Probe into SkyCity convention centre

Labour and the Greens have today demanded that negotiations with SkyCity be halted until an investigation is completed into how the Government brokered the deal for the international convention centre.

The Auditor-General's office has announced an inquiry into the way the Government sought proposals for the Auckland convention centre.

The Government has faced widespread criticism since it emerged it was willing to allow SkyCity more pokie machines if it built the centre at no cost to the taxpayer.

Prime Minister John Key, in his capacity as Minister for Tourism, was also revealed to have approached SkyCity to make a bid to build the centre.

Mr Key has rejected claims he had an unfair amount of influence over the tender process.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei wrote to the Auditor-General on April 24 asking for an investigation amid concerns about the fairness and adequacy of the tender process.

She said today there needed to be an immediate hold on all negotiations over the SkyCity convention centre deal.

"The Government cannot possibly proceed with the SkyCity deal while the inquiry goes ahead as its terms of reference cut to the heart of the decision to award the contract to Skycity in the first place," Mrs Turei said.

"I raised concerns about the fairness and adequacy of the process, especially given Skycity was offered a law change that gave it more pokies in exchange for building the centre, and the deal didn't appear to consider the huge social and financial costs of increased gambling."

Mrs Turei said there had been options from other groups who wanted to build a centre.

"We don't think the process has been fair to those other groups, to Aucklanders who don't want more gambling in their city, and to the families of problem gamblers who are likely to suffer from any increase in gambling," Mrs Turei said.

Labour leader David Shearer echoed calls for a halt on negotiations.

"John Key's fingerprints are all over this shonky deal. The cosy arrangement between him and SkyCity was dodgy from the very beginning. It was stitched up in a way that essentially cut all other bidders out of the running," Mr Shearer said.

"That's not the way we do business in New Zealand. We have a strong reputation internationally for open and transparent government and that must be protected."

Mr Shearer said the inquiry was an opportunity to get to the bottom of what National and SkyCity had been up to behind closed doors.

Today's announcement comes after the Greens met staff at the office of the Auditor-General this morning.

SkyCity "will of course co-operate fully with the Auditor-General as and when required over the course of her inquiry," general counsel Peter Treacy said in a statement to the NZX.

"From SkyCity's perspective, we were involved in a competitive selection process, responding to the governments request for expressions of interest to develop a national convention centre," he said.

Deputy Auditor-General Phillippa Smith announced the inquiry. Auditor-General Lyn Provost has a small shareholding in SkyCity and will not be involved in any matters relating to the inquiry.

The inquiry will examine:

* The overall process for seeking and assessing proposals for an international convention centre

* The adequacy of the assessment of the likely costs and benefits of each proposal

* Any other matters the auditor-general considers it desirable to report on.

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