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Green Party Position Statement on Gaming Reform

28 July 2001

Green Party Position Statement on Gaming Reform
Sue Bradford - Green Party Gambling Spokesperson
Gambling Conference:

Understanding and Minimising Harm

Carlton Hotel, Auckland Panel Discussion - Saturday 28 July 2001

Kia ora koutou, and greetings to the conference organisers who've done such a great job in making this all happen, to the Minister, to my fellow MPs, and to all of you who have given up time to be here today.

As I'm sure many of you are aware, the Green Party takes a keen interest in gaming reform. With our four key underlying principles of environmental sustainability, non violence, participatory democracy and social and economic justice it will come as no surprise to hear that we find ourselves committed to a harm minimisation strategy when it comes to the critical issues which surround the current state of gambling in this country.

While I know there are some who might view us as fundamentalist puritans, with a spot of traditional celtic folk dancing thrown in, we are in fact neither abolitionist nor prohibitionist. Life is to be relished, and indeed one of the slogans receiving popular support among our members at the moment is 'Let's work for a full enjoyment as well as a full employment society'.

However, there always seems to be a bridge too far when it comes to the things that turn us on, and the addictive end of the spectrum is what concerns most of us here today. I certainly don't see problems around gambling in Aotearoa New Zealand today as an isolated moral issue, but rather as the result of allowing the opportunities to gamble to excess to proliferate and become endemic among whole big sectors of the population and across all income, geographical, gender and ethnic boundaries.

My own involvement with the issue came as a result of my work with the Unemployed Workers Rights and Peoples Centres here in Auckland during the 80s and 90s, where we saw all too often the detrimental impact of problem gambling on unemployed people, beneficiaries, new migrants and others already trying to survive on very low incomes.

I guess I also have to admit to a residual anger caused by the fact that while Sky City set up shop just two minutes down the road from the central Auckland Peoples Centre, and proceeded to offer to allocate large amounts of funding to the local community, for many years not a dollar was seen as fit to come our way. This was despite the fact we were providing core health and welfare services to many of the very people most affected by the downside consequences of the gambling industry.

At the same time, of course, I must acknowledge the good work of the Department of Internal Affairs and Lotteries generally over the years in continuing to bring - usually - a sound community development approach to the allocation of much needed and much appreciated funding to community groups like the ones I come from, and many others.

In the time since I've come to Parliament at the end of 1999, things just seem to have got worse, particularly in relation to the proliferation of gaming machines. Through various means we've made approaches to Government over the last few months about the possibility of placing a moratorium on new gaming machine licenses, but the answer is always the same and I'm sure you all know it as well as I do - 'our hands are tied until the new gaming legislation goes through.'

Your frustration equals ours. In the last twenty years we've had Government after Government all keen to use gambling as some kind of positive economic development model. We're supposed to view the exponential growth in the industry as nothing but positive with its spinoffs for job creation and local business. How many extra jobs are created by the conversion of a vacant suburban shop front to a liquor licensed pokie parlour is open to severe doubt, and we certainly believe that any positive outcomes for business must be balanced by a reality check of the downstream detrimental impacts on some individuals and families.

I know that you've been looking at these questions in huge depth over the last few days and I don't want to bore you with what you already know, and what is far too obvious. What we need now is action, and a broad based, cooperative approach to the gaming legislation being introduced later this year.

If nothing else, my time in Parliament has taught me the power and potential of the Select Committee process, and I hope that many of you here today will be appearing in person before us when we're working on the new gaming Bill.

Governments will always have a vested interest in continuing the expansion of the gaming industry, and it will take a concerted effort to bring some order into the current non interventionist regime. Together we need to make the point that problem gambling is not just about a few unfortunate individuals, but about fundamental questions of social and economic equity.

We are now in our third Government review of gambling since 1995. It is time that we took all factors into account, with holistic analysis and strategies that cover all the ramifications of the laissez faire policies of the last decade. It is not good enough that the hard data is not collected as a matter of course by some of the legions of policy analysts I've discovered inhabit Wellington. It is not good enough that Governments, even a Labour-Alliance one, continue to use the conscience vote as a means of evading collective responsibility to develop durable, sensible and balanced public policy in this area.

The task for the Green Party and for our allies on this issue inside and outside Parliament is to demand a much higher degree of transparency and accountability in an area of activity that has ballooned eight fold in the last decade. To summarise our position on gaming reform, the Green Party believe that we need to:

* Conduct a full social, economic and environmental impact study on the effect of the gaming industry on all aspects of life in New Zealand;

* Develop a national database to monitor the economic and social sustainability of all forms of gambling, and to have this supported by an independent research programme so that future decisions can be based on high quality facts and analysis;

* Establish an independent regulator to oversee the entire gaming industry, free from the current conflicts between policy advice, enforcement and the preservation of a number of Government funding streams;

* Place a freeze on new licenses for gaming machines;

* Refuse any new casino licenses, or if an application for a new casino is being considered, residents should have the right to determine whether or not to allow a casino to operate in their locality through a binding referendum;

* Ensure applicants who want to introduce a casino provide local authorities with the resources necessary to conduct such referenda;

* Look closely at the impacts and possible control mechanisms around internet and interactive television gambling;

* Impose a levy on gaming turnover to ensure gaming operators pay the full costs of mitigating the harm caused by their products with support services which are run independently of the industry;

* Provide mechanisms to ensure that residents are consulted before a new or existing venue introduces multiple gaming machines, especially in residential areas;

* We support the need for more effective and widespread public education about the risks of gambling, so that people are more able to make informed choices about whether and how they risk their dollars;

* And finally, turning to our own backyard as MPs, the Green Party seeks to promote an open debate inside and outside Parliament about whether legislation should be introduced to prevent political parties from using the profits of gambling to fund election campaigns in future.

It was heartening to hear the Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton's comments at the beginning of this conference, speaking of his party's opposition to the potential doubling of the number of gaming machines and to the new forms of gambling on the internet and interactive TV.

I hope over the next six months to a year to be working alongside my colleagues in Parliament and alongside many of you here today to help bring some sanity into the gambling Wild West which New Zealand has become.

I am sure the depth of knowledge and the expanded networking that this Conference has achieved will strengthen our combined capacity to bring about the structural reform which is so badly needed in this country's gambling industry over the coming year.

I wish you strength in the work you do, kia kaha, kia manawanui, kia mau.



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