John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Labour MPs deal themselves losing hand

Labour found its way to the test via SkyCity's corporate box. Photo / Richard Robinson
Labour found its way to the test via SkyCity's corporate box. Photo / Richard Robinson

If there was one place in New Zealand you would think Labour MPs would have steered well clear of last Saturday night then that place would surely have been SkyCity's corporate box at Eden Park. Well, you thought wrong.

Barely a month has passed since Labour slammed the Government's deal with SkyCity which will see the latter build an international-scale convention centre in return for securing up to 230 extra poker machines plus an extension of the company's gaming licence until 2048.

When the agreement was unveiled last month, David Shearer called it a licence to print money off the backs of problem gamblers. As late as Tuesday this week, the Labour leader was still describing the deal as "sleazy". However, it turns out Shearer was one of four Labour MPs invited to enjoy SkyCity's hospitality during the All Blacks' test with France.

That news came as welcome relief for National MPs in Parliament yesterday.

They were getting heartily sick of Labour's constant refrain in the wake of Peter Dunne's resignation that the National-led minority Government was now propped up by two disgraced MPs, raising questions about both its stability and legitimacy.

It did not take long for those National MPs to start teasing their Labour counterparts, with interjections directed at Clayton Cosgrove - one of the SkyCity Four - when he rose to make a point of order.

"What was the score on Saturday night?" one National MP asked.

"I'll save you a sausage roll, Gerry," Cosgrove replied, presuming Gerry Brownlee was his taunter.

But National was only warming up. Speaking during the Wednesday afternoon general debate, Tony Ryall accused the four MPs of "supping from the gambler's cup". Ouch.

Ryall noted that Shearer had said he had only spent five to 10 minutes in the SkyCity box. He had not drunk anything or eaten anything. "The only thing he didn't say was that he didn't inhale," Ryall continued. "Did he put a bet on? That is the question."

That was greeted with silence on the Labour benches. Ryall singled out Phil Goff - along with Kris Faafoi - as the other attendees. Ryall challenged Goff to deny it. But for once the stentorian voice of the former leader was not to be heard. Labour's embarrassment was complete.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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