NSW premier-in-waiting Barry O’Farrell says registered clubs and housing developers have been unfairly treated by Labor during its 16 years in office. O’Farrell vows to give the powerful sectors — who have been among Labor’s biggest financial backers — more support if elected as Premier.

“The club industry has suffered what the property sector has suffered,” O’Farrell told a luncheon of local businesspeople and politicians in Sydney’s western suburbs yesterday. The view from Labor that if you simply take another slice of tax off the top then you’ll end up with more money in the kitty and nothing will happen to the sector.”

O’Farrell said clubs are often better at providing services to the local community than governments: “As the BER demonstrated, other people besides state governments spend money better. Other people can stretch a dollar to where it is a dollar as opposed to what happened when it comes through state coffers.”

The Coalition has promised to give NSW clubs $300 million in tax relief if elected, with $270 million of this to be spent on community services such as welfare and junior sport.

O’Farrell says the party also opposes the introduction of a compulsory precommitment poker machine scheme. The Gillard government, as part of its agreement with Andrew Wilkie, has committed to introducing the scheme nationally by 2013.

He says he favours a voluntary precommitment scheme because, as he has learnt through his battle with weight loss, “you have to start with some personal responsibility”.

As for developers, the Coaliton has promised to give priority to the release of land on Sydney’s north-west and south-west fringes. An independent report by the Department of Planning found that the Coalition’s plan will see an extra 128,000 homes built on the city’s outskirts.

In 2007-2008 Clubs NSW donated $203,000 to NSW Labor and the party received big money from housing tycoons until it banned developer donations in 2009. Property developer Roy Medich donated more than $200,000 to NSW Labor between 2005 and 2008. Although O’Farrell’s promises went down a treat with his lunch guests yesterday, Greens upper house MP John Kaye said it was “utter nonsense” to say that clubs and developers have been doing it rough under Labor.

“O’Farrell should remember that he is the Premier for all of NSW and that problem gambling and over-development are both plagues that affect the state,” Dr Kaye said. “Instead of narrow-casting to sectional interests he should be working with the people of NSW to resolve both these issues.

“Mr O’Farrell needs to think more carefully about the 50,000 people in NSW with gambling problems … and their families before he starts giving the clubs more breaks to get bigger and do more damage.”

According to the Productivity Commission, clubs in NSW receive tax breaks worth $500 million a year. They pay less pokie tax than pubs and receive exemptions in income from members. Dr Kaye adds that “clubs are not efficient deliverers of community services”.

“Providing the clubs massive tax breaks behind the excuse of community services does not stack up economically,” he said. “Woe betide the state of NSW if that is the standard of economic analysis the government will be using.”

Clubs NSW spokesman Jeremy Bath told Crikey he agreed with O’Farrell that clubs had done it tough under 16 years of Labor.

He says 335 clubs have closed or been forced to amalgamate during Labor’s time in office and 9000 direct jobs have been lost during the past seven years. He said clubs in western Sydney fund important services such as air-conditioning in schools where none is provided, as well as literacy and numeracy programs in areas with a high number of migrants.

“If the Greens think programs administered by the government is the most economically efficient way,” he said, “then I politely suggest they have been living in a media vacuum the past few years.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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