Silenced: Pacific voice against problem gambling
One of the Pacific’s guardian voices against problem gambling will be silenced on 30 June 2014.
Mapu Maia, the Pacific Unit inside the Problem Gambling Foundation (PGF) will cease to exist as a result of the government’s health ministry decision to cut funding to PGF.
A decision Mapu Maia manager, Mrs Pesio Si’itia told Pacific Guardians earlier today is a major backward step to addressing problem gambling for Pasifika communities.
“It’s a sad day for our clients, a sad day for our Pasifika people that Mapu Maia, at this stage, will no longer exist from the 1st of July.”
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne defended the decision saying it is part of a review process the ministry instigated in 2012 and is not a form of government intervention.
But Green MP Ms Denise Roche said that is not so.
“The Government cut to funding for the Problem Gambling Foundation must be seen as payback for its opposition to the SkyCity deal,” Ms Roche said.
“Smaller problem gambling service providers haven’t been able to challenge the gambling industry for fear of losing their funding.
“This decision by the National Government shows that the smaller organisations were correct in their assumption that standing tall against the gambling industry would lead to funding cuts.”
Christchurch East MP, Ms Poto Williams told Pacific Guardians, “I think this [decision] compromises the very good work and relationships that the Foundation has in the wider community and I would want an explanation from the Minister of Health as to why this new provider [yet to be named] was awarded the contract over them.
“And is it because the Foundation has always had an advocacy role and the government did not like the criticism against the Sky City Pokies for convention centre deal.”
Mrs Pesio Si’itia said problem gambling services will still be provided through community providers but effectiveness for Pasifika communities will be reduced through Mapu Maia’s termination in two main areas.
“When PGF closes it will mean the closure of its 12 offices and 11 outreach clinics nationwide. Not only will it mean a familiar network will be cut for people seeking help; but it also means the information and connections that we have built up nationally and internationally for more than 20 years will be lost.”
From the Year 2000, Mapu Maia has seen more than 25,000 people and their families providing help and solutions to their gambling addictions.
The second area which is of equal importance is the loss of the Pasifika voice at the coalface when problem gambling developments are discussed locally, nationally and internationally.
“Because we are part of PGF, we sit around tables and contribute to discussions that feed into policy developments and decisions before they become programs or projects for implementation.
“In that position, we advocate and make sure our Pasifika voice is taken into account whether it’s at local or central government level. Information which we then feed back to our communities and sector.”
Essentially what will be lost through Mapu Maia’s demise according to Mrs Si’itia:
- The voice of Pasifika in terms of problem gambling policy
- The voices of Pasifika leaders addressing inequality around problem gambling for Pasifika people
- The voice of Mapu Maia representing Pasifika on decision making tables around what happens inside communities such as where gambling machines and pokies are allowed to go and where they shouldn’t go
- Five of Mapu Maia’s ten staff will lose their jobs. Combined, that will be more than 30 years worth of experience dealing specifically with problem gambling in the Pasifika sector
It is why the loss of Mapu Maia according to Mrs Si’itia should be a concern to the community and leaders.
“During our time, we’ve always gone out there and rally our communities to have their say. We’ve questioned our MPs and leaders and informed them about how Pasifika would be affected by decisions being made.”
This is evident against the SkyCity convention centre initiative.
“PGF and Mapu Maia have been major opponents to the harm of pokies to consumers, we’ve been very vocal about that in our community about the harm caused by SkyCity and pokie machines. If that is why we’re being silenced then its up to our community to form their opinion on that.”
She hopes the community will rally to their support.
The best scenario she says would be for the Health ministry to reverse its decision; or there is a way to keep Mapu Maia alive.
“I’m just so passionate about problem gambling because it affects our people so much. I hate to see our people lose a strong voice in this area because we deserve to be represented where we are the highest risk segment of the population.”
The statistics are revealing. It provides evidence as to the extent and scope of harm problem gambling causes within vulnerable communities such as Pasifika.
Māori and Pacific adults are between 3.5 and 4 times more likely than adults in the total population to be problem gamblers. That is because they are more concentrated in higher decile areas (8-10) where there are more pokie machines.
For the Pacific population, one problem gambler affects 10 to 15 others in his centre of influence. And they are six times more likely to be affected than any other group to be at risk.
In 2012, Department of Statistics figures show that a Pacific islander spends on average $13,465 a year on gambling machines. Top of the Pacific list are Samoans making up 45-percent, Tongans (20%) and Cook Islanders (18%).
In the three months from January to March 2012, the figures show Manukau gambling machines took in nearly $16million. That is an estimated 25 per cent of the total takings in the Auckland region, and more than what machines in Auckland City ($15,553,498) raked in. While nationally, the total takings from gambling machines for the period were $203,651,845.73.