By Matthew Kirwan, Greater Dandenong Councillor
I wanted to be a Greater Dandenong Councillor representative for the Alliance for Gambling Reform because it is an issue that I have been passionate about for a long time.
There are two questions I often get asked.
The first question is why I got involved in politics.
When I answer, people expect to hear education or health or inequality or climate change.
Instead I tell them it was pokies.
It is an answer that often surprises people.
But the reason why that was the issue for me, is because having lived all my life in Greater Dandenong I have been well aware of the immense damage that pokies have made to this particular community – to individuals, to families, to friends, to businesses.
It is not an issue of individual responsibility. Instead it is an issue we have a collective responsibility to solve.
And I remember what it was like before pokies came to Greater Dandenong.
So when I hear that having less pokies or having pokies that are not so addictive would mean the closing of hotels, the closing of sporting clubs and the end or reduction of their so-called community contributions, I know full well that all of these existed before pokies and that if they continue to have meaning for our communities, they will continue to exist after gambling reform.
And when I hear about the revenue it brings into government coffers, I reflect that the revenue could instead come from the benefits of increased spending in restaurants and other activities rather than pokies, growing businesses that provide much more employment than pokies – not to mention the reduced health and welfare spending by governments trying to repair the damage that pokies have made.
The second question I often get asked is “what has gambling reform got to do with local councils anyway?” and why aren’t I busy being concerned about parks and libraries and footpaths.
I answer that one of the key legislated roles of a councillor is to advocate what is important to change for the welfare of their communities.
We are a community that in many neighbourhoods has a high degree of disadvantage.
We are vulnerable to pokies like no other community in Victoria.
The damage that pokies do to Greater Dandenong is well-documented.
The importance of gambling reform for our community is clear.
That’s why it’s vital for our council to advocate for it.
I was reading recently an article by noted advocate Phil Glendenning.
He was writing about a different issue but I think it is equally relevant to gambling reform.
He wrote that: “It is very easy in times like this to turn cynical. To do so, however, would be a mistake, for I have long held that cynicism is simply an elegant form of surrender. These are not days to surrender. These are days to be vigilant, mobilise, engage and take action.”
That is what Greater Dandenong Council with their partners in the Alliance for Gambling Reform are doing.
Not being cynical, not surrendering, but mobilising, engaging and taking action.
We are not asking for prohibition – just for sensible gambling reforms.
We are asking for machines that are not designed to be addictive, for lower numbers of poker machines in disadvantaged areas like Greater Dandenong, and for councils to have a meaningful role in applications for new venues and applications to increase the numbers of machines.
We are not wallowing in cynicism that things can’t change.
The fact that we have a Tasmanian election being fought on this issue is promising.
The fact that the addictive and deceptive nature of machines is being challenged in our courts is promising.
At a local level the Club Noble decision – a decision unthinkable a few years back – is promising.
But even without these causes for optimism, it wouldn’t be any less vital for our council to campaign on this issue.
It is that important.