Community clubs would be used as refuges during extreme heat and smoke events under new laws proposed by the Territory government.
The plan has already attracted criticism from Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson who questioned the appropriateness of these spaces, given people would still be able to access alcohol and gaming machines.
Dr Paterson, who prior to entering politics was a researcher and gambling harm advocate, said it was problematic from a harm-minimisation perspective.
“What concerns me about this bill is that it will be encouraging people to enter an environment during times of potential great mental and health stress – an environment predominately designed around the sale of alcohol and gambling products,” she said in a statement.
“Further, the people who would be most likely to access a club as a ‘smoke and heat refuge’ are potentially the most vulnerable in our community, those who do not have cooling or good ventilation in their homes.”
Dr Paterson also questioned whether the plan would discriminate against people who participated in a self-exclusion scheme or who were prevented from attending clubs for religious or cultural reasons.
The ACT Council of Social Service has previously echoed similar concerns.
The Labor backbencher is considering amendments to the bill, despite the proposed law having already passed through a Labor-Greens cabinet.
In introducing the new laws to the ACT Legislative Assembly, Gaming Minister Shane Rattenbury said Canberrans could expect to face more extreme weather events.
Specifically addressing some of the concerns aired by Dr Paterson, Mr Rattenbury noted clubs would be required to keep an area separate from gaming machines and an open bar.
He said the clubs would form 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.”
Clubs will be designated as a refuge by a ministerial declaration after they have been assessed for their suitability.
Once a declaration is in place, clubs will be able to claim some expenses as community purpose contributions under the Gaming Machine Act.
ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon said the reality was community clubs already served as refuges during smoke and bushfires.
“We welcome the government’s announcement but it’s largely just codifying a function that our members were already providing,” he said.
“When we had those smoke problems in 2019/20 clubs were providing those refuges. This is just putting some structure around it from a government point of view.”
Mr Shannon said clubs had always been dedicated to providing support to the community in emergencies.