Prime Minister John Key has backed away from statements
to Parliament about SkyCity hatching a land deal with TVNZ to
make room for the larger convention centre he wanted.
NZ First leader Winston Peters had called it a "secret side
deal"in questions to Parliament yesterday.
Mr Key rejected the claim saying the casino had talked to
TVNZ about buying the land itself - but has no accepted no
approach had been made.
A spokesman for Mr Key said: "The Prime Minister is happy to
accept the assurances from TVNZ this morning that no approach
has been made."
Mr Key also pulled back from comments about a possible
"commercial deal"between the state broadcaster and SkyCity.
His spokesman said the Prime Minister had now been told no
sale agreement had been made and it was "a commercial matter
between the parties".
The confusion arose after Mr Key told Parliament the casino
had worked out it needed more land to build a large
convention centre. The larger design came after Mr Key's
instruction to "think outside the box"resulted in a design
for much larger convention centre.
Mr Key told Parliament yesterday he was aware "if SkyCity was
to build a larger convention centre than the original one
they wanted, at some point I was aware that they would need
to acquire land".
He said: "It is pretty straightforward. SkyCity, after it
decided it would be prepared to enter an expression of
interest process to have a larger convention centre, went off
to its architects. Its architects designed such a thing,
realised they needed more land, worked out who owned the
land, and approached Television New Zealand."
Mr Key was quizzed over how an approach could be made without
the TVNZ board being aware of it. He responded: "I cannot
speak for the Television New Zealand board, but I am finding
it reasonably hard to believe that Television New Zealand
entered a commercial agreement with Skycity to sell land that
it owned, and it did so without its board knowing."
Mr Peters said TVNZ's board had heard nothing of land being
sold and asked if Mr Key had promised the casino he would
"privatise TVNZ's assets" as part of the deal.
Mr Key responded by saying a lack of knowledge might show
"board process needs to be improved, and maybe the
mixed-ownership model would work for it". He added there were
no plans to sell TVNZ or change its structure.
TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards told the Herald on a number
of occasions last year there had been no approach by SkyCity
for the land and no deal had been done.
Today, she said the position had not changed. "We have had no
approach from SkyCity. We have no commercial arrangement with
SkyCity. If we were to be approached by SkyCity we would have
to consider it on its merits."
She said there were portions of land which TVNZ might
consider it could sell and others which it would not. She
said SkyCity had historically expressed an interest but not
in recent years and never in relation to the proposed
International Convention Centre.
The casino's desire for land emerged in the Auditor-General's
report into the proposed deal. In August 2010, then-economic
development minister Gerry Brownlee asked the casino if it
was able to get more land for a bigger convention centre.
The report linked the bigger design to the Gambling Act
changes the casino wanted, stating: "SkyCity recalls the
Minister indicating at the meeting that the Government's
willingness to consider regulatory reform depended on SkyCity
meeting the requirements of a bigger convention centre on a
In September 2010, the casino produced a design showing more
land was needed, telling the Government it wanted it to buy
the land for the project.
- By David Fisher of the New Zealand Herald