Chris Johnson August 21, 2012
Priests will have to pay and nuns will have to get in the habit, too, if they want to remain members of their local Southern Cross Club.
The Canberra Southern Cross Club is outraged it is being forced to charge its so-called ''religious members'' an annual membership fee, even though ministers have been exempted from coughing up since the club's establishment in the 1970s. The Southern Cross Club has six branches across the ACT, including the Yacht Club in Yarralumla, and has long given nuns and priests honorary memberships.
All up, the club has about 85,000 members, with about 80 of them being religious members.
Its membership guidelines stipulate that religious members are free from the $5 annual fee and to qualify they must be ''any priest, brother, nun, minister or spouse or full-time student of a recognised religion''.
The rules further state that: ''A person who qualifies for and elects to be in this category is not eligible to be an officer or director of the club and is not entitled to vote.'' Those might be the club's rules, but the law of the land has a different view.
ACT legislation requires that every member of a club that is licensed for gaming must pay a membership fee unless they have been given a life membership.
The Southern Cross Club hasn't been adhering to this requirement.
When this was brought to the attention of the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission recently, it acted to pull the club into line.
The commission's chief executive Greg Jones told The Canberra Times yesterday that it was a simple matter of the club having to obey the law. ''Every member of a club in the ACT needs to pay a fee unless they are a life member,'' he said.
''It is about being consistent with the legislative requirement that has been in place for 15 or 20 years now.'' The Canberra Times understands that Gaming Minister Joy Burch is not too happy that the matter is being pursued and that thousands of dollars have been spent on legal advice.
But there is little the minister can do about it. A spokesman for her kept to the official line when asked yesterday. ''There is a longstanding requirement under the Gaming Machine Act that membership of all licensed clubs (clubs licensed for gaming machines) must pay a membership fee, or be life members,'' the spokesman said.
Officials from the commission have been working with the club to find a solution that minimises the impact on the club and its members without the need for legislative change.
The club's chief executive officer, Greg Mitchell, did not return calls yesterday, but other club sources confirmed there is a lot of anger about the situation.