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Shearer calls for convention centre re-tender

Thursday 21 Feb 2013 9:03 a.m.

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Labour leader David Shearer says there was only a single line in the Auditor-General's report into the Government’s convention centre tender process that backed Prime Minister John Key's view of events.

Mr Key yesterday rejected Opposition claims the deal, which will see Sky City build a $350 million convention centre in exchange for changes to the Gambling Act, was underhanded and unfair.

Auditor General Phillippa Smith's report concluded there were deficiencies in how officials handled the tender, but nothing inappropriate that would have influenced the outcome.

Mr Shearer however disagrees, saying the report shows Mr Key was "in it donkey deep".

"This was completely unfair, a completely shonky process," he told Firstline this morning.

"Seventy-one pages of that report is about how shonky it is, and one line which John Key keeps on quoting."

He says Labour backs the building of a convention centre, but not one that will be built "on the backs of problem gamblers".

"Auckland needs a convention centre, and we accept that… I don't like pokie machines, I'll be right up front about it. I just don't think we need more pokie machines in Auckland."

He has called for the tender process to be held again, this time with an even playing field.

"Let's give these other companies a fair chance to bid on the same playing field as Sky City had," he told Firstline.

"I think we should go back to the beginning and say, this is the rules (sic), we all play to the same rules. Not Sky City having inside running and being able to talk directly to the Prime Minister's office, and these guys being left out in the dark, that's really unfair.

"And that's what the report says – it wasn't even-handed, it wasn't transparent and it wasn't accountable. John Key can say he's vindicated – he's totally implicated in this."

Mr Key says Sky City was the only applicant that was prepared to pay for the convention centre without Government assistance.

"Sky City has the right location and it was the only one prepared to put up the cash - all the others (bidders for the contract) wanted the Government to pay for it."

The other applicants were not aware the Government had no plans to contribute towards the cost of building the centre.

"They went about their bids thinking that Government was going to put up some sort of shareholding," says Mr Shearer. "They didn't know that Sky City was going to get some favours done – in the form of changing our law [to let Sky City install more pokie machines] – they didn't have that opportunity at all."

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce will be taking questions on the deal in Parliament today, as Mr Key is out of town.

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