Government's convention centre veto power

ANDREA VANCE AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 12:51 18/07/2013

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The Government has the right to block "unsuitable" events and groups from the proposed national convention centre under a controversial deal struck with SkyCity, papers reveal.

Opposition parties have today launched a fresh round of attacks on the pact with the casino operator after the release of official briefing papers.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) documents published online yesterday show the Government ploughed ahead with a compensation clause for the casino operator in the event of gambling law changes, ignoring advice from Treasury.

They also show the Government negotiated the right to bar groups from using the $400 million New Zealand International Convention Centre, to be built in Auckland.

Under the veto clause, the deal states that SkyCity must not book events: "that would not reasonably be expected to be materially prejudicial to international relations or to national security interests of New Zealand and would not reasonably be expected to materially affect the reputation or brand of the NZICC."

It also states that SkyCity should consult with the Crown and get approval before confirming an event if it has concerns that the NZICC brand or the country's international relations "could reasonably be expected to materially and adversely be affected by the subject matter or any sponsor of the event."

The deal, unveiled in May, allows the casino company an extra 230 poker machines and an extension to its licence until 2048 in return for building the centre.

It is also in line for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation if a future government rewrites gambling regulations in the next 35 years or increases casino taxes in the next eight years.

Green Party MP Denise Roche says the Government put more effort into negotiating the veto than it did to mitigating the risk of social harm from increased gambling.

She also questioned which events the Government would wish to block - and says this could be open to abuse.

"The New Zealand International Convention Centre must be open to all people to hold events, not just those in favour with the government of the day," she said.

"What groups will the National Government consider 'unsuitable' for the convention centre?

"Would anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership groups be banned from holding meetings there for the crime of opposing National's trade agenda?

"Would National block a figure like the Dalai Lama from giving a speech at our country's premier convention centre so as not to offend China? ... "Will opponents of the National Government find that they are not welcome at what is supposed to be our national convention centre?"

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Roche believes the national convention centre's links with a casino will rule it out as a venue for other groups who don't want to be associated with gambling.

"These revelations add further weight to Treasury's warning that the SkyCity deal isn't in the public interest," she said.

Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson slammed the Government for "ignoring" a "mountain of official advice warning" from Treasury, the Department of Internal Affairs and MBIE.

"What we now know is that the Treasury warned ministers the Crown was in a weak negotiating position. The final deal shows how right Treasury was," he said.

Robertson said SkyCity "held all the cards" in the deal. "Treasury warned the Government just how weak the case was for this deal, saying it was not convinced of the cost-benefit analysis," he said.

MBIE minister Steven Joyce said warnings from Treasury were noted, but he was comfortable with the deal eventually struck.

"We were always of the view that if the price was too high and the operator wanted too much in terms of value, that wasn't fair for New Zealand taxpayers, we'd be prepared to walk away."

SkyCity corporate communications general manager Gordon Jon Thompson said the agreement eventually reached was a "fair one". 

CARDS ON THE TABLE

The deal for an international convention centre in Auckland has been described as "dirty", but SkyCity initially demanded much more than it was given.

What SkyCity asked for

A perpetual extension to its Auckland casino licence

853 extra pokie machines

Another 40 gaming tables

Lowering the gambling age to 18

150 automated multi-player gaming tables

Cashless pokie machines with printed tickets

Pokie machines that can take $100 notes

$10 million a year from the Government to promote the convention centre

The ability to to promote "jackpot" draws

What SkyCity got

A 27-year extension to its licence

230 extra pokie machines

Another 40 gaming tables

No change to the gambling age

12 automated multi-player gaming tables

Cashless pokie machines with printed tickets

Pokie machines that can take $100 notes (in restricted areas)

No such fund was granted

No agreement – only Lotto is permitted to promote a jackpot.

- Fairfax Media

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