Auckland's $400 million International Convention Centre has come a step closer amid heated accusations that MPs failed to vote with their conscience in backing a law change which will allow increased gambling facilities at SkyCity.
The New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill passed its first reading by 61 votes to 59 with support from National, United Future and the Act Party. Because the legislation dealt with gambling concessions, MPs could vote on conscience instead of according to party policy.
But all MPs stuck to their party lines, leading Labour Party deputy leader Grant Robertson to claim that National MPs were ignoring their conscience.
"There is no personal vote ... coming from the National side. And I can tell you why we know that ... because we know there are members of that side of the House who understand the impact of gambling harm, who understand how it destroys families, who understand the damage that it does right across communities.
"They in the past have stood up against problem gambling, and today they don't. They are not exercising their consciences."
Opposition MPs repeatedly pointed to official advice to the Government that the increase in gambling facilities could create more problem gamblers, despite plans to introduce new harm minimisation tools. But Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce countered that claim by arguing that National was reducing another social harm - unemployment.
He cited an Institute of Economic Research study that predicted the centre would provide 1000 jobs during construction and 800 jobs once it was opened.
Earlier, Mr Joyce said it was difficult to determine whether the expansion of pokies at SkyCity increased gambling harm. He said the number of gaming machines was falling and the new pokies would halt that steady decline by six months.
Opposition MPs stressed that they supported jobs and growth, but not at any cost. New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser gave a personal speech about a former partner's gambling addiction.
"I have had first-hand experience of being in a relationship with someone who was unable to resist the temptation of putting another in the machine. I watched, as my best efforts to assist failed, a person who held a good job in a position of responsibility succumb to her affliction ... it is a horrible thing to watch and an even more horrible thing to experience."
He compared the psychology of gambling addiction to the Government's law-making.
"There is a common set of indicators in people with addictions - drugs, alcohol, gambling, they are all the same. One of the most common early signs is denial accompanied by justification and minimisation ... Just one more puff. Just one more beer ...
"I ask the House and the members opposite to ask themselves whether that is indeed what they are doing and whether that is indeed what is happening with their thinking: Just one little law change, that's all. Just a few more pokies. Think of the jobs."
The bill is back before Parliament on November 14.