Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Big gambling with big money

Pub pokie players last year accounted for more than $856 million of the total $1967 million spent at legal gambling venues. File Photo / Supplied
Pub pokie players last year accounted for more than $856 million of the total $1967 million spent at legal gambling venues. File Photo / Supplied

While SkyCity's clients almost always leave the casino with less money than they walked in with, according to Brian Rudman the casino itself has spotted a bargain - see: Lest we forget modern kamikazes.

With 500 new pokie machines, each bringing in $143,000 a year (according to TV3's 60 minutes' The Big Gamble), Rudman calculates the $350 million price tag of the new convention centre could be repaid in just five years. Rudman details how the majority of pokie proceeds in Auckland come from low income suburbs but that, despite the millions already extracted: 'Multi-millionaire Prime Minister, John Key, reckons they're good for one more squeeze - strictly for the public good of course'.

A Goldman Sachs report estimates the benefit to SkyCity at $42 million a year when the direct benefits to SkyCity of the convention centre itself are included - see: SkyCity to earn $42m a year in pokie deal.

More details of the proposed deal may be hard to come by, as Radio New Zealand is reporting Internal Affairs Minister Amy Adams has refused to release the reports she's received on the proposal, saying their release could 'prejudice commercial negotiations' - see: Govt refusing to release advice on pokies.

The problem for the Government is that this is not just a commercial deal between two corporate heavyweights. A 'free' convention centre must be appealing as a great deal for 'New Zealand Inc', but it reinforces two negative perceptions of National: that it only cares about the bottom line when making decisions, and that it is willing to bend or change the rules for large corporations. The latter criticism crosses the left-right political spectrum. There are numerous right-wingers, especially neoliberals, upset about the Government intervening in the marketplace and playing favourites. See, for example, Peter Cresswell's Sky City is not the limit when it comes to govt's favours.

The Maori Party is also being accused of putting private interests ahead of ensuring good practice. Today's Dominion Post editorial takes Maori Affairs minister Pita Sharples to task for criticising the cancelling of five Family Start contracts, telling him he has 'to decide whose side he is on. Is it vulnerable children, many of them Maori, or is it the providers of social services, who have failed them?' see: NB, Pita Sharples, children come first.

Radio New Zealand reports, however, that other providers who have had their contracts renewed are reporting 'intense government scrutiny' over their Family Start programmes - see: Intense scrutiny of Family Start providers. While Paula Bennett is very unlikely to get into any political trouble with enhanced monitoring of public contracts it may be that the Whanau Ora projects are seen as a high political risk for National and they are taking no chances that Winston Peters will find more taxpayer funded spending of the 'family re-union' type. Whatever the actual motives, Sharples' reaction of negotiating by media release is very curious for a coalition party. In previous MMP governments such an outburst would have had the Opposition claiming imminent coalition collapse. Has our MMP politics moved on to allow such public spats on a regular basis, or is the Maori Party becoming increasingly marginalised and impotent in a government that doesn't need it to stay in power?

Any attempt to understand the Establishment in New Zealand - as discussed in this column yesterday - needs to start with an analysis and awareness of the major business lobby groups. Last month, I pointed to Patrick Smellie's excellent outline of the rise and fall of various elite groups, as well as the connections and mergers between lobbyists. That article is now available online - see: Finance industry lobbyists being rationalised. Today Smellie follows up on this, reporting on yesterday's launch of the New Zealand Initiative - see: Roundtable and NZ Institute morph into new libertarian think tank. That this is 'the end of an era' for the infamous Business Roundtable hasn't received much coverage, and those on the right seem very keen to 'move on' and focus on the re-brand - see, for example, David Farrar's blog post, The New Zealand Initiative and the resulting discussion amongst commenters.

The new group's website is scheduled to go live this evening. Much attention will be on the new director, German-born economist Oliver Hartwich - whose personal website contains an ample library of his past publications to keep both supporters and opponents of the new NZI very busy reading.

The next chapter in the Crafar farm controversy is about to unfold, with news that the Government has received the new advice from OIO, and will announce a decision in the next few weeks after delving through 'very detailed, very long, massive volumes' - see TV3's New Crafar farms decision due in April. Almost as if anticipating the imminent arrival of this highly-contentious new round of public debate, the Herald has today published a special 'China Business 2012 report', which includes numerous interesting articles relating to the issue: Fran O'Sullivan's Fonterra boss not playing games, Tim Groser's Turning opportunity into reality and Siah Hwee Ang's Foreign buy-in jolt NZ needs.

Other items of interest and importance today include the following:
• Labour says that it is relishing a defamation trial, in which, Judith Collins' 'emails, text messages and phone calls will be made public' (Kate Chapman: Bring it on, Labour says to legal threat).

• The Herald says there's No need for wider inquiry on ACC leak.

• Sue Kedgley puts forward a lengthy argument in the Dominion Post against the Government's local government reforms, suggesting that they are an attempt to remodel local democracy along Act Party-like neoliberal lines (The agenda behind local government reform).

• Nikki Preston shows the intense focus on politician spending is still continuing (Hamilton mayor's $1257 office chair on ratepayers).

• A frequent visitor to Christchurch, Ian Maxwell, argues in the Press that the health of the city was poor before the earthquakes, and is likely to get worse (Gutting of city will increase divide).

• Vernon Small reports on the $1.2b hike in Budget deficit.

• David Farrar compiles a list of historic Parliamentary scandals.

• Scott Hamilton finds that the New Zealand Labour Party could learn some lessons from the surprise by-election victory of George Galloway in Britain (Lessons from Bradford).

• And, Philip Ferguson asks Whatever happened to the leisure society?, lamenting that the promised future with less working hours hasn't eventuated. Ferguson says when economists once told us that due to technological progress the life of leisure was on it's way, they didn't tell us that it would be called 'unemployment'.

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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