Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Brown says he won't take SkyCity cash this election

The SkyCity deal to build an international convention centre in Auckland in exchange for being allowed to install more gambling machines has attracted criticism. Photo / HOS
The SkyCity deal to build an international convention centre in Auckland in exchange for being allowed to install more gambling machines has attracted criticism. Photo / HOS

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says he will not accept campaign funds from casino operator SkyCity at this year's local body elections after strongly backing the pokies for convention centre deal.

Mr Brown tried to duck the issue in an interview with the Weekend Herald this week, but eventually said it was "probably inappropriate" to accept money from SkyCity given the public sensitivities around the deal.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said Mr Brown had made the right call given the circumstances of the convention centre deal and the ethical issues involved with accepting donations from companies whose products cause social harm.

"We do not believe Mr Brown would be influenced by such a donation, but by not accepting a donation from SkyCity there can be no question of inappropriate influence," he said.

Mr Brown - who as Manukau Mayor had a sinking lid policy on pokies - has extolled the economic benefits of an international convention centre for Auckland but was a latecomer to the issue of "harm minimisation" from a possible extra 300 pokies at the casino.

After Mr Brown's 2010 financial returns showed he accepted a contribution of $15,000 from SkyCity, he came under fire from the lobby group Gambling Watch and Maori public health agency Hapai Te Hauora Tapui.

That was followed last year by criticism from his home community of Otara, Labour and Green MPs for "sitting on the fence" and not doing enough over the pokies for convention centre deal.

This week, Mr Brown continued to extol the "huge economic" benefits, particularly to unemployed youth at "my community in the south" who would get jobs at the new centre.

SkyCity gave Mr Brown and former Auckland City Mayor John Banks $15,000 each at the first Super City mayoral election. At the time, SkyCity general counsel Peter Treacy said the company made the donations "to facilitate the democratic process".

Corporate communications general manager Gordon Jon Thompson yesterday said SkyCity decided some time ago not to make donations to Auckland mayoral candidates for this year's elections but did not say why.

Meanwhile, changes to the local electoral finance laws that allowed Mr Brown to use a trust to hide $499,000 of anonymous donations at the 2010 election, are due to become law in May in time for the October 12 poll.

The Local Electoral Act is being amended so candidates must disclose all donations of more than $1500 - the same as for general elections.

Mr Brown's electoral return for 2010 showed he spent $581,900, of which $499,00 was folded into a single trust.

- NZ Herald

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