but we would incur legal expenses and so would the club.
“The impact would be taking money away from community groups.”
Crs Grimble and Robinson
“If the council does nothing, it is likely that the commission will approve the application” – Angela Murphy
also spoke on fears that if the sport and community club did not get the machines, other less ‘appropriate’ organisations might acquire them.
Cr Mark Radford said he had general concerns about the machines, adding that he could feel obvious ‘tension’ in the chamber surrounding the issue.
“Poker machines are a real problem for some people,” he said.
“Sometimes you have speak up for the small voice and I think this might be a case. For those people I’m voting against this.”
Cr Grimble’s motion was lost in a split vote, which led Cr Koenig to move that the council accept Ms Murphy’s second option, which was to do nothing.
Ms Murphy said in her report that by not responding, the council would declare no support for the application.
“If the council does nothing, it is likely that the commission will approve the application,” she said.
Cr Koenig said the move would result in the best outcome without the council sacrificing moral ground, and his argument drew support from mayor Pam Clarke.
Cr Clarke said the move was a case of taking direct action through inaction.
But Cr Koenig’s motion also attracted responses from Crs Grimble and Robinson, who argued the council was failing in its role to make a decision for the community.