Board accused of secret inducements

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 13:22 11/03/2014

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The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust has accused the board that partly funds it of having a confidential gifts and inducements register.

Addressing a meeting of the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board today, trust chairman Murray Bolton suggested board members may have received free tickets from orchestra, theatre and opera businesses that they fund, and said it needed to make those gifts public.

The accusation comes in the middle of litigation by the trust against the board following big cuts in the funding the board provides the trust.

In 2008, Parliament legislated that the rescue helicopter service would be part-funded by the amenities board with an indicated amount of $1.5 million a year.

The board has since cut this funding by 70 per cent to $450,000.

Funding for the arts has increased in this time.

Bolton told the board this morning that constant funding cuts would not be tolerated any longer, especially as the helicopter service was the only one of 10 regional amenities to have had its funding cut by the board.

"We are already suing this board for irrationality, illegality and unfairness with respect to their decisions for 2013-14 and we will sue them again every year until they restore our funding to something at least comparable with the amount indicated by Parliament," Bolton said.

He said the board must comply with the law in carrying out its functions.

"You cannot make arbitrary decisions outside the law, especially not those influenced by improper considerations," he said.

"We do not provide free helicopter joy rides for members of this funding board because ours is an essential service. We wonder if that has been our mistake.

"We wonder if free tickets to gala openings of the orchestra or the opera have been in play here.

"How is anyone to know? After all, you have refused to release your secret register of pecuniary interests. You refuse to tell us, the media, the mayor, or the people of Auckland just who it is that has been giving you gifts and why."

Bolton said funding for the orchestra, theatre and opera businesses had increased every year while funding for the rescue helicopter had been consistently cut.

Board chairman Vern Walsh said there was no secret register for gifts.

"We can't make something that doesn't exist available," he said.

"We have a policy of gifts and the like, and we fit within that policy."

Board member Grant Lilly said the accusations were not based in fact and "the money is allocated to perceived need".

Lilly said the rescue helicopter operated a very successful business, but Bolton said the trust should not be penalised because of that.

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The board funds 10 amenities including the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Auckland Theatre Company.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter last year carried out 923 emergency rescue missions.

- Fairfax Media

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