Editorial: What are the odds?

18:56, Mar 23 2014

Sometimes the phrase "the decision follows . . ." can be used to invite conclusions that don't necessarily stack up.

It's being applied to the disclosure from the Problem Gambling Foundation that it has just lost the main Health Department contract underpinning its work counselling about 25,000 people with gambling problems over the past 20 years.

As Opposition parties have been quick to point out, "the decision follows" the foundation's ardent public criticism of the Government's SkyCity casino/convention centre deal.

The Greens are crying persecution. Labour detects a blatant attempt to silence criticism. The Public Service Association says it's a case of "abandoning the families ravaged by the effects of problem gambling".

There's no denying there is such a thing as political payback but as yet the case hasn't been proved that the foundation is a victim of it.

The ministry has reportedly told the foundation that it had no problem with the standard of service but had received a better contract bid. This is widely understood to have been from the Salvation Army, which Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne is quick to point out has itself been critical of Government policies, including the SkyCity deal.


Mr Dunne also points out the decision to open the service to tenders had been made years earlier and the evaluation panel was politician-free, comprised of Health and Internal Affairs staff, and representation from the Health Promotion Agency (essentially a pocket of the Health Ministry) and a Pacific Health consultant.

None of which necessarily deflects all possibility of any of these people receiving a nod and a wink from on high. But there's no evidence of Governmental vengeance other than a generic Opposition "wouldn't put it past them" scowl.

The PSA might say that that we need look no further than the the sheer illogic of dumping an organisation doing world-leading work and on substantial scale. We're talking free, confidential counselling services to more than 60 locations. And yes, that is an issue.

Much as the Sallies have a long-established and richly deserved reputation for coming up with the goods on behalf of people with gambling problems it is not hard to foresee real problems coming up to speed with service delivery on a significantly greater scale. There's also secondary matter in that the Sallies are a religious organisation and this may repel some people who might otherwise seek help.

We don't, as yet, have information on what exactly the Salvation Army offer was, and on what basis it was judged superior. This we need. Until we get it we don't have enough information to safely condemn, nor justify, the decision.

Mind you, if we don't get this information, it will certainly start looking like a guilty secret.

Parting thought: It's hard to picture the Sallies now bowing to Mammon to the extent that they abrogate their duty to speak out in future, particularly given the principled nature of its stance on gambling to date. Remember, it even went as far as taking a financial hit by deciding to reject donations that came from pokie profits. But here's the thing . . . this new activity that it's lining up to undertake will essentially be funded from the Problem Gambling Levy. Levy versus profits . . . hmmm. A distinction can perhaps be drawn, though not without some effort.

The Southland Times