Economic development minister Steven Joyce has defended the government's handling of the Sky Centre convention deal - but admitted officials could walk away.
Prime Minister John Key has been under fire this week over the proposal which would see Sky City build an international convention centre in return for a change in the law allowing them hundreds more pokie machines.
Joyce denied the government is ''selling the law.''
''The government hasn't offered anything. SkyCity has made some requests. The negotiations are going on,'' he said this morning.
Auckland's Sky City Casino already has about 1600 slot machines. Joyce said he doesn't know how many more the deal will yield.
The row was whipped up by opposition ''spin,'' he argued.
''Governments alter laws all the time to encourage economic activity to take place. This whole "sell the law" thing is a Labour Party spin ...the difficulty...in this situation is that the New Zealand casino law is quite strictly prescribed, and so you actually have to alter either the legislation or regulations in order to do that.''
He said officials will not back down just because it is unpopular. There is no deadline on the negotiations.
''We may not even have a deal,'' he told TVNZ's Q+A. ''I mean, the reality is we're talking about a negotiation. It's quite possible that both parties end up walking away and saying, 'We can't get what we want'....We could walk away from it. There's no doubt about that.''
Joyce likened the arrangment to a deal struck with Warner Brothers to get the Hobbit movies made in New Zealand.
''The government is very focused on ensuring that there's an opportunity for economic growth, and if it hadn't made the change to that law, then the Hobbit movies would not be being made here today, and the reality is we would not have an international convention centre unless we're prepared to alter some things.''
Labour, the Greens, NZ First, Mana and Maori party are opposed to the law change. ACT's John Banks said at he weekend that he wants to see the deal before he decides whether to back it.
Labour have said the process is a sham because it wasn't opened up to tender.
But Joyce said Sky City's offer was ``the best proposal of the five that were standing up there.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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