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Q+A: Transcript of panel discussion on Steven Joyce interview

Published: 5:08PM Sunday April 22, 2012 Source: Q+A

PAUL 
Time to welcome our panel. Dr Claire Robinson from Massey University. And with us this  week, Jim Anderton, former deputy prime minister and former Progressive leader and a former Christchurch mayoral candidate in 2010. And with us also, former ACT MP and deputy leader of ACT, Heather Roy, now chair of pharmaceutical lobby group Medicines New Zealand. So I think the main thing we take from that is there's no deal done and we're keeping the options open, Claire.

CLAIRE ROBINSON - Political Analyst
Yeah, I think that the government is obviously responding to some of the negative public opinion that's been going on around this issue. But it's going to go on for a long time. It's something that is difficult. But I think that they're pretty committed to this, and the convention centre itself seems to be a pretty good idea. The problem is around pokies. The pokie lobby seems to have increased the hysteria around it to the point where it's become slightly... There's a whole lot of issues that are conflated around this discussion.

PAUL 
You like the idea of a convention centre, though, don't you?

CLAIRE 
Oh yeah.

PAUL 
This is a huge industry around the world to tap into some of this. You've been to a big one of political scientists.

CLAIRE 
Yeah, well, I went to one last year in Seattle where there were 7000 delegates and, you know...

PAUL 
All on expenses and all spending in the shops.

CLAIRE 
They're all paid for by their employers - all their airfares and accommodation - so they have extra money to be able to spend, and I think this is the point, this is why the government is pushing it, because there is a lot of money that can be spent. There are a lot of jobs around this industry. So, you know, the idea of the convention centre is great.

JIM ANDERTON - Former Progressive Leader
I'm certainly strongly in favourite of convention centres. We had one before the earthquake. We built it ourselves, actually.

PAUL 
In Christchurch?

JIM 
We didn't do any deal with the casino or on pokie machines or anything else, and as far as I know, it actually paid for itself. I heard the comment that it couldn't possibly pay for itself, but ours did.

PAUL 
It was small, Jim.

CLAIRE 
Yeah, these are big - 3500 delegates.

PAUL 
We're talking major...

JIM 
OK, well, if it's so good for New Zealand, if it's so good for Auckland, let's see the Aucklanders put up some money for it, and let's see the government put up some money for it.

PAUL 
But the deal he's proposing, the deal he's talking about with Sky - Sky gets a little bit on its side, and we get convention centre paid for without any...

JIM 
And the people who pay for it are the poorest people who came here addicted to gambling. Actually, as we speak, Paul, the finance minister of South Australia has denied Sky exactly this deal. He said, "No, get lost." And that makes me feel like I'm in a banana republic. One company can come along and do a deal on a change of the law.

PAUL 
Oh, come on. They have a long history of dedication to this country.

JIM 
Well, let's do it industry by industry, not company by company. If we want a change for the film industry, we did it for the whole film industry. That incentivisation was done for the whole film industry, not just for one company. The idea that one company can ask you to change the law is ludicrous.

HEATHER ROY - Former ACT MP
I think we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Who's to say that 7000 people are going to come here for a conference? We're a long way from the rest of the world. Are people going to be prepared to pay for that? And the first question is do we need a convention centre, and I'm not sure that we know the answer to that yet. But assuming that we do, should the government pay for and run the convention centre? And John Key's been absolutely clear about this - no, they shouldn't, and I absolutely agree with that perspective. Then, of course, the pokie argument enters the foray, and my big concern with that is with the pub charities, 37% of the funding goes to charity; with the big casinos - the SkyCity casino - 2.5% goes. So are the charities going to be missing out on funding, and I think if we're going to have the set number of pokies, as Auckland Council has already outlined, then we lose that.

PAUL 
That's true, but we also have the downside, don't we? I mean, are they insidious things, pokies?

CLAIRE 
Well, yes, they can be, just like anything can be insidious if people can't control it. But let's get a grip on this. The gaming industry in New Zealand is enormous. It's a $2 billion industry and $15 billion turnover. I mean, there's an enormous amount of money that goes into this, and of that, a few extra hundred pokies is tiny. It's a drop in the ocean, and, you know, we gamble from what's called 'safe gambling' and Lotto through to the TAB. The biggest, by far, portion of the industry is the pokies in the clubs and the bars...

PAUL 
And it is reckoned, I think...

CLAIRE 
...and in the casinos, it's tiny.

PAUL 
But it's reckoned that half of people who play pokies are gambling addicts.

JIM 
Well, that's where the money comes from. Look, let's get over it. SkyCity will pay nothing for this. The people who use the pokie machines will. SkyCity last year made $700 million in profit. If they're so keen on a convention centre, a bigger one, they've got enough money to pay for it if they want to. Next thing we'll have the tobacco industry being asked to fund one or the alcohol industry. Let's get into it. You know, we can really... Make it the Mafia.

HEATHER  
The reality is that people...

PAUL 
(laughs) The Mafia!

JIM 
Well, why not? Anything can go here, evidently.

HEATHER 
The reality...

PAUL 
Before you come in, can I ask you a political thing about political life? Key was... This was building last week, and Key's in Indonesia duking it up with this one and that one. What's that like when you know you've got some bloody mischief brewing at home and you're thousands of miles away?

JIM 
I think you saw what it's like, because Mr Joyce is now saying, "Oh, it isn't all over yet. We're looking at it," and so on. I think it was well and truly all over until this furore started.

PAUL 
They've come back and levelled it down quite quickly, haven't they? Key on Close Up and John Campbell on Friday night, I think, and Steven Joyce today. Were they flat-footed on this? Did they not see the trouble coming politically?

HEATHER 
I don't think they expected the reaction that they've got, and, look, people... When I talk about gambling, I always say, "Look, people hate the pokies, but they love the funding that comes a result of that that goes into the community." And that's something that does need to be considered. I think you can't ignore that factor.

CLAIRE 
Yeah, and I think the government - they don't anticipate. This is a government that doesn't tend to anticipate the strength of the left wing or the anti-government lobbies. But once they work out that something has become a political issue, then they start wheeling out the big guns. This is what you're seeing now.

PAUL 
Well, that's right, and of course nothing... Really, no one spoke up. No one really went charging into the defence of the government in this particular deal. Key gets home and straight away you see the importance to them of John Key.

JIM 
Absolutely, and there's a certain amount of political capital that you can afford to expend in defending yourself against attacks like this, and Mr Key has been good at the one-offs and off the top of his head dealing with things. If these come one after the other, which we're starting to see now, and he does it all off the top of his head and they rely on him entirely, he's going to lose that political capital very quickly.

PAUL 
So what are the chances of getting that convention centre with the pokies deal?

CLAIRE 
Oh, that's going to still take quite a long time for this negotiation to happen, so I can't see it happening overnight.

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