31 January 2023

Paterson wants clubs to put gaming and alcohol on hold when declared refuges

| Ian Bushnell
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Dr Marisa Paterson

Dr Marisa Paterson: “Canberrans should be able to access a safe and inclusive environment when seeking refuge in an extreme event.” Photo: Michelle Kroll.

ACT clubs declared as refuges during emergencies would not be able to serve alcohol and run gaming machines under proposed amendments to legislation introduced late last year.

Anti-gambling Labor MLA Dr Marisa Paterson made her feelings known when the ACT Government unveiled its plans in December to deploy the city’s community clubs as places where people could seek shelter during bushfires and extreme heat and smoke events.

The draft legislation allows clubs to continue business as normal and she feared for vulnerable people with gambling and alcohol issues entering such an environment in times of great stress.

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Last week she submitted amendments to the Gaming Machine (Club Refuge) Amendment Bill to the Legislative Assembly Scrutiny Committee proposing that the service of alcohol and all gambling activity in the club cease while a government refuge declaration is in place.

“Canberrans should be able to access a safe and inclusive environment when seeking refuge in an extreme event,” Dr Paterson said.

“Government facilitating people’s access to venues that serve alcohol and gambling products during this time is highly problematic from a harm minimisation perspective.”

Dr Paterson said the amendments would also allow for people who participate in self-exclusion schemes to seek refuge in clubs during the declaration period.

“As long as clubs facilitate gambling activity, particularly poker machines, any government legislation that facilitates or encourages entry to these venues needs to ensure that the risk of people experiencing gambling harm is reduced or zero,” she said.

The ACT Council of Social Services has backed Dr Paterson’s concerns.

“A community club should only be considered for use as a heat and smoke refuge if the club is pokie- and gambling-free or if all gambling and alcohol service is ceased for the period that the club is used as a refuge,” it has said.

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Gaming Minister Shane Rattenbury said last month that clubs would be required to keep an area separate from gaming machines and an open bar.

He said clubs would be only one element of the refuge program, expected to be in place by December 2023.

Other options include libraries, child and family centres, and community centres.

“The ACT Government has chosen to include clubs as refuges because they are spread out across the Territory and therefore can offer good access and ready respite to many community members,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“Many of these club venues provide our community with access to ventilation and air-cooling systems that many people just don’t have in their own homes.”

ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon said last month community clubs already served as refuges during smoke and bushfires, and the legislation would provide a proper framework for that.

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The requirement for clubs to keep an area separate from gaming machines and an open bar whilst providing a safe haven in an emergency is ludicrous. That is just like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coup but keeping the hen’s separate. Clubs claim they are community minded and caring for their citizens. There for the common good and providing support to our citizens in times of emergencies. For too long our clubs’ unscrupulous behaviour has seen them circumventing laws and preying on vulnerable citizens. Their business cases are designed around misery and raking in money from grog and gambling addiction. These new laws will provide strict caveats to protect our citizens against their predatory and unconscionable behaviour.
Go for it Dr Marisa Paterson!!

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