No guarantee on SkyCity deal - Cunliffe

VERNON SMALL AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 07:41 13/11/2013

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Labour is denying a back track over the SkyCity deal would deter big business from investing with them, saying the "original sin" lay with the Government.

Last night it fired a warning shot at SkyCity, saying it would not honour compensation clauses in a deal that would see the casino operator build a $402m international convention centre in Auckland in exchange for more gaming machines and an extension of its licences.

Speaking ahead of a vote that allowed the international convention centre bill to clear its final hurdle, Labour leader David Cunliffe said there would be no guarantee of extra gaming tables, pokies or compensation under a Labour government.

"We will not abide by the compensation clauses of that contract. We will regulate against gaming harm. We will preserve the mana and the authority of the New Zealand Parliament," Cunliffe said in his strongest statement on the contract so far.

But his comments raised eyebrows among some of his own MPs concerned Labour should not be seen to override contracts.

He later muddied the waters, saying: "Labour will not compensate for the normal regulatory functions of government."

This morning, he denied that any backtrack over the SkyCity deal would deter businesses from investing with the Government.

He said the fault for that lay with the current Government.

"So lets just see where the original sin lay here and accept that an incoming Government still has a job to do, it's still got to regulate for gambling harm  and we're simply saying to SkyCity, as to any others, trying to get a gold plated insurance policy up before a change of Government does not protect you from the normal proper functions of an incoming Government," he told Firstline.

SkyCity considers "normal regulatory functions" are not covered by the compensation clauses so on that score Labour's position is the same as the Government's view.

The 35-year compensation clause would entitle SkyCity to compensation if the Crown changed the concessions - a provision seen as targeting a possible Labour-Green government scrapping the deal.

Cunliffe said if the convention centre was half built, "we won't dig up the foundations, but neither will we be bound by this gold-plated deal".

"There are no guarantees of extra gaming tables, there are no guarantees of extra pokie machines and there are certainly no guarantees of compensation."

Labour would not do a "dirty deal to indemnify money- laundering and profiteering", which the Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had said were risks under the deal. Cunliffe said it was "a shabby, shonky, stinking deal" that would benefit "the big end of town . . . wide boys in their alligator shoes".

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Late last night, he said there was no conflict between his two statements on compensation and it was just a question of emphasis.

If the deal with SkyCity was done and dusted he would not "rip it up". But it was a poor deal for the country and laws could be changed.

It would be "extremely unlikely [Labour] would disrupt the extension of the term [of the gambling licences]".

There was no guarantee, however, on the increase in the number of pokies or gaming tables. Labour would certainly not offer compensation for normal regulatory functions.

But it "might or might not" pay compensation if the number of machines or tables was reduced, though there was no guarantee of compensation.

The bill passed by 61 votes to 59 with the backing of National, ACT and UnitedFuture.

- Stuff

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