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Supermarket and pokies “socially irresponsible”

The City of Sydney Council has approved a supermarket in the new Souths Leagues Club building, despite no guarantee the club will be pokie-free as once hoped reports Kelly Lane in the South Sydney Herald of December 2009.

When Peter Holmes à Court and Russell Crowe took over the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2006, they were applauded for their announcement to have a new style of club without poker machines, until Leagues Club members later voted to retain them.

Mr Holmes à Court said last month that, despite his wish to see the Leagues Club free of poker machines, the football club had no power in a final decision. “Russell and I are separate from the Leagues Club,” Mr Holmes à Court said. “We expressed a desire, an aspiration, because we felt it was in the best interest of the community of Redfern ... we were just hoping, imagining, dreaming.”

City of Sydney Councillors were faced with the decision about the DA for the fit-out of the supermarket last month. Prior approval had been given for a supermarket in 2007, but for some Councillors this was on the basis that the club would be pokie-free.

Souths Leagues representatives, who refused comment for this story, have argued that the supermarket is vital to the club’s survival as it is a major tenant in the development.

However, Greens Councillors Irene Doutney and Chris Harris, the only Councillors to vote against the development application, expressed their concern about the potential for a supermarket and poker machines to be housed in the same premises. Cr Doutney said she supported the Leagues Club but it would be “socially irresponsible” for the IGA to be in close proximity to poker machines, because shoppers could be diverted and gamble their food money. “When you live in an area that’s full of people that are on very, very low incomes, many of whom have a number of addiction problems ... it would seem folly to me to put a supermarket in the same building as poker machines,” she said.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore did not take part in the vote because Mr Holmes à Court was a donor to her state election campaign in 2006. Cr Harris said he gave initial approval to the supermarket in 2007 because he saw it as a means of income for the club in the place of revenue from poker machines. “My view now is if they’re going to finance the club with poker machines, they don’t need a supermarket there,” Cr Harris said. “The other thing of significant concern to me is, how much pressure was put on the management of the club and the members of the club by the poker machine industry?”

Labor Councillor Meredith Burgmann had faith in Souths Leagues Club’s intention to submit a development application without reference to poker machines. She said, however, that under the legislation only planning controls should have influenced Council’s decision about the supermarket. “They made a decision and supported a supermarket, so to then say you can’t fit it out because there are poker machines next door is not a lawful decision,” Cr Burgmann said.

The survival of the club was also important to the social fabric of the Redfern area, she said.

“It’s really important that the club be there, as a focus for community sentiment.”

Mr Holmes à Court believes the club may still open in the middle of next year, without poker machines. “Russell and I have only argued from the start for one thing, which is, it’s worth a shot to try and create an environment [where] families want to gather, friends want to watch the football [and] people want to go out to dinner.”

The supermarket will operate from 7am to 10pm seven days a week.

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2009