A central part of what was seen by many as one of the previous Noosa Council’s high tide marks of leadership – standing up to the powerful gambling lobby – has been quietly and controversially dumped.
In late 2018, the Council under Mayor Tony Wellington made two high-profile moves aimed at the proliferation of poker machines.
- Noosa Council was successful in getting Queensland councils to agree to lobby for legislative reform to give them more oversight over the local ‘creep’ of poker machines.
- And – in a powerful symbol – Noosa became the first Council in Queensland to become a member of the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
Both moves were given majority support in a full, ‘ordinary’ meeting of Noosa Council in December 2018. They received national media coverage.
Noosa Matters has confirmed that the current Noosa Council, under Mayor Clare Stewart, has rescinded its membership of the Alliance, although there is no record of this being made public, or of Noosa Councillors being either consulted or even informed of the move.
Several Councillors have expressed “surprise” that a nationally publicised decision by the former Council was quietly rescinded in this way, “without the opportunity for open discussion and a transparent vote” on such a contentious issue.
This email signed by former Council CEO Brett De Chastel was sent to the Alliance for Gambling Reform on October 15th, 2021.
The former Council CEO explained the decision came about because “we have been looking for budget savings due to the financial challenges associated with Covid. Further, we have had a change of Council following the 2020 Queensland local government election and for our new Mayor, this issue is no longer a priority compared to the many other issues that our Council is currently focused on.”
First, the ”budget savings” referred to in the letter are a mystery.
There is no cost in joining the Gambling Alliance Reform Group. Members can choose to make a donation if they wish but there are no joining fees or annual subscriptions.Report to Noosa Council, 2018.
The letter makes it clear the Council’s anti-gambling stance – membership of the Alliance – was “no longer a priority” for the new Mayor, Clare Stewart.
A toxic tide of Poker Machines on the Sunshine Coast
While New South Wales is the ‘epicentre’ of the poker machine plague in Australia, Queensland and the Sunshine Coast are awash with the machines.
- Sunshine Coast (including Noosa) poker machines: Total 3,797. Estimated takings – $284 million.
- Noosa Poker Machines: 522. Estimated takings – $39 million.
Just across the road from our Council building, Noosa’s largest suburban hotel-casino – the Tewantin Noosa RSL Club – has 195 EGM’s (Electronic Gaming Machines), that’s 37% of Noosa’s total, raking in an estimated $13.65 million per year, much of it from so called ‘problem gamblers’. (estimates are based on several national gambling reports suggesting an average annual take of $70,000 from each machine in clubs)
The RSL club regularly boasts of “giving back” $400,000 a year to the community. That is a fraction – about 3% – of its estimated poker machine revenue.
The former Council’s moves were – largely – an exasperated response to that club’s relentless growth in poker machine numbers without any kind of local planning oversight powers to rein them in.
But there’s an even more whispered-about capture by the gambling lobby here, and that’s the Surf Lifesaving movement, which – in Queensland – has gradually morphed into a giant, taxpayer-funded, hotel development and gambling behemoth, all of it on public, beachfront land.
The Sunshine Coast ‘surf’ clubs run 443 poker machines between them, siphoning an estimated $31-million dollars a year from the local community, and wreaking the havoc, family break-up, suicide and crime that is inevitably associated with the highly-addictive machines.
One of the most divisive expansion battles waged on this part of the coast is the continuing push to build a giant new ‘surf club’ hotel on the beachfront at Peregian Beach, a battle waged through the proxy of a group called Peregian Family and Friends, but tacitly supported by the big surf clubs in the area, particularly Noosa Heads.
A bad look for Noosa Council that can be repaired
The move to walk back the anti-gambling leadership of the previous Noosa Council came as a surprise to several Councillors and some are likely to be deeply unsettled by it.
At the very least, this is far from a proud moment for our Mayor and Council, as the lack of transparency around the decision would seem to suggest.
Now that this decision has finally seen the light of day, perhaps it’s time for the matter to be reviewed…and this time by a full, public meeting of Council.