Whanau Ora Pre-conference Hapai Te Hauora Orakei, Auckland
Te Ururoa Flavell
MP for Waiariki
Monday February 20, 2012
On Friday as I was preparing for this hui, reaction was coming in thick and fast to the latest report, the State of the Nation assessment produced by the Salvation Army entitled The Growing Divide.
It was a consistently depressing read.
The report estimates that one in three Maori children live in relative poverty; one in four Pacific and one in six European. It concludes that relatively high levels of child poverty persist year after year, and too many, mainly poor, young people leave school with no qualifications and drift into crime or to becoming parents early.
The overall picture is grim. The report puts the case that until we appreciate the links between the social environments we create and the social outcomes we reap, we will not make the difference we need.
Contrast that picture with the spending on class 4 machines – the so-called pokies. For the year to December 2011, losses on class 4 non-casino gaming machines totalled $867 million. In all, New Zealanders spent just over two billion dollars on gambling in the last financial year.
That’s right – two billion dollars that might have been better invested in supporting poor neighbourhoods to cope with the challenge of a post-recession economy. Two billion dollars that might have kept our children warm, well fed, and in secure housing.
The solutions seem so simple – they lie in our own hands. It’s about all of us recognising the nature of the social hazards that are impacting on our communities, and doing something about it.
That’s why I was so pleased to be asked to this hui today, to say thank you for the dedication, the sacrifice and the commitment you are making to eliminate gambling harm across Aotearoa.
The Maori Party has consistently spoken against various forms of gambling within the context of a social hazard framework. By that we mean that there are some social activities in our lives which if managed in moderation can be harmless and enjoyable.
But there are others – such as alcohol and drug overuse or gambling – which can be categorised as a hazard because they have the potential to cause great harm. That harm is not just an individual concern but can have wide-ranging impacts on the wider family and community. The harm generated by pokies includes poverty, relationship break-up, depression, domestic violence, crime, neglected children – in fact many of the subject areas in the Salvation Army’s report.
But what has concerned us even more, is the issue around location.
We all know that electronic gambling machines (pokies) venues tend to be overly represented in lower income communities and town centres. Māori and Pasifika populations are effectively being disproportionately targeted and often severely harmed by them.
This reality is borne out by the data from Gambling Helpline Services which tell us 29.6% new gambler clients were Maori and 14.5% of significant other clients phoning helpline were Maori.
In face to face counselling services:
- one third or 28.6% new clients seeking help were Maori;
- 34.2% of significant other new clients attending counselling are Maori; and
- 8 out of ten (81.2%) of female Maori gamblers cited pokies for their gambling problem.
We believe that Governments have not done enough to find solutions and treatment for problem gamblers. Addressing the issue of problem gambling in our communities must take into consideration health and well-being alongside economic issues. It’s one thing to ban pokies but we must treat the addiction or it will manifest itself in something else like drugs or alcohol or other forms of gambling.
This, then, provided the context for why I was so determined not just to make a noise but to make a difference.
We have advocated that the harm being done by pokies, particularly for Maori, Pasifika, Asian, low income workers and beneficiaries, should be addressed by:
- devolving greater power to local authorities to reduce venues;
- investigating new technologies such as player tracking and pre-commit card; and
- reviewing the way in which so much funding is redistributed from poor communities to activities which benefit people in other areas.
In September 2010, my private members bill, the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill was pulled out of the ballot – meaning it is now on the Parliament’s work programme.
The purpose of this bill is to provide local communities with more power to determine where pokie machines may be sited, and in how the proceeds can be distributed.
This Bill seeks to firstly address the issues around the location and excessive numbers of pokies by enabling local authorities, in consultation with their communities, to reduce the number of, or even eliminate, pokies from those suburbs and towns where they are particularly concentrated or doing particular harm.
And I want to just make reference to three communities, as providing both the reason and the resistance that we encounter when we look to confront gambling harm.
I will start with my own home town of Rotorua. Last year Rotorua made it to the list of the top ten gambling towns in the land. There are 416 machines in Rotorua, which equates to approx one machine for every 90 adults. That’s roughly $60 thousand dollars a day down the drain.
The Rotorua District Council missed their opportunity to rectify this when they were lobbied to adopt a sinking lid policy, but decided against it.
I contrast that with the Victory community at the top of the South Island in Nelson; and Tolaga Bay on the East Coast.
The people of Tolaga Bay have committed themselves to being a pokie machine-free town, while the Victory community successfully opposed the placement of pokie machines in their town. Last September their efforts were rewarded by a declaration by the High Court to review the amendments made to Nelson City Council’s gambling policy.
These may seem like small steps – small victories –but they inspire me to believe that we should be enabling our local communities to flex their muscle more – to take up the opportunity to determine where pokie machines may be sited, and in how the proceeds can be distributed. In essence, I hope that’s what my bill might achieve.
This is a huge challenge. Over the weekend, I attended the Te Arawa Kapa Haka competition. It was an amazing event, a few thousand people, full houses for one and a half days, the biggest number of groups ever, and the start of the buzz that will allow my iwi Te Arawa to host the next 2013 Matatini Festival.
As the people were awaiting the final decisions, one of the key sponsors quietly asked if I had an anti-pokies bill awaiting debate and why would I do that when the Gambling Trusts had actually supported this huge event with a heap of money!!
And that is the dilemma. Trying to reduce the harm and balancing it with the good things done by some trusts. Could the event happen without Gaming Trusts? I suspect so but understand it would be hard. Can you save a marriage, a job, your whanau, your house, your savings once it ruined by the outfall from Gambling? Probably not.
I am a realist and understand that I/ we are not going to remove all pokie machines from the country Neither National or Labour would have the political spine to do that. It would cost votes. The Maori Party just does not have the numbers so we rely on finding solutions that are palatable to the governing Party.
So I say my Bill is just that. It is about reducing as best we can, the harm done through pokie machines.
In that regard, I want to acknowledge the vital support that the Problem Gambling Foundation has played in supporting and promoting this bill – forewarning of its significance to every other MP in the House, speaking out publicly. That sort of advocacy really makes a difference to changing the climate of acceptance.
We believe it has helped to create the environment that enabled us, during our negotiations with National, to secure the commitment from the Government that it would support my Gambling Harm Reduction Amendment bill at least until select committee.
The Bill is currently placed 8th on the order list of Private Members Bills. Private Members Bills can only be debated on Members Days – which are roughly every second Wednesday when the House is in session – so at our estimation probably the earliest we will take the first reading will be about 28th March.
I started this korero, referring to the links between the social environments we create and the social outcomes we reap. Placing this bill on everyone’s agenda is one way in which we can help to foster a supportive environment for change.
But by far the most radical transformation we should be preparing for, is in each and every whanau - to ensure that within our whanau we are alert for warning signs.
Whanau Ora is at best, a call to action; a call to really take up our collective obligations and responsibilities to one another.
We need to watch out for each other - put whanau in touch with the organisations who are there to help - and in particular we must make sure that we don't leave our children vulnerable.
Whanau Ora offers us a brilliant opportunity to address the impacts of our social environment through harnessing our collective strength.
I am really buoyed by the momentum evident amongst many of our whānau, hapu and iwi who want to rid their communities of the harm that gambling is causing too many of their families.
I wish you well in this hui, in the international forum to forum, and more particularly in making the transformation we need throughout your whanau, throughout your community, throughout your lives.