Gambling body fights for funding

GRAEME RAMSEY: 'We have a good case.'
GRAEME RAMSEY: 'We have a good case.'

The High Court will this week be asked to overturn a much-criticised Health Ministry decision to strip the Problem Gambling Foundation (PGF) of its state-funded counselling contract.

The PGF has pressed on with a judicial review of the decision, despite a compromise deal forged earlier this year to delay the handover of the ministry contract to the Salvation Army until February.

High-flying Wellington lawyer Mai Chen will argue at the three-day hearing in Auckland before Judge Peter Woodhouse that the ministry's tender process was fatally flawed. It has been suggested that PGF's political stance as a vocal critic of the gaming industry, pokie rorts and the SkyCity convention centre deal had cost them the contract rather than their performance record.

Fairfax NZ reported earlier this year that a 2011 analysis by management consultants KPMG showed PGF had improved to meet 100 per cent of its service targets in 2010. The report also noted that one disadvantage of the existing system was that PGF's independence meant the ministry had reduced "control over areas such as . . . political neutrality".

It's expected 52 of the 63 PGF staff would lose their jobs should the decision be upheld but chief executive Graeme Ramsey said he had yet to begin the redundancy process.

"We have a good case," said Ramsey. "I think when you've got a process that gives you a strange result, then you've got to question both the design of the process and the way it was conducted. We think it was fundamentally flawed and acted to the disadvantage of PGF, and clearly the work we do and the clients we serve.

"All we want is a fair and robust process."

If the PGF challenge succeeds, the ministry would be almost certainly forced to issue the foundation another temporary extension to their deal so that the process could be re-run. Asked if he thought the hearing could embarrass the ministry, Ramsey said: "You might say that. I couldn't possibly comment."

The Salvation Army's director of national addiction services, Alistair Herring, said he wouldn't attend the hearing. "It doesn't involve us at all. Once the decision is made we will talk about the implication for our services but [until then] we're continuing our normal collaborative approaches within the field - nothing has changed there."

The PGF has already won one judicial review against the ministry - in partnership with the Salvation Army - when they took action over the ministry's calculation of open-air space in relation to a smoking lounge at the SkyCity casino.

The Health Ministry said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the the case, but was "satisfied it followed an appropriate and robust procurement process" and pointed to a review of the process by consultants Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

Sunday Star Times