CLUB CANCELS CHRISTMAS
By CRAIG McTEAR
MIKE Hawkins can't help feeling a little like Scrooge at the moment.
The Coffs Harbour Catholic Club secretary-manager has announced the cancellation of the club's traditional kids' Christmas party, and he is blaming poker machine tax increases for the unfortunate decision. Other clubs statewide have gone the same way. The final nail in the coffin came when Coffs Harbour's Aquajet closed.
The facility has hosted the Christmas party for the past 15 to 20 years at a cost to the club of only $600 annually for about 400 children and their parents, but the closure forced Mr Hawkins to scout around for other venues.
He said the quotes he obtained were 'quite frightening', including one for $12,000, while he estimated it would cost $6000 to stage the party in the club's car park.
"We did look at a Christmas pantomime, but a lot of the acts we use don't come through until January," Mr Hawkins said.
"When you look at it, the Aquajet was important to the community because many other organisations made use of its facilities as well."
He said cancelling the children's Christmas party was one of the hard decisions the club has had to make in the wake of increased poker machine taxes.
Management has also had to cut back on things like members' discounts for over-the-bar purchases (down from 10 per cent to five per cent), which has resulted in savings of $50,000 per year, and reviewing meal subsidies for service clubs, which hasn't gone down well.
An assistant manager and six other staff members who left last year haven't been replaced, and plans to build units in nearby Gundagai Street have also been put on hold.
However, the Christmas toy raffle, where $8000 worth of toys will be given away, is still going ahead, as are the Sunday family nights and regular children's entertainment.
The members' Christmas party has also escaped the axe.
Sawtell RSL Club is still going ahead with its children's Christmas party.
"We've decided that even though things are getting harder and harder with poker machine tax, it's part of the Sawtell RSL Club giving a bit back to our loyal members, and obviously the kids will lose out if we don't have it," the club's assistant manager Greg Rae said.
"We have had to tighten up on a few things, such as the amount we give to sporting bodies, because of poker machine tax. If it keeps going on it's going to be a real worry.
"There is discussion about a ceiling on poker machine tax increases, otherwise we've got it until 2010. It has gone up dramatically."
Coffs Ex-Services Club president David Doyle said the club's Christmas party for kids would proceed this year, but there was no guarantee in future years because of the impact of poker machine tax increases.
"Next year is going to be a hard year for us. That's when the poker machine tax we pay will jump from $600,000 to $1.2 million," Mr Doyle said.
"We would have to look seriously at Christmas parties and other things we normally fund.
"We've already withdrawn our sponsorship of the Wallabies.
"Middle-range clubs are really suffering badly with this tax impost.
"When you consider a kids' Christmas party would cost something like $20,000, taking into account food and entertainment, that's a fair whack for smaller and middle-range clubs.
"Clubs have always supported the community to the best of their ability but it's getting to the stage where you have to have a double look at your expenses."