Dependants can't be critics

Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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OPINION: According to the Problem Gambling Association, "over $2 billion a year is lost to gambling" and the $40 million gambled in New Zealand casinos in 1995 had burgeoned to almost $510m in 2012. The Department of Internal Affairs puts things differently, saying gamblers "spent almost $2.1b on the four main forms of gambling in the 2011-12 financial year", 3.2 per cent more than the previous year, "but, when adjusted for inflation, total gambling expenditure in 2012 had declined by almost 19 per cent from the peak recorded in 2004".

The money was not "lost", of course. The Government collected $216m in gaming duties that year and an estimated $648m was distributed to a variety of community purposes from gambling proceeds, although that leaves a hefty chunk of profit for someone. Some of those millions would have come from "problem gamblers", whose urge to bet is treated as a health issue.

The Problem Gambling Foundation has helped thousands of these people a year. It also has been an outspoken critic of the Government's gambling policies, especially its dubious dealings with SkyCity regarding Auckland's convention centre.

The foundation now has learned it has lost much of its $5m Government funding and will be closing its 12 offices around the country, with most of its 63 staff losing their jobs.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne insists the lopping of the foundation's funding is the outcome of an open contestable tender. The evaluation panel deciding on the tender comprised three ministry staff and three external evaluators and its proposed decision was independently reviewed by PwC.

Mr Dunne furthermore points out that the Salvation Army's Oasis service will receive most of the funding cut from the foundation, and the Salvation Army was also critical of the SkyCity convention centre deal.

National MP Tau Henare, however, has linked the funding decision to government disapproval, asking: "Why should Govt pay a group to be critical of it? Pay them to help but don't pay them to bag the hand that feeds them."

This doesn't make it a sure bet the foundation is being punished for being too strident. It does serve as a reminder that organisations that depend on public funding are vulnerable to decisions to pull the plug for reasons right or wrong.

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- Waikato Times

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