The New Zealand Wellbeing Budget was released only two weeks ago, representing a global anomaly in its attempts to prioritise the wellbeing of people in line with economic growth.

Selah Hart, Chief Executive Officer, Hāpai Te Hauora, says "The true measure of this budget’s commitment to wellbeing depends on the government’s ability to combine fiscal resourcing with meaningful policy and action across all domains of the public sector."

Hāpai Te Hauora have been strong advocates in the policy change space over a twenty year history in public health, specifically in gambling harm prevention. For this reason, Hart and others were dismayed at the speed with which the Racing Amendment Bill was progressed through Parliament.

Last week, the Bill was went through Parliament under urgency. A process which gave submitters only three business days to respond to a myriad of changes. The underlying premise of the Bill according to its authors was the maintenance of a sustainable racing industry by regulating charges for overseas betting operators.

Māori Public Health Advisor, Haylee Koroi says, "There was nothing urgent about the passing of the Racing Amendment Bill. What is urgent, is the need to build harm minimisation policies and regulations in tandem with any efforts to solidify and expand the gambling industry."

The concern is that there are clear differences in the way government responds to harm minimisation policies and policies that are fiscally motivated. Koroi continues "It’s taken years to get action on mental health and addictions services, but with influential lobbyists behind the scenes it appears that big industry players can get things moving a lot quicker."

This also comes in the wake of a deal signed between SKYCITY Entertainment Group Ltd and an overseas online gambling operator based in Malta. SKYCITY was able to skirt current laws that prohibit New Zealand-based online gambling platforms in order to expand their business into the online space.

The last time any gambling-related legislation was amended, for purposes relating to harm minimisation, was in 2013 proposed by former minister Te Ururoa Flavell. The accepted changes were profiled as largely inconsequential, as significant opposition from gambling funded groups, pokie venues, and societies and trusts, saw a majority of recommendations cut from the bill.

"If the Government doesn’t put well-being where it’s legislation is, then we will know that the wellbeing budget was simply window dressing."