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Flavell: Gambling Harm Reduction Bill Third Reading

Wednesday 4 September 2013
Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill
Third Reading – Te Ururoa Flavell

I move that the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment bill be read a third time.

I stand today, to speak to the third reading of the Gambling Harm Reduction Bill. This Bill has some history that got us to this point so let me outline some of that quickly.

It is exactly three years ago that this Bill was introduced. By the time of the General Election in 2011, however, there was still no sign of a first reading in sight; and it was for that reason that the Māori Party specifically negotiated in our Relationship Accord with National, that we would enjoy the support of the Government through to at least select committee stage.

Five months into the new term of Government, the first reading occurred.

I said at the time, that the bill “marks a step towards advancing our kaupapa of empowering communities to have a greater say about what happens in their area”.

Today, that statement remains true for me.

This bill was always motivated by our campaign against social hazards.

And I want to acknowledge two women in particular who have influenced my thinking in this regard.

The first is the late Maureen Te Rere i Waho Waaka of Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa descent, who passed away just three months ago.

Maureen was a champion of the problem gambling kaupapa and was instrumental in speaking out about access to casinos, gaming machines and liquor outlets.

The second wahine toa is Dr Lorna Dyall, who has led our thinking in reframing gambling from being considered a normal recreational activity to one that is a social hazard. Just as noxious weeds or pests create havoc in our natural environment, gambling creates harm within families and communities and can cause significant health and social problems.

For the record, here is the state of the situation -

• Between 10,000 and 60,000 (0.3% - 1.8%) of adults have a gambling problem in New Zealand

• The New Zealand Health Survey showed that 3% of adults had experienced problems due to someone’s gambling in the previous 12 months (about 130,000 people)

• 10,000 New Zealanders have engaged in illegal activities because of their gambling –

• $5.2 million is lost to gambling every day

This is far more serious than a chance win in a lottery. Interestingly the whole way in which we talk about gambling activities is so often falsely painted as a story of prosperity. “Lady luck is smiling on you”; we say – or ‘it’s your lucky day”; if things are going well we’re tempted to buy a lotto ticket to capitalise on our good fortune.

In doing so, we willingly place emphasis on the whim of the wheel of fortune to determine our future, rather than taking control and shaping our future based on hard work and perseverance.

And yet the reality of problem gambling harm in our families is significant. The Child Poverty Action Group summed this up saying quote,

Sadly, it is usually the most vulnerable children who pay the price of the recent proliferation of these hazards in low-income communities. If children are to be protected from their effects, the government must make greater efforts to support families and communities, and reduce access to legal and illegal social hazards, including gambling, tobacco, alcohol, and high-priced debt.

And so – let me come back to the purpose of my bill – and what I think we have achieved. I want to be clear – the bill was never about anti-gambling – its focus was anti-gambling harm.

And in that I am conscious that pokie machines are six times more likely to be in poor areas than they are wealthy ones; and within that, about a third of moderate risk gamblers are Māori.

In effect we are talking about a system in which there is a wealth transfer from poor communities to well-off communities – and it was for that reason that I sought to phase out the corporate societies which distribute pokie earnings and ensure that 80 percent of gambling proceeds return to the communities where the money was lost.

My basic premise was that the system incentivises the exploitation of gambling addiction.

During the passage of this bill submissions and public releases alike revealed that the system is rife with corruption and the misuse of public money. The Department of Internal Affairs in their 2012 review of venue costs schedules confirmed that approximately 750 venue submissions could not yet be approved because societies had not provided explanations or evidence in support of claims that costs appear high.

So how does the revised bill address these issues?

I truly believe that the bill takes steps towards minimising the harm done to communities by gambling.

The provisions around local distribution and harm minimisation technology are still in the bill – only the mechanism is different. I am absolutely determined to keep pushing for the use of the regulation making power to introduce harm minimisation devices. A regulation making power is easier to use, easier to update and enables a consistent policy to be introduced nationwide.

The Bill will also enable gambling venues to transfer out of low socio-economic areas and into areas where the community wants them to move. Councils, as a result of my bill, will now have more tools to enable the transfer of gaming venues into other areas, and I am confident that this will enable councils to further reduce gaming venues.

More than anything else, however, my focus is on eliminating and ridding our communities of gambling related harm, and so my approach in this bill was on the basis that other more wide-ranging reform would be announced

Mr Speaker one of my ancestors, Thomas A Edison; once said:

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”.

That has been our approach here.

This Bill has been an enormous journey.

It attracted a massive 29,438 form submissions; and 4944 unique submissions and supplementary information. 159 submissions were heard by the Select Committee. The bill, it is fair to say, has generated furious debate at hui; at council chambers; in homes; in this House.

Does it do what I set it out to do?

Well we were utterly unsuccessful in our bid to remove the special status of the racing industry as a recipient for the purpose of racing stakes – but was the conversation an important one to initiate? I believe so.

Did we achieve the magic 80% return? NO – but the Government does support the idea of a minimum percentage of proceeds being returned to the area where they were raised – and that is an important philosophical discussion to have inspired.

There is plenty more work to do. We are pleased that this private members’ bill – the first Māori Party members bill to be passed into law – has generated a comprehensive package of law reform. This includes increasing the percentage of funding that goes back to the community; introducing harm minimisation devices through regulation and giving councils more tools to shift venues out of low socio-economic areas.

It has been a long struggle to achieve what we have. We have never taken the focus off the best interests of the people.

We have appreciated the cooperation of the Minister, Hon Chris Tremain; and the efforts of the full Commerce Committee who all gave up so much time and commitment towards giving this bill their full consideration. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

But most of all, I thank those who wrote in; those who appeared before the select committee; those who went on talkback radio; those who initiated the People before Pokies campaign; those who cared. Can I thank also Graeme Ramsay of Problem Gambling for his advice. We might not have got to the place he wanted but their work must be acknowledged. Can I also thank Māori Party staff in particular Haimona Gardiner for the work they all did to support me.

We will not give up the vital mission we have before us, to continue to do all that we can to prevent problem gambling harm from infesting our families and destroying our communities.

I commend this Bill to the House.

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