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Q+A: Transcript of panel discussion on Sky City deal

Published: 4:32PM Sunday April 08, 2012 Source: Q+A

GREG Bryce, is this the thin edge of the wedge? How many roulette wheels are we going to have to stump up with to get a second harbour crossing?

BRYCE Good question. But, I mean, John Key has to answer that. He's going to have increasing difficulty doing it, because this is a no-win situation for them, especially coming after the ACC scandal with questions being raised about deal making and behind the scenes influence. So that's why this deal looks bad. I think there's three main perspectives on this we can look at: on the left there's this argument that this is bad for the social fabric of the country. It's gambling, it's a big Sky City business. On the right we've also got some similar points of view saying, 'This is crony capitalism. It's not what neo-liberals should do. The government should be keeping out of the market place, not picking winners.' And then in the centre you've got this argument that, 'Well, let's be pragmatic. This is good for the country. It gives us a convention centre. It saves the taxpayer millions of dollars.' And that could be a powerful argument, but I don't think the government are making that line very well.

GREG Matt, the problems in Auckland - things like traffic, nowhere for people to live - I wouldn't have thought the convention centre was right up there in the top list of things that need to be addressed.

MATT No, it's not, and just to clear my conflict of interest, I represent the workers at Sky City.

GREG You don't get free lunches there, do you?

MATT No, I don't. I have to pay. Although I've never been offered a free lunch there. But, anyway, look, this is just a deal, you see. And this is the Joyce influence in this government, I think. What they're saying with private businesses is, 'We will help you if you do this for us,' and I think this is taking the partnership model even further. It's crony. It is. Because what they're saying is, 'You put up $200 million, we'll let you have 500 more machines.' Let alone the morality bit. Just look at the business sense. That'll make them $40 million a year. In five years' time, they'll have their $200 million back.

BRYCE The argument is everyone wins.

MATT No, no, no. But the thing is in the day where we actually took responsibility as a community, if there was such a good case to have such a big convention centre, it stands up on its own model. It shouldn't be subsidised by 500 machines.

GREG I just want to give you some numbers here. John Key says he doesn't believe a small number of pokie machines would make a difference to problem gambling. We're potentially talking about 500 here. According to its website, there's only 1600 machines there. It's not a small number ; it's a quarter. It's a lot.

MICHAEL I think Matt's partially correct. For them to spend $350 million, get a $42 million return, that's 12%. That's the same amount of money that the city's been asked to get out of the ports. It is a good business proposition.

MATT And they own it at the end.

MICHAEL But I think that it's a good proposition for others. They would equally employ people, they'd run conferences, they'd do tourism, they'd attract people and so on, so it's a good proposition out there. There is a moral issue here.

GREG What about the convention centre down at the waterfront, Michael Barnett? I know that's something near and dear to your heart. Why is that not enough? What is that not doing the job this is supposed to be doing?

MICHAEL I think the issue around convention centres- I don't think we're ever going to attract those large conventions that happen around the world. There's a tier of convention that we can do here - will attract tourism, will attract business, will attract investment ultimately. Um, to me, I think it's good business that we should pursue. But I'm saying that other people could have provided this other than to sell our souls for 400 more pokie machines-

GREG If would have to be a fair point, wouldn't it: if it's going to make money, then you would like there would be people lining up.

MICHAEL There were.

GREG Sky City is the only one who has got $350 million?

MICHAEL There were others. Aotea was there and so on.

MATT Well, the city council wants to get involved. I mean, they want to make this as part of The Edge thing, but they've been locked out. So why isn't the government doing a deal with Auckland Council? You see, there has been- I mean, good on Sky City, right? They're in the business of making money. But they're making deals with the government. Key and Joyce are giving them sweetheart deals. From a business point of view, they're taking it.

GREG All right, guys, we're going to have to leave it there. Matt McCarten, Dr Bryce Edwards and Michael Barnett. Thank you all for coming in.

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