Councillor: Keep pokie funds away from WCC

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 08:20 28/09/2012
andy foster
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
ANDY FOSTER: "There is a temptation for the council to say, 'We are going to start favouring organisations we support'."

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A Wellington city councillor has told a select committee that local authorities should not be trusted with pokie funds - contradicting his own council.

Andy Foster told Parliament's commerce select committee yesterday that proposed gambling reforms would leave local councils "horribly conflicted".

The committee is hearing submissions on the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill, which would strip private trusts' powers to distribute pokie funds in favour of local government.

Mr Foster, who was submitting as chairman of the Karori Brooklyn Community Charitable Trust - not as a councillor - said the bill would make councils the regulators, benefactors and distributors of pokie funds.

"There is a temptation for the council to say, 'We are going to start favouring organisations we support'."

Minutes later, councillor Stephanie Cook appeared before the committee to present Wellington City Council's official view, praising the reforms and pushing for even more council powers.

MPs questioned Ms Cook over conflict of interest concerns but she replied that any conflict could be "managed".

After the committee hearing, Ms Cook told The Dominion Post Mr Foster was clearly using his trust hat to push his own views: "Andy snuck in there with a different hat on. It was a bit naughty of him really."

But Mr Foster said he was unaware the council was even making a submission before yesterday.

"[I found out] when Stephanie walked in the room about two minutes before I started talking. The oddity is that I don't think we've had a conversation about it as a council."

Many submitters, including local councils, echoed his concerns about conflicts of interest. New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew, who strongly opposed the bill, said it was difficult to see how councils could not be conflicted.

"They are in the market for additional funding for some of their facilities so it is hard to see how there could not be a conflict."

But many submitters opposing the bill also relied heavily on pokie trust grants to fund their community activities. Twenty-two per cent of provincial rugby club funding comes from gambling losses.

Autism New Zealand, another opponent, receives 40 per cent of its funding through pokie trusts.

Bill supporters argue private trusts are inefficient, spending too much on salaries and expenses.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said councillors were "entitled to express their personal views".

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GAMBLING SHAKE-UP

The Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill would: Phase out private trusts and pass responsibility for distributing pokie funds to local government. Give local government new powers to remove or reduce pokie machines that are considered harmful.

Require pokies to distribute funds from gambling losses within the communities where the money was lost. Require pokie trusts to pass on at least 80 per cent of the gambling losses for charitable grants. The bill, sponsored by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, has passed its first reading and submissions are now being heard by the commerce select committee.

- The Dominion Post

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