I too thank the chair and my colleagues on the committee, Mr Smyth, Ms Lawder, Ms Porter and Mr Rattenbury, for this very wide-ranging inquiry and the tabling ultimately of this report today.
I also reiterate my thanks to the committee staff for a very long process but it was a worthy process and one which did really go to a very wide range of issues, as both Mr Smyth and Mr Rattenbury have noted.
It was really good for the committee as a whole, I think, to hear from such a wide range of witnesses throughout the course of the hearing. It did go to every aspect of the club sector in the ACT and of club life as it is lived through the clubs themselves, the broader community, community service organisations as well as the many community and sporting organisations that are supported by the work of clubs.
I personally learnt a lot throughout this inquiry. For me some aspects of the clubs debate were reconfirmed. Some were contested. I believe collectively we all learnt something new. It was really an opportunity to get a better picture of the challenges and opportunities that are facing the club sector and their contributions broadly to the ACT.
As Mr Smyth and Mr Rattenbury noted, I was very pleased to be able to work with the committee to get a key findings page with a broad brush of recommendations put forward. There are a considerable number of them. I think the government will look at each recommendation on its own merits. They may not collectively present a completely coherent approach to a formal government response to the challenges that face the clubs sector but all up they are all worthy of consideration by the government.
The key findings go to the collective agreement by all members of the committee after hearing all the evidence that was put before us. That is also something that I think the clubs sector and the broader community services sector can take away—in a sense, the compact of the committee members on the importance of clubs in our community.
For me, throughout this inquiry it was important that we come to a broad agreement and also do what we could in offering to the government suggestions on how the club sector could grow and be sustained into the future—suggestions that are realistic and achievable in the context of our community and in the context of the current policy settings we are operating in.
It was very clear that clubs provide considerable measurable and considerable unmeasurable positive impact. They are very much a social glue for many members of our community and a place where a great range of interests and activities is pursued. It was very clear throughout the course of the inquiry that clubs know that they need to diversify, know that they need some help to diversify and know that that is their future. Clearly it is a sector that is in transition, and there are a number of options in front of us. One of the challenges for the committee was to put forward a framework of options to consider but not have so many options that it was in a sense death by a thousand cuts.
It was also clearly, as Mr Rattenbury spoke of, a dilemma for some in our community around the issue of problem gambling and the use of poker machines. I certainly agree that we need to work with the club sector to secure their long-term viability and diversify business models away from a reliance on gaming revenue but it is very clear the club sector have known that for a long time.
This was probably the core of the issues that the committee grappled with. We certainly do need to understand better what the impact of problem gaming is on our community and also recognise that there is a very broad range of clubs, from very small clubs who may only open, to my surprise, up to six to nine hours a week, to much larger clubs that employ hundreds of people and have thousands of people through their doors every day. Each of them, and clubs collectively, makes a significant social and economic contribution to the ACT.
I thought and reflected on my own use of clubs, which particularly has come through having small children and having somewhere to be able to go, frankly, where we can enjoy a meal and they can go off and play in the kids’ room. Those people that either do not have or are past having small children will reflect on the importance of having a club where you can go to where you can enjoy a meal out or where you can meet other friends with small children and have the kids happily playing off in an area where, we are always reminded, we need to supervise the activities of our kids.
Throughout the course of my weekly life I know that sporting clubs meet in community clubs. My own school P&C occasionally meets in a sporting club. Certainly I know political parties meet in clubs. There are so many different activities that are taking place every day across the community where clubs really provide an opportunity to meet and congregate.
We certainly heard from a number of community organisations throughout the course of the inquiry—literally dozens and dozens of submissions. But in particular some of the ones that particularly struck me were the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and their evidence to the inquiry; the Tuggeranong Vikings Women’s Hockey Club; the Belconnen Tennis Club; and the Burlesque club also made an effective presentation to the committee. The contributions in the scheme of so many of the issues that we talk about in this place sometimes can go into the billions of dollars.
What a lot of these clubs were talking to us about was the real importance of the $5,000 and $10,000 that they receive each year from community clubs and how much that matters to their own operations. They deliver a big bang for their buck. Particularly on this issue, at a very simple level it is clear that a proportion of poker machine revenue is then provided back in the form of community contributions to these organisations.
A number of people more broadly in the community made the case to the inquiry that it somehow diminishes this contribution. I share some level of personal unease at this. However, when it was put to a number of these community organisations that came to the inquiry whether they shared that view, they said they did not and they outright, in a couple of cases, refuted that notion.
What this said to me, throughout the course of the inquiry, was that we need to understand more, as both Mr Smyth and Mr Rattenbury have said, about the impact of problem gambling on our community. We need to know more about who gambles, why they gamble and the issues of stigma surrounding people with a gambling problem. We need to know what programs work and what programs do not work.
Gambling is not something that I personally do but it is an activity that people legitimately undertake in our community in many forms every day. Certainly many activities that cause some level of harm exist throughout our community. Alcohol is an obvious comparison. Moderate use is fine, even pleasurable, but abuse of alcohol can cause immense harm on our roads, in our homes and in our hospitals.
Increasingly we are also talking as a community about obesity and its long-term harm to individuals and its impact on our health system. Certainly in all these cases, as is the case with problem gambling, prevention is always better than cure but I think we need to know more about the nature of these problems and what works to address them.
In my mind there seems to be a level of mismatch between some of the more alarmist views of the anti-poker machine advocates and the daily experiences of people who use clubs. I think there is a middle ground and I think we did a considerable amount of work in this committee trying to find that middle ground.
The issue of stigma was brought up by a number of different witnesses before the committee. People who suffer from problem gambling feel a great stigma around that. I reflect on whether some of the very alarmist discussions in our community about the use of poker machines may actually contribute to that. So I think we need a better and more balanced debate about that. A better and more balanced debate can come from a better understanding of the nature of the problem.
I hope that in general the community and the government will look at this report and see that we have agreed on a number of key findings. I also certainly think, as I noted earlier, that there is recognition in the club sector and in the broader community that clubs need to be able to diversify. They are calling for that, and the government is responding.
This committee was asked to consider some of those issues, and one of those was around land development. It is clear to all of us that community clubs are set on significant land holdings but I do not agree that this should be the only path to diversification. The simple fact is that some clubs may not be able to survive on their current land holdings but this does not mean that they may not be able to survive in some other form.
Personally, I did not agree to the complete removal of all fees and charges for club land diversification for two main reasons. It is not fair or equitable to the community that one sector is able to have complete removal of all fees and charges.
One particular issue was the lease variation charge, and no matter whom I spoke to in the community—and I have been, as many members of this place have been, spoken to by members of industry and the community about the lease variation charge—not a single person has disagreed with the principle of community deriving a benefit back from an increase in the value of the land that is unearned. Yes, there is considerable disagreement on the nature of the formula and the amounts to be paid but the simple principle of not having a windfall gain from a change in a lease is not, in my experience, after quite some extensive advocacy from a range of people, fundamentally disagreed with.
Removing all fees and charges from any form of land development provides an unrealistic path for clubs. Not all clubs will have the capacity to undertake significant land redevelopment. That will mean that other opportunities are not explored—perhaps smarter paths that clubs can explore to diversify their business model that is not solely based on land development. For example, there are co-working spaces springing up, start-ups emerging from many parts of our community, and clubs in different parts of our city may have opportunities to draw on local skills and resources to actually seek another path to their business diversification. That goes to one of the recommendations also around diversification, to see if the government would like to engage the Canberra Business Chamber to find other forms of business diversification that do not solely rely on land.
As Mr Rattenbury noted, he and I agreed to an alternative recommendation around the lease variation charge, which was not agreed to by the majority of the committee, that there be a remission of a proportion of any lease variation charge applicable for purposes that include a demonstrable community benefit including but not limited to child care, healthcare and health services, aged-care services and accommodation, sporting, fitness and recreation facilities, and affordable rental accommodation. Sadly, that was not agreed to by the committee but hopefully it may provide the government an alternative framework in which to consider some of the land development recommendations which came out of this report.
At the end of the day valuable community land was provided by the community on the basis that it provide benefit back to the community. I believe that some community offset should be returned. I accept that jobs, the hospitality services of the clubs and the broader economic activity make a contribution but I do not believe that broad sections of our community would view that specifically as a community offset in return for land.
Clubs hold proudly to the fact that they are also not-for-profit community stakeholders and they share the view that this is an important part of their role in the ACT community. I also think that in this process it was clear that there had been a cumulative regulatory impact over time on revenue for clubs but such large amounts of revenue from poker machines make me uneasy, as I think it does many members of the ACT community.
On the issue of community contribution Mr Rattenbury noted also that I had proposed and the committee agreed in total to a two per cent increase to the community contribution rate from eight per cent to 10 per cent. There was some discussion around the pros and cons of having that additional two per cent in a central fund. Potentially it is something that the government could consider even though it was not agreed to by the committee. I recognise that there are pros and cons to that but it was discussed in the committee as a way of providing a wider range of people to consider how this two per cent could be spent most broadly across the community, which I think provided a reasonable balance.