It’s been a long haul… but the battle for Castlemaine may be moving into its final days. The VCGR this week held a two-day hearing into the Maryborough Highland Society’s application to bring 65 additional poker machines to Castlemaine, and a decision is due within the next four weeks.
It’s not unusual for poker machine applications to be opposed by local councils and community groups; what sets this case apart is the depth and strength of that opposition. Leading from the front has been EPIC (Enough Pokies In Castlemaine), who were formed in late 2010 in direct response to the proposal, and their commitment to this cause has been unflagging. With the support of the council and the vast majority of the Castlemaine public, EPIC have kept the issue alive, kept it visible, gained the support of advocates, politicians and academics alike, and put together the most comprehensive and irrefutable case I have ever seen.
On the first day of the hearing, the applicants put their case forward; on day two it was the opposition’s turn. Close to 600 individual objections were lodged, although there was only time to hear eight of those in person. The Mount Alexander Shire Council also formally opposed the proposal. But the centrepiece was EPIC’s submission: a 104 document that highlighted in detail the growth of local opposition to the proposal over the past two years, and just how widely spread that opposition is.
Romsey remained pokie-free by going to the Supreme Court; Jan Juc did it by marshalling local opposition using social media. EPIC has gone one step further, and in doing so have provided a template for all concerned communities to follow.
There has already been a great deal written about this case and, while the Commission is still deliberating, I’m not going to rehash what has already been said. But I have looked into every case heard by the VCGR over the past few years, and I have never seen such a compelling and unified case to reject an application.
Whatever the result, I can only commend EPIC, the local council and the people of Castlemaine. They have not only made a stand; they’ve stuck to their guns and stayed true to their beliefs. I wish them the very best of luck.
The EPIC submission to the VCGR hearing can be found on their website.
And EPIC’s media release following the VCGR hearing (13 Feb) can be found here.