Council support for pokie venue

The Mail Exchange Hotel is likely to be granted extra trading time from 1am until 3am, following support from the Melbourne City Council on May 3.

At its Future Melbourne Committee, councillors voted six to four to supply a letter supporting the hotel’s application to the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

Councillors who supported the application relied on planning regulations to justify their position.  But those opposed predicted more misery would be caused by poker machine addiction.

Voting to support the application were councillors Doyle, Riley, Ong, Wood, Pinder-Mortimer and Louey. Voting against were councillors Leppert, Oke, Mayne and Foster.

Planning chair Cr Ken Ong said: “Council has had issues with gaming and this extra two hours means more gaming but, purely from a planning perspective, it ticks all the boxes and complies with the regulations.”

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle concurred, adding: “In becoming a 24 hour city, particularly with 24 hour public transport on the weekends, we need to normalise the city and this is one of the changes that I think will do that – to make 2am to feel more like 11pm.”

This view was further supported by Cr Arron Wood, who said: “We’ve got a planning decision which fits all the planning rules. For me, that’s what this is all about.”

But deputy planning chair Rohan Leppert said council was not bound to make a decision on planning grounds.

“This is not a normal planning application.  Council is able to express an opinion without reference to any policy,” Cr Leppert said.

“We should have an electronic gaming machines policy coming back to us soon but we are entitled in this place, at this time, to express our opinions. My opinion is that I do not want to intensify access to gaming machines in this particular venue in this particular time,” he said.

Cr Stephen Mayne said he could not, in conscience, support the extension.

“I guess the broader context here is that Australians lose more per capita from gambling than any other people in the world and the majority of that is from poker machines,” he said.

“And the machines that are allowable in Australia are particularly dangerous and addictive – so called high-intensity poker machines.”

“We’ve got some perverse approaches to dangerous products in Australia.  Smoking we tax like never before and we’ve got the lowest smoking rates in the world.  Road safety – best policies in the world and lowest deaths on the road per vehicle in the world.”

“But a dangerous gaming product?  Worst in the world,” Cr Mayne said. “So we have poor old state governments addicted to poker machine revenue and making perverse policy decisions which arraigns misery down on the most vulnerable.

When you locate these dangerous products, ideally you don’t put them in shopping centres or next to train stations.”

Council’s planning practice leader Jane Birmingham had earlier reported: “The two hour extension to the licence is considered to be a positive outcome given that it is in a controlled environment with onerous conditions on the existing permit as well as the responsible track record of the management and operator.”

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