Castlemaine pokies fight ramps up

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A CASTLEMAINE lobby group could this week learn if its bid to stop a poker machine development could set a new precedent.

Enough Pokies in Castlemaine (EPIC) appeared in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Friday.

The anti-poker machine campaigners, represented by high-profile lawyers Maurice Blackburn, applied to join the Mount Alexander Shire Council’s application to overturn a gaming licence.

The council is challenging in VCAT the state’s gaming regulator’s approval of a licence for the Maryborough Highland Society to install 65 new poker machines in Castlemaine.

Maurice Blackburn’s Elizabeth O’Shea, who represents EPIC pro bono, said she hoped to break legal ground with the case.

She said if EPIC’s application was approved, the group would become the first ever community organisation to formally oppose a poker machine development in VCAT.

“This is significant because it is a clear demonstration of the strength and determination of the local community and its preparedness to go where no group has gone before to take action against more pokies,” Ms O’Shea said.

“Everyone knows that pokies can cause great harm to those who become addicted. The harm caused by pokies is of such concern that it has been high on the federal political agenda for the past year.

“In Castlemaine, they’ve watched the battle between Canberra and the pokies clubs, and they know they are up against Goliath.

“They know it is an imbalanced fight, but they are up for giving it their all. In Castlemaine, they know if communities don’t stand up for themselves, the big guys nearly always win.”

An EPIC representative said the VCAT member had reserved his decision and the group expected an announcement later this week.

The Maryborough Highland Society requires a council planning permit as well as a gaming licence.

The council will decide later this month if it will approve a planning permit.

The council has received about 300 objections to the planning permit.

Ms O’Shea said she hoped the EPIC case would set a precedent for other community groups to fight poker machine developments across the state.

“In an era where we lament the decline of social participation, where there is constant talk of increasing social atomisation, EPIC is a welcome antidote,” she said.

“The appeal in VCAT will be a litmus test of how seriously we treat community opposition to gambling. No community should have pokies pushed onto it and when they resist, we have a duty to listen.”

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