Taskforce not satisfied with response

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 14/05/2012

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A response from the Nelson City Council has failed to satisfy the Nelson Gambling Taskforce, which urged it five weeks ago to ensure a gambling policy review was transparent, open and followed best practice.

The taskforce, along with the Problem Gambling Foundation, Nelson District Kindergarten Association, Victory Community Centre, Nelson Residents' Association and student association at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, sent an open letter to the council asking that it take special care around conflicts of interest as it carried out the review.

It also said councillors with any direct or indirect links to the gaming industry should not take part in any discussions or decision-making around it.

In a two-paragraph reply, council acting chief executive Richard Johnson said councillors were "quite familiar" with their legal obligations relating to conflicts of interest, and it was up to them to decide on and declare any such conflicts.

Taskforce spokeswoman Hester Phillips said the group was "very disappointed" with the response, especially since the council appeared not to have taken legal advice before replying.

The law clearly stated that it was an offence for a member of an authority to participate in the discussion or voting on any matter in which they had a pecuniary interest (one that involves money).

She said councillor Pete Rainey, one of the national organisers of Rockquest, had what must reasonably be seen as a conflict of interest in constructing gambling policy, since the event had relied heavily on Lotteries Commission and pokie trust grants.

The law was "quite explicit" in preventing people with pecuniary interests to take part in any discussions.

Yesterday Mayor Aldo Miccio reiterated his stance that the council observed the law strictly and correctly, and said its internal legal adviser had examined the taskforce's claims and approved the council's response.

He said he could see the perception of a conflict in Mr Rainey's case and "it's a consideration that Pete will have to make around this".

"You would be very hard-pressed to find any councillor who has not been a part of an organisation at any stage that hasn't received pokie funding.

"Council itself receives pokie funding for developments like Saxton Field. Even the Victory community has received pokie funding for some of its initiatives," Mr Miccio said.

Mr Rainey told the Mail that "regardless of any conflict of interest I may or may not have", all councillors and practically everybody in Nelson benefited from gambling trust proceeds.

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"It's a very small town. There are only 50,000 people here. There's a whole range of facilities in place that benefit from them."

Having now been singled out by the trust, he would "put some mind" to whether he should vote on the gambling policy, but it was a national rather than local issue.

"Do we want these gambling trusts at all? That is a question that I'm happy to be involved in the discussion around."

Taskforce chairman Darci Goldsworthy was filmed for a TV3 Think Tank discussion on poker machines which was screened yesterday morning at 9.30am.

The taskforce, which humiliated the council with a successful court challenge to its last round of gambling policy changes, is campaigning for tighter controls on pokie numbers and placement.

- The Nelson Mail

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