The Parliamentary week that was, 13-15 Nov, for Pacific communities

This week, Parliament was preoccupied with a few Bills that didn’t really make the headlines and many more questions about unemployment.

Sky City

The Greens had another Member’s Bill in the House this week; to ensure money that had been stolen and used in casinos was returned to the people it was stolen from.

Massey University research shows that about 10,000 New Zealanders are engaged in illegal activities because of their gambling addictions. Pokies are the worst culprits.

Problem gambling costs $1 billion annually in bankruptcies, arrests, incarcerations, unemployment, divorce, poor physical and mental health, loss of educational opportunity and suicide.

The gambled money has often been stolen from small businesses, from medium-sized New Zealand businesses, from community organisations, from friends, and from family. These businesses, organisations, and individuals suffer serious financial impacts, including bankruptcy, while the casinos get to keep the profits from the gambling of that stolen money. Metiria Turei’s Bill would see an end to the keeping of that stolen money.

Traditionally when Pasifika men came to New Zealand, they adopted gambling at the TAB as a socialisation technique to help combat the isolation of living in New Zealand, away from village and community networks, and this has sadly resulted in gambling being a much bigger problem for Pacific communities. This is heightened by the targeting of pokie parlours in low income communities.

The prevalence of problem gambling is six times higher among Pasifika than for European New Zealanders. This because the pattern of gambling is different, there are fewer gamblers but those who gamble are spending disproportionately larger amounts of money ($13,468 per annum per person) than other ethnicities: European ($1,761), Maori ($1,908), and Asian ($2,829).

Pasifika are the most frequent visitors to casinos and spend the most time at gambling venues. This is a significant issue for all Pacific communities as 45% of Samoans, 18% of Cook Island Maori, 20% of Tongans, 3% of Fijians, and 14% other Pacific Islanders in New Zealand are gamblers.

Sadly, it doesn’t look as if the Government will be supporting this Bill.

Identity Bills

Last week a couple of bills went through the House that no one is really talking about. One will establish an electronic ID centre so you can lodge your main identification documents with the Department of Internal Affairs and then you won’t need to take them with you every time you have an appointment with a new Government Department. My hope is this will make life a lot easier for people who can sometimes be sent away from Work and Income appointments several times because they don’t have the ‘right’ papers.

I realize, though, that there is a danger that this will create a more divided system between those with online access and everyone else – namely older New Zealanders and New Zealanders with low incomes that can’t afford internet access. The system is opt-in only.

Another bill that is more worrying to me that passed the committee stages this week was the Identity Information Sharing Bill. This Bill sounds quite similar but isn’t really. It sets up a system where credit companies can ask people to provide identity information – such as passport details – that will then be confirmed with a central agency. This is to cut down on identity fraud, which we absolutely support, however it is also proposed to be used in the employment process which will create pressure on people to provide their date of birth, sex and country of birth. It will be possible to opt out of this but my concern is when people are desperate for work they may not feel comfortable opting out and once they give this information it may open them up to discrimination based on age, gender identity or country of birth.

It is illegal in New Zealand to discriminate on the basis of age, ethnicity or nationality but it is also quite difficult to prove that this has occurred. Usually you can only get evidence by an employer asking questions – like where were you born – that are clearly not relevant to the job.

The Greens proposed an amendment to exclude this service being used for employment purposes but it was voted down.

Local Government Bill

The Government also further progressed its Local Government Amendment Bill, which will have a number of negative impacts for communities including Pacific communities.

The Bill would remove the ‘four well-beings’ – social, economic, environmental and cultural – which could stop councils providing a number of the services they currently provide. Councils may fear that, under the new act, anything outside of their core services falls outside of their role in legislation. This could severely harm low-income communities, including many Pacific Islanders, who rely on the excellent work many councils do to improve the lives of people living in their areas.

The Bill also encourages amalgamations and increases the powers of the Local Government Minister. These two measures will harm local democracy, with increased chances of Auckland Supercity type arrangements that have the potential to increase the level of disconnect people have from their local representatives.