Berejiklian government accused of 'starving' Fairfield of pokie funds

Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone is at a loss over funding. Photo: Wesley Lonergan

Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone is at a loss over funding. Photo: Wesley Lonergan

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Millions of dollars have been extracted by the NSW government from poker machine profits in Sydney's most disadvantaged council area, Fairfield, for a statewide infrastructure fund, yet none of it has been spent on facilities there.

The situation has prompted Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone to declare that the Berejiklian government is "taking funds from areas of high need and starving our community of essential infrastructure".

Under the Club Grants Category 3 scheme, 0.4 per cent of a registered club's poker machine profits over $1 million is taken for a state government-administered infrastructure fund.

Councils and organisations bid for grants to fund sporting, health or community infrastructure and decisions are made by the racing minister, currently Paul Toole.

The government is reviewing how applications for poker machine increases are assessed. Photo: Virginia Star

The government is reviewing how applications for poker machine increases are assessed. Photo: Virginia Star

Since the scheme began in 2013, $42.5 million has been raised for the fund from the poker machine profits of NSW registered clubs.

Of that, poker machines in registered clubs in Fairfield have contributed more than $7 million to the scheme, based on an analysis of profit estimates from publicly reported turnover, which is the amount gambled on machines.

Yet no grant funding has gone to the Fairfield area, despite the 13 applications from Fairfield region, including for funds for a park, youth centre fit-out, water park, museum and gallery.

The Club Grants guidelines state consideration should be given to projects that benefit disadvantaged and culturally and linguistically diverse communities as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and regional and remote communities.

A spokesman for Liquor and Gaming NSW pointed out that 123 projects had been funded under the Category 3 scheme since its inception, from 2200 applications.

He said Categories 1 and 2 of the Club Grants scheme, whereby clubs receive tax breaks on pokie profits if they fund groups and facilities, allowed them to put gambling profits "directly back into their local communities".

Category 3 is for "larger community infrastructure projects that usually benefit larger areas than single [council areas]."

"Funded projects in the south-western Sydney area include $250,000 for an upgrade of Anzac Park at Campsie, $500,000 for an extension to Minto indoor sports centre, and $1 million for an upgrade to Whitfield Reserve in Canterbury," he said.

On Tuesday, Fairfax Media revealed Fairfield council was calling on the state government to consider a ban on any new poker machines in its area and others of similarly high risk of gambling harm.

In a submission to a review of the assessment process for pubs and clubs wanting to add new pokies into an area, Fairfield said "no good can come" from further development of the gambling industry there.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said the fact Fairfield had to speak out "shows what an absolute failure successive governments – Labor and Coalition – have been in [NSW] tackling the pokies problem".

"The fact is state governments are hopelessly compromised from the revenue they get from poker machines," he said.

The story, Berejiklian government accused of 'starving' Fairfield of pokie funds, first appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald.

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