Gambling funding reasons rejected

The Government has pulled nearly all of its funding from the Problem Gambling Foundation, but Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has rejected claims the cuts are in retaliation to its opposition to the SkyCity conference deal. 

The foundation was vocally opposed to the deal struck by the Government, which saw consent granted for an additional 500 gaming machines at Auckland’s SkyCity, in return for the casino building a national convention centre.

The Ministry of Health has confirmed the national contract to provide anti-gambling advocacy and harm prevention services will now go to the Salvation Army.  

Labour and the Greens have lashed the decision, questioning the capability of the Salvation Army to provide the same level of service.

Labour’s internal affairs spokesman Trevor Mallard said the foundation was the largest provider of problem gambling services in Australasia and ‘‘it is hard to imagine a more qualified organisation to do this work’’.

Green Party gambling spokeswoman Denise Roche – whose husband founded the Problem Gambling Foundation – said the Salvation Army was also opposed to the SkyCity deal, but the difference was that it wasn’t reliant on Government funds at the time. 

‘‘If an organisation has to reduce its ability to advocate in fear of losing its funding, then we’re losing democracy.

 ‘‘Salvation Army was able to talk about their opposition to the casino extension because they weren’t as heavily reliant on government funding.’’ 

She said it wasn’t surprising the Salvation Army would be an alternative, but questioned its ethos.  ‘‘I’m not sure it’s the same sort of style that a Christian-based organisation would follow.’’ 

Mr Dunne said the review had been on the cards for some time, and rejected claims the funding cut was payback.  ‘‘Just because they [the foundation] have problem gambling in their title, doesn’t mean they become the default provider,’’ he said.

Health Ministry group manager Rod Bartling said negotiations were still continuing, but the tender process was fair and independently assessed by accountancy firm PwC.

The ministry was meeting all affected groups over the coming weeks to discuss the decision, he said.

Yesterday, foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey, in an email to ‘‘friends and stakeholders’’, confirmed the funding had been pulled for all services except Asian Family Services.

The foundation had counselled more than 25,000 people over the past two decades.

‘‘This will have a significant impact on our organisation but we will ensure our service to clients continues until the end of our existing contract. This finishes at the end of June.

‘‘We thank you for your support of PGF and will keep you informed of further developments as we work through this process and plan our future.’’

Salvation Army national director for addiction services Captain Gerry Walker said he could not comment as negotiations were ongoing.

‘‘All I can say at the moment is we submitted a tender to an open tender process late last year and we are waiting to receive a contract, which will describe what will be offered for the new period.’’ 

The Salvation Army will take over the contract from July 1.

Fairfax Media