Melton council pokies decision slammed

By Staff Reporter

Melton council has approved a 29-year lease extension allowing AFL club Essendon to continue operating poker machines at Melton Country Club.

The council unanimously voted 8-0 at last week’s meeting in favour of Essendon continuing to run its 89 poker machines at the club until the end of 2047.

However, in a dramatic twist, Cr Steve Abboushi – who was not at the meeting – has since put forward a rescission motion, which has the effect of repealing the council resolution.

“We need an opportunity to hear from all sides, not just Essendon’s,” Cr Abboushi said.

The rescission motion means debate will resume on the Essendon lease at the council’s next meeting in February, provided Cr Abboushi’s motion is seconded by another councillor at the beginning of the meeting.

“I will always consider these matters with an open mind – I just feel that allowing a 29-year lease extension of a council-owned facility without an opportunity to consider all the associated issues is quite serious,” Cr Abboushi said.

“There was absolutely no debate on this matter on Monday [at the council meeting] and I can’t understand why.”

Gambling reform advocate Tim Costello slammed the council’s original decision.

“Unlike its struggling community, City of Melton has so much cash from developers it doesn’t need to make $294,000 a year from an Essendon pokies venue,” he said.

“Melton is one of the fastest growing councils in Australia but also suffers considerable social disadvantage such as high levels of family violence, mortgage stress and crime.

“Council has a moral obligation to not add to this problem by enabling pokies dens to operate in council venues.

“They should read their own 2017 Municipal Health Plan and enact their own strategic objective of ‘reducing harm from gambling’.”

Melton Country Club generated losses from gamblers of $5.685 million in 2017-18 – the lowest of the seven pokies venues in Melton, which collectively drained a record $67.8 million dollars from gamblers over the 12 months to the end of October.

Essendon’s current lease expires in February 2022.

“Melton needs more community facilities, so why not just rip out the pokies, say farewell to Essendon and convert the Melton Country Club into an alternative facility, such as a council-subsidised ‘pokies free’ RSL and bowling club located in a public recreation zone,” Mr Costello said.

“With a deluge of television advertising and kids getting increasingly addicted to the screen, the Australian community has never been more concerned about gambling and they want their elected representatives to do something about it.”

Melton council was contacted for comment.

Joanna Catalano

with The Age