Ain’t private enterprise wonderful? Actually, yes it is, in its purest form, when an enterprising citizen sets up a business to supply a useful good or service to a willing public.
However it begins to take on a far less sweet and pleasant odour when it gets too big for its boots and thinks it deserves consideration over the needs of the majority of us. While it is nothing new to learn that ‘big business’ is usually in a position to gain concessions from politicians that serve only them (and possibly the pollies as well); the current dirty deal being considered with SkyCity is something new.
What is new about it might only be the fact that we all know about it. Most of those opposed to Jianqi’s offer to change gambling laws to suit the casino in return for them building a convention centre are appalled we could be auctioning our laws for some mythical windfall for the City of Sailors. Personally, I would be extremely surprised if this was a first. However I would think it is the first time anyone has been so blatantly obvious about it. And I don’t see that as a matter of ‘transparency’ (the latest buzzword of the conversationally challenged).
Instead I see this as further evidence of the utter contempt in which Jianqi and his overpaid and under-skilled gang hold the voters of Aotearoa. Six months ago they won an election. Well when I say they won an election, I guess the word ‘won’ needs some clarification.
Under our electoral rules they gathered more seats (59) than any other single party. However as there are 121 seats in our Parliament they did not win the majority of them and they needed the electorate seats of coalition partners United Fiasco and the Actors to reach a one seat majority. Furthermore if we turn our attention to their percentage of the party votes cast we can see that 47.31 percent is not a majority either and even adding in the pathetic contributions from the aforementioned ‘collision’ partners that still only gets them to 48.98 percent. It is only by adding the Maori vote in that this unholy cabal makes it over the 50 percent line (by a whole 0.41 percent. Now that’s hardly the stuff of blank chequebooks and unlimited mandates for one’s entire policy.
But back to the issue at hand.
Paperwork has emerged showing that on the strength of this ‘win’ or ‘mandate’ or ‘travesty’ depending on your viewpoint, Jianqi saw fit to order officials to cease work on plans for a major convention centre in the City of Seals and advise himself (at least he was telling somebody!) to chase SkyCity to build one for us instead.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact our laws seem to be up for auction in return. The National Disgrace is quite prepared to alter gambling laws which would allow SkyCity to put in bigger better faster and greedier gambling facilities. This is an interesting policy in the light of an oft mentioned mantra that our legislation is supposed to be some kind of sinking lid on gambling and a disincentive to the unlimited greedy growth plans of the casino barons.
There is another aspect to this barrel of rotten fish that should also be of concern to us. It is easy to imagine SkyCity had special treatment over this matter. Consider the following:
1. Ministry officials began a feasibility study on the proposed convention centre in August 2009.
2. In the same month Ministry officials heard of SkyCity proposals to expand their facilities and Jianqi ordered them to stop work until he had heard more about what SkyCity was planning.
3. At their AGM in October 2009, SkyCity chairman Rod McGeoch told shareholders the company’s relationships with Government were as good as they had ever been and that he now had opportunities to meet high ranking officials and cabinet Ministers. He added that situations like that were changing how the company was seen by key influencers.
4. At the same meeting Mr McGeoch said SkyCity wanted changes to the Gambling Act because it barred them from expanding their casino activities. He said the Act should take account of the contribution the casino industry makes to employment and tourism.
5. A valuable piece of background information here is that SkyCity employ the services of Mark Unsworth who is a professional lobbyist and one of only about a dozen such people who can walk into Parliament whenever they like to see Cabinet Ministers and officials on behalf of their clients.
6. On November 4, 2009 Jianqi had dinner with SkyCity bosses and where he discussed the convention centre and they talked about the possibility of relaxing the gaming laws for SkyCity. Key says he was relaxed about this because it was a way to get the convention centre without spending any Government money.
7. In March 2010 Cabinet called for expressions of interest for the building of the convention centre and decided the feasibility study with Auckland Council for the centre and for which a budget of $250,000 had already been approved must stop.
8. Over the next nine months or so the Ministry of Economic Destruction spends $277,698 on legal fees and various (no doubt useless) reports vaguely connected to the project.
9. In June 2011 it was announced SkyCity would be building the $350M centre contingent upon gaming laws being changed to suit them along with a further ten year extension to their gaming licence.
It certainly seems like nobody else got a look in and it appears pretty certain the favourite was picked long before the race began and it appears the punters are the ones that are being asked to jump over the fences while the horse just ties on a really big feed bag.
An interesting aside to this that I discovered while researching this blog (yes, I do actually check stuff), was that when SkyCity applied for permission to new gaming tables and machines to ‘fund the building of its new convention facilities’ (that sounds like a familiar turn of phrase); the Chair of the Casino Control Authority who ruled in favour of them was Judith Collins, our current Minister for something or other quite major. She agreed with them that it would have a positive effect on tourism, employment and economic development. Now where have I heard that phrase before? Spooky, eh?
Or put another way; “Lot 23 the New Zealand Gaming Act, now who’ll give me an opening bid of $350 million?”