South-west Sydney wants to open its libraries after dark to help gambling addicts

The Fairfield local government area is hoping to introduce the Libraries After Dark program, first trialled in Victoria, to its communities.

Woman at Window in Library

Anti-gambling advocates want libraries to be able to stay open later. Source: The Image Bank RF/Getty

For former refugee Bich Thuy Pham, it was a gambling addiction which tore apart her new life in Australia. 

Ms Pham met her former partner while in a Malaysian refugee camp and had little idea of his struggles until years after she arrived in Australia with him in the 1990s. 

"Everything was very normal for a long time but gradually I noticed money and expensive things in the house would go missing constantly. He would disappear and come back looking for more money," she told SBS News. 

"I tried to keep the family together because that is part of the culture to do so," she said, but it didn't work out. 

Bich Thuy Pham with her son in her earlier days in Australia.
Source: Supplied

Ms Pham and her partner separated and she has spent the last 20 years working as a Vietnamese community worker in Fairfield, south-west Sydney, assisting others who are impacted by similar addictions.

Ms Pham works for Asian Women at Work Inc - a network of Asian migrant women workers "that empowers, resources and assists women ... and enables them to understand and contribute to Australian society". 

She and others working at the grassroots level are calling for more solutions to be put in place to divert people away from gaming machine venues, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Anti-gambling advocates estimated the closure of pokie clubs earlier in 2020 due to the lockdown measures saved Australians up to $1.5 billion, but they were switched back on in New South Wales in June. 

One suggestion is to bring the Libraries after Dark program - first trialled in Melbourne in 2017 - to the area. The program is designed to provide at-risk groups with a range of social or recreational options during the evening. 

Marie Saliba from Core Community Services, which operates in south-west Sydney and represents the local communities in the area said: "There aren't as many options for families that are away from alcohol, away from gambling venues, and we hope that by utilising existing infrastructure in the area, by just allowing libraries to stay open a little longer, it provides an alternative option for people who may feel isolated".

It's an issue impacting migrants and costing them big. 

According to 2016 Census data, more than 50 per cent of people living in Fairfield were born overseas with 16.1 per cent arriving in Australia in the five years prior to 2016.

More than 30 per cent of the people living in the area are considered to be from low-income households but Fairfield has one of the highest incomes from gaming machines in clubs. In the NSW Government's last bi-annual report to May 2020, net profit from gaming machines in the area totalled more than $111 million. The next highest profit area in the state is Canterbury-Bankstown at $104 million. 

Marie Saliba hopes the NSW Government will fund the Libraries After Dark program in Sydney.
Source: SBS News

"There is nowhere else in the world that looks like New South Wales with having poker machines on nearly every suburban corner and migrants who come here often coming from countries where gambling is illegal entitled to think that the government wouldn't put so many things around the place that aren't safe," said Kate Da Costa from Alliance For Gambling Reform.

"Although it's legal, it's not safe."

Ms Da Costa has been working with the local community in Fairfield to bring Libraries after Dark to the area. 

It's understood the program achieved well over twice its participation target after being trialled in four local council areas in Melbourne and funding for the program - provided by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation - has been extended until 2023.

Libraries involved in the program are able to stay open until 10pm on Thursdays, although the program has been on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Darebin Mayor Susan Rennie, a long time gambling reform advocate who helped spearhead the Victorian program, said part of its success was changing the way people thought about libraries.

"Libraries have changed enormously over the last decade. There are lots of activities there - conversation groups, craft groups, chess, movie nights - so books are only a small part of what's on offer," she said. 

"In our communities there are quite a lot of people from non-English-speaking backgrounds and there was programming activities in-language that catered for that as well."

Ms Saliba said grassroots groups in the Fairfield area have prepared a joint letter to representatives from the NSW Government asking for the initiative to be piloted in south-west Sydney. 

GamblingHelpOnline.org.au provides a list of services for people affected by gambling. A free counselling, information and support line is available 24/7 on 1800 858 858. Contact the Multicultural Problem Gambling Service for NSW on 1800 856 800. 


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Published 27 October 2020 at 6:28pm
By Lin Evlin

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