Issue #1571 31 October 2012
Packer super-casino gets bipartisan nod
Both the major parties in NSW have given tentative approval to Crown Limited, gambling tycoon James Packer’s firm, to build a massive 6-star hotel and casino in Barangaroo, the huge vacant waterside complex west of Sydney’s central business district.
Sydney already has a casino on the opposite side of Darling Harbour, i.e. the Star Casino, run by rival corporation Echo Entertainment. Packer’s scheme would require the issuing of a permit for a second casino, which couldn’t open until 2019, when Echo’s exclusive licence expires. However, Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell has already endorsed the proposal. The ALP also supports it, providing there are no poker machines.
From the outset the Greens have opposed the scheme, which has also been attacked by church and community groups because of the potentially devastating social impact.
The Shareholders Association and others have objected to use of the government’s three-stage “unsolicited proposal” policy, under which it can bypass normal tender processes for issuing a licence for a casino or other major development, without competition and possibly without a fee.
The Association has suggested the policy is open to corrupt “backroom deals”. The policy is reminiscent of the former Labor government’s infamous “Part 3A” planning process, under which major projects could be approved directly by the government without the normal assessment procedures.
In 1994 James and his father Kerry Packer tried to gain the state’s first casino licence, but were outbid by an Australian/US conglomerate, which built the Star Casino. The Packers subsequently fought and lost a prolonged and very expensive legal case to overturn the decision.
James Packer then tried to take control over Echo by gaining a ten percent stake in the company and demanding representation on the company board. However, that tactic stalled. Packer then proposed his Barangaroo scheme, which if implemented would enable Crown to win the struggle with Echo to attract the “big rollers” from Asia. Packer has casinos in other state capitals, but not Sydney. He wants a “casino in the sky” hotel, with panoramic views of Sydney’s magnificent harbour, to draw the big punters away from the Star and the major Asian casinos.
It now looks as though he will succeed and add a monstrous construction to the Barangaroo complex, the planning of which is already hideously over developed. But there’s even worse.
Insatiable greed, with water views
Packer is determined to gain the best view for his Barangaroo patrons, i.e. eastwards up the spectacular harbour towards the Sydney Heads. However, because of the existing city skyline, the best position for his tower was in the extreme north of the complex. The more southerly its location, the higher it would need to be in order to gain that fabulous “water view”.
The northern section was already allocated as a park. Packer therefore proposed to take over part of the central section for his new hotel and casino. However, that had also been allocated for public purposes, and Labor MPs threatened to block passage of second-licence legislation in the upper house of parliament if he pursued the option. Accordingly, after negotiations with Lend Lease, the Barangaroo development corporation, he gained access to a site in the most northerly point of the huge southern section.
Crown and the Barangaroo Delivery Authority are now arguing that Packer’s tower needs another 20 storeys because they acceded to the Premier’s request to abandon construction of a hotel at the end of the huge pier jutting into Darling Harbour. That would raise Packer’s tower to 250 metres, nearly as high as Centrepoint Tower, the city’s tallest structure. It would dominate Barangaroo.
It’s even possible that he might still gain approval from the government to build the pier hotel. O’Farrell hasn’t banned it, he merely requested Packer not to pursue that option. At the time he did so the proposal had already received approval from the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, and that approval still stands. O’Farrell almost fell over himself in his hurry to endorse Packer’s proposal for a second casino licence, and he could easily backtrack and approve the pier proposal after all.
O’Farrell’s approval of Packer’s casino scheme was also conditional on an assurance there would be no poker machines. However, as anti-gambling campaigner the Reverend Tim Costello noted grimly: “That’s exactly how Adelaide got its casino licence, and within two years it had pokies”.
Packer has promised that access to the gaming tables would be by invitation only, but the invitations could be extended to anyone, wreaking economic havoc with local families, just as the existing clubs and casinos do every day of the week.
A national ambition
Packer has spoken proudly of the jobs that would be created by adoption of his Barangaroo plan. What hypocrisy! Huge corporations like Crown Holdings employ people only because they have to do so in order to create profits, and they’re all too willing to shove employees out the door the moment things get tough.
Packer also spoke about his family’s business history. One wonders what Sir Frank Packer, that rabid old right-wing ranter, would have thought of his grandson’s dumping of the family’s media empire in favour of gambling.
And how degrading it would be for the nation to be dependent for its national economic salvation on ripping off punters, even very rich ones! Moreover, Packer may still succeed in taking over Echo Entertainment, in which case as commentator Andrew Cleary observed: “… teaming up with Crown would mean Echo becoming the mass market and Packer’s brand the exclusive, international jewel.” Everyone loses, Packer wins.
Both major political parties have cow-towed to Packer. Tim Costello commented bitterly that they were “dancing to the tune of gambling interests. They literally fall into their arms every time”. The Liberals, the National Party and the ALP should be ashamed of themselves. But they won’t be.
National salvation lies in electing a government that will rein in the activities of that obscenely bloated parasite, the Australian gambling industry, especially the Packer empire.
Next article – Back to the future for Australian universities
Back to index page