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United Future Gambles On Its Future Survival

Press release 9 September


United Future sold itself to New Zealanders as a party of common-sense family values, and many citizens voted for them for that very reason. However, United Future’s latest policies so directly contradict their stated value base that the party risks alienating its supporters at the next election.

Specifically, United Future and Labour are trying to sneak through irresponsible changes to the so-called “Responsible Gambling Bill” that will tear families apart. Even the Labour Party Council has expressed its “very grave concern” about these changes.

The NZ Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) wrote to Peter Dunne to express its concerns about the proposed changes. Mr Dunne’s defence of these changes is so unsatisfactory that NZCCSS feels obliged to make them public.

Peter Dunne considers that the changes – allowing internet and mobile phone gambling, reducing the public health emphasis of the legislation, and accepting the use of banknotes in pokie machines – will not “lead to any significant increase in the incidence of problem gambling”.

Mr Dunne says problem gambling will not increase because “the Lotteries Commission has a duty to minimise the risks of problem gambling and underage gambling” and “the Commission must have regard to the risks of problem gambling and underage gambling when developing rules for its games”. However, the devastating impacts caused by ballooning numbers of pokie machine numbers make it transparently clear that duty and regulation alone cannot curb the addictions caused by the new forms of gambling that will be possible under the legislation. Allowing interactive gambling opens a Pandora’s box that cannot be closed again.

United Future also says that while the Government is telling the public only that Lotto will go online, he also admits “It may permit some form of internet-based gaming in the future, however issues such as ensuring underage-gamblers do not have access presently block such plans.” Again, Mr Dunne basically accepts that under the legislation, all serious forms of addictive gambling will be permitted - just not yet, because the operators haven’t yet figured out how to do it.

Mr Dunne then goes on to say that “the primary incidence of problem gambling arises from gaming machines” rather than interactive gambling, so we shouldn’t be too concerned. Let’s be clear: NZ didn’t have this problem until Mr Dunne and his parliamentary colleagues opened the gate to gaming machines in the 1990s. He hasn’t voted to make pokie machines illegal, even though he has seen the damage they cause. And now he wants to open the gate to interactive gambling – which NZCCSS believes will create a new kind of problem gambling.

Mr Dunne’s letter to the NZ Council of Christian Social Services also stressed that the proposed legislative changes are necessary because “the Lotteries Commission has been suffering from a decline in revenue and, thus, ability to support community causes for a number of years”. Let’s be clear that the community sector should be supported by the Government, but that using gambling funding – in many ways, a socially destructive additional tax on lower socio-economic areas – is not the best way to do this. The logic of needing to increase gambling revenue to support communities is a twisted argument. If this is indeed a reason for the Government’s legislative change, it is seriously time to review the principles on which funding for community is based.

Finally, Mr Dunne seeks to justify the Government’s position on internet gambling because “various forms of interactive gaming are already available here now via the internet from overseas-based sites”. His argument assumes, of course, that anything destructive that is tolerated in other countries should also be permissible here. New Zealand, however, doesn’t need to make the same mistakes as other countries. We don’t have to condone destructive and addictive forms of gambling.

Underlining all of Peter Dunne’s arguments is a permeating view that condones a culture of gambling and that seeks to increase the amount of money people spend on gambling. It implicitly accepts the devastation caused to families as a result of problem gambling, because it creates the very conditions that create the problem. The proposed changes call into question both United Future’s and Labour’s claims to care about families and strong communities.

---ENDS ---

Key Contacts
E-mail: paula.skilling@nzccss.co.nz

Information about NZCCSS
The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) represents the social services of the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic and Presbyterian Churches as well as the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army. Collectively, our members have around 550 social service delivery sites across the country.

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