John Key talks over America's Cup defence

02:34, Sep 10 2013
Kim Dotcom
IN TALKS: Prime Minister John Key.

The Government is taking advice on how much it might be asked to contribute to a defence of the America's Cup, Prime Minister John Key says.

Victory in San Francisco would bring the Viaduct Harbour "bursting back into life", he said.

Team New Zealand had its first loss in the battle for the America's Cup against Oracle today, but still has a commanding lead, effectively ahead by four races.

Key said the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation (MBIE) and other departments were assessing what contribution the Government might make should New Zealand win the cup and defend it in Auckland.

This covered both a contribution to the funding of the team, and infrastructure required to host it.

"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Key said this afternoon.

"We need to see our guys win the cup first, but obviously it would be sensible for us to at least to consider the issue."

In 2008 the Labour government committed about $36 million for an attempt to win the cup back, which it lost 5-0 to Swiss syndicate Alinghi in 2003, and failed to win back in Valencia in 2008.

Key hinted that a defence of the cup was likely to cost more.

"You've got to imagine these things don't tend to get cheaper," Key said, adding later that it was a "fair assumption" that the cost could be considerably more because of the infrastructure costs".

The National Government has not always been so generous in its support for Team New Zealand.

It opposed the commitment to pay for a defence while in opposition and in 2011 investigated whether it was obliged to pay.

"When we came in [to the Government] we tested whether it was absolutely cast-iron that that payment had to be made," Key said.

"You would expect us to do that. We also came in [to government] with predictions that unemployment would go to 10-odd per cent, and New Zealand would be in deficit for a decade or more" with Treasury warning there was no path back to surplus.

"There were a lot of New Zealanders who were saying giving money to America's Cup was very much a 'nice to have' compared to giving support to people who might lose their jobs."

Eventually in April 2011 the Government confirmed it would make the payment.

At the time ran a poll asking readers: "Is $36m America's Cup funding for Team NZ taxpayer money well spent?"

Just over 72 per cent voted no.

Asked today if the payment was money well spent, Key said "come and ask me if they win", adding that it would be "much more difficult" to continue funding the team if they lost.

What he was clear on, was that hosting the event would be good for New Zealand.

"The cup would bring the Viaduct [Harbour] bursting back into life once more, as it did a decade or so ago," Key said, both from a boost to tourism and also the profile it would give the country.

While only three teams fought in the Louis Vuitton Cup for a chance at the America's Cup, and the racing was extremely one-sided, Key said the reports he was receiving was the atmosphere in San Francisco was fantastic.

An event in New Zealand could be quite different.

"New Zealanders like yachting, they like sailing and they love Team New Zealand so it might be that in a smaller city and a smaller country, where yachting is a big event and a big deal, it just meets with a different response."