Friday 23 May 2014

Fighting state-funded activism

More news from the southern hemisphere, this time New Zealand. A state-funded pressure group has lost its funding and is suing the government with the government's money.

Problem Gambling Foundation will this week take legal action to stop the Ministry of Health dumping it in favour of the Salvation Army.

The move comes as papers released under the Official Information Act show the PGF and the ministry embroiled in a long-running argument over the foundation’s right to speak out on gambling issues. It includes the ministry threatening to terminate the foundation’s contract if PGF didn’t halt a campaign called “pokie free and proud of it” promoting pokie-free pubs.

Commenting at the Kiwi blog, David Farrar says...

So the PGF will use its existing taxpayer funding to try and force the Government to keep funding it – rather than the Salvation Army (which was judged better by an independent panel of public servants and experts).

The Sally Army explicitly and literally believes that gambling is a sin and that nobody should partake in it. How zealous do you have to be for them to be considered a more reasonable and moderate voice?!

PGF's extremism has created some unlikely bedfellows...

A gambling industry leader was among the first people knocking on the Salvation Army's door this week after news broke that the army had displaced the country's main help agency for gambling addicts, the Problem Gambling Foundation.

"We will be moving very quickly to establish a relationship with the Salvation Army," explains Brian Corbett, who chairs the Community Gaming Association.

"We at the CGA have tried to take a collaborative approach to the problem, but that didn't seem to be the way with the Problem Gambling Foundation. They seemed to take a fairly antagonistic approach to everything."

The Problem Gaming Foundation have been using a familiar excuse to wriggle out of the 'taxpayer-funded lobbyist' tag:

The PGF has always been a vocal critic of pokie machine rorts and gambling harm. It believes, as an independent body with other income streams, it has the right to speak out. The ministry argues there should be no perception government money is being spent on campaigns.

State-funded troughers always say that they don't lobby with taxpayers' money. ASH says the same thing. This is hard to swallow when you all you do is campaign, as ASH does, or if you are overwhelmingly funded by the government, as the PGF is. These people were getting $4.7 million a year from the state and just $0.5 million from other sources. If they were speaking out with their own money, how could they be "silenced" by losing their public funding?

There seems to have been a view that PGF was using industry levy money on "political" activities, rather than the intended counselling and health promotion.

PGF has always been highly political. Stansfield's partner is Green MP Denise Roche and his media adviser was ex-Green MP Sue Bradford's husband, Bill Bradford. Ramsey, the current chief executive, is a Northland regional councillor. The board is chaired by former Labour MP Richard Northey.

The agency's public health director Tony Milne is Labour's candidate for Christchurch Central.

This is also a familiar story—a state-funded pressure group being staffed with left-wing activists in a revolving door between the quango sector and the Labour party (and, in NZ, the Green party), all of whom lobby against the free market.

The PGF's website leaves little doubt that they are indeed "highly political". They're oppose to lottery tickets being sold in supermarkets, they call pokies the ‘crack cocaine of gambling' (sound familiar?), they're very friendly with the Green party and they run a 'no more pokies' campaign nationwide. They opposed the building of a convention centre at the (excellent) SkyCity casino. They even launched a successful High Court challenge against a smoking lounge at the same casino. In short, PGF is a straightforward anti-gambling organisation that opposes all liberalisation and supports all prohibitions.

The ministry fielded a series of complaints between 2010 and 2012 from Martin Cheer, chief executive of pokie trusts, Pub Charity, that PGF was "abusing the funding stream" and was not politically neutral. Cheer wrote to Dunne saying: "We would welcome any attention you could bring to bear on this matter." Cheer was unable to comment. But an industry source said PGF had "not just shot themselves in the foot but blown it off" by not concentrating on their core work.

That led a lawyer for PGF, Duncan Webb, to write to the ministry in late 2010 to restate PGF's right to an opinion and as a non-governmental body it was not bound by civil service rules.

And therein lies the problem. Organisations that are principally funded by the government are essentially arms of the state and should damn well abide by civil service rules. That means no political activism, no lobbying, and accountability under the Freedom of Information Act. Taxpayers should never be forced to pay for special interest groups to lobby.

In Australia, Tony Abbott is leading the way by axing a whole bunch of whining, leftist so-called 'public health' quangos, saving millions of dollars and freeing up money for legitimate medical research in the bargain. If politicians don't have the cojones to get rid of these agencies entirely, they should at least make them abide by the rules that apply to other wings of the state.

1 comment:

Rursus said...

"If politicians don't have the cojones to get rid of these agencies entirely, they should at least make them abide by the rules that apply to other wings of the state."