GAMBLING COUNSELLING SERVICE
Mr ROGAN: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Gaming and Racing. What action is the Government taking to assist problem gamblers in New South Wales?
Mr FACE: The honourable member for East Hills and I have had a long-abiding association in this House since we were both elected.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order for the third time.
Mr FACE: He is a person who has taken a particular interest in the gaming industry as a responsible director of Revesby Workers Club. He would admit that probably something should have been done much earlier. I know he has had a lifetime interest in the problems posed by irresponsible gambling and this concern is shared by the Government. There is no question that a small percentage of the gambling population have a real problem and are in need of assistance. The Government is providing this assistance from the Casino Community Benefit Fund.
This week I announced the selection of the Addiction Research Institute of Victoria to provide a toll-free 24-hour telephone counselling service for gambling addicts and their families. The importance of this decision cannot be underestimated. It is the first time that a government in New South Wales has initiated a service to help problem gamblers, despite this State having had legal gambling for 150 years in the area of wagering and, as the honourable member for East Hills could tell the House, legal poker machines - or slots, as they are now known - for more than 40 years. Successive governments and certain sections of the industry have ignored the problem. This Government chose to do something about it. I noticed that in today’s press the Government has been criticised for providing this much-needed service. I shall answer some of the criticism.
The Addiction Research Institute was the unanimous choice of the evaluation committee supervised by the New South Wales Department of Supply. There was no Government involvement, apart from my approval of the funding for the service. The institute was chosen because it met the following criteria. It was chosen because of its availability of qualified personnel with appropriate or relevant experience and it demonstrated experience in counselling and assisting clients with gambling problems. I have the difficulty that everybody thinks they have an answer. The institute demonstrated experience in program development, implementation and evaluation and had an understanding of issues relevant to telephone counselling, including its use as a therapeutic technique. The other tenderers could not supply that.
Also, the institute was experienced in program management, including financial and technological management, as well as community liaison and networking. It had a commitment to access and equity and to implementing services to persons of culturally diverse and linguistic backgrounds. Finally, the institute had the capacity or ability to perform and deliver the service on time. The tender price is fixed for the initial two-year period and is upwards of $1 million. Community Benefit Fund trustees, who have recommended the allocation of moneys for this purpose, paid particular attention to the capacity of the institute to provide appropriately targeted services to problem gamblers from ethnic backgrounds and their families. I insisted on that process because I wanted to get it right, but that slowed the process down.
The trustees consulted were the Chairman of the Ethnic Affairs Commission, Mr Stepan Kerkyasharian, and the President of the Ethnic Communities Council, Ms Angela Chan. They were totally satisfied that the institute would provide a first-class service. The institute will be paid just over $1 million for the two-year contract. However, I emphasise that it was the lowest tender. For the information of honourable members, there were nine conforming tenders, which ranged in price from the institute’s tender up to $4.18 million. There was a huge difference in the tender prices and in the quality of service. The Addiction Research Institute is the operator of the well-established G-line Telephone Counselling and Referral Service for problem gamblers in Victoria.
Subject to the finalisation of the contractual terms, the institute will be contracted to supply a telephone counselling and referral service for New South Wales problem gamblers for an initial two-year period, with an option of an extension for a further two years. I inform the House that the evaluation committee was impressed by the capacity of the institute to extend almost immediately the G-line service to New South Wales. It was impressed also with the institute’s access to staff, who possess the skills, qualifications and experience to establish and operate a competent telephone counselling and referral service in New South Wales. I am advised that in the opinion of both the evaluation committee and the New South Wales Department of Supply, the institute’s tender was the lowest, technically-compliant tender and thus represented the best value for money for the State of New South Wales.
The fund trustees have discharged their duties in an executive manner and I reject criticism of their decision by the Uniting Church in Australia Wesley Gambling Counselling Service. For the record, that service was an unsuccessful tenderer for the telephone counselling service. I am sure the trustees would have preferred a New South Wales organisation but every New South Wales tenderer was substantially higher than the institute. However, I am not prepared to authorise the unjustified expenditure of public moneys. The Opposition spokesperson in another place may be prepared to do so. He may be prepared to overrule the unanimous recommendation of a selection panel and authorise the waste of millions of dollars but I am not. If I had accepted a higher tenderer, he would have criticised me for not taking the lowest. On radio this morning Reverend Gordon Moyes of the Wesley Mission accused me of awarding the contract to the institute, passing over the Wesley Mission and the Salvation Army. It is hard for me to say this about a reverend, but he is not telling the truth.
Mr Photios: On a point of order. The standing orders do not provide an opportunity for the Minister to launch a slanderous attack on a leading Minister of the church who is not here to defend himself. Mr Speaker, I ask you to restrain the Minister from his savage attack on Reverend Gordon Moyes, whom I and other members know well. He is certainly no liar.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister is entitled to comment on a statement that has been made in the public arena.
Mr FACE: I repeat that he is not telling the truth. He is a trustee of the Casino Community Benefit Fund, which recommends the allocation of funds from the casino community benefit levy. He must know that under the Act I can only approve or disapprove the recommendations of the trustees. I cannot decide who is awarded contracts. Dr Moyes also knows that I have never rejected a recommendation of the trustees. I regard them as persons of the highest integrity. That is why I was surprised to hear his uninformed criticism this morning. However, Dr Moyes did abstain from voting and that is to his credit.
The manager of the Uniting Church counselling service, Mr Jim Connolly, is quoted as saying that the decision is a rebuff for the New South Wales volunteer counsellors. How does Mr Connolly explain that the Addiction Research Institute can provide a service using paid counsellors at a lower price than his organisation using volunteer counsellors? It poses the question: why was the Wesley tender higher? In all fairness to Jim Connolly - I know and respect him and he has been very helpful - I can only say that his conduct is probably one of disappointment. I look forward, as should all honourable members, to the establishment of this important service. It is expected that the service will be ready to commence operations during July and it will provide a very worthwhile and much-needed facility to help problem gamblers and their families. The provision of such a service is long overdue in this State but no government was willing to come to terms with it before. It is high time that it occurred and it was implemented by the Carr Labor Government.