The NSW Coalition government has refused to release an uncensored copy of the VIP Gaming Management Agreement it signed with James Packer’s Crown Group for a high rollers’ casino at the billion-dollar Sydney harbourside site at Barangaroo.
The Upper House gave the government 14 days to disclose the complete and unredacted document on a motion by Upper House MP Dr John Kaye of the Greens. His motion was backed by Labor and Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats to secure its safe passage against a hostile Coalition.
Kaye sought all the documents created since January 1, 2014, in the possession, custody or control of Premier Mike Baird, the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Minister for Hospitality, Gaming and Racing Troy Grant, relating to the casino, which has been approved by the NSW cabinet.
Hours before last week’s deadline, the government re-released a document that had been previously posted on the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority website — with pages blacked out as well as clauses, phrases and names censored. In an accompanying notice, the government maintained that “commercial in confidence” considerations overruled full disclosure of the documentation.
The Greens will decide this week whether to challenge the decision by appealing to an independent arbiter, Keith Mason AC QC, the former president of the NSW Court of Appeal.
Kaye told Crikey that the government’s handling of the casino project as an “unsolicited proposal” had raised public concerns. “The state is being bound to a casino which creates significant financial and public safety concerns by a government that has a compromised record in dealing with wealthy and powerful corporate identities,” he said.
As a recent Four Corners investigation by Linton Besser found, chasing high rollers brings with it higher risks. Besser’s investigation, broadcast on September 15, detailed the connections between the casino industry in Macau — the former Portuguese colony restored to mainland China in 1999 — and organised crime gangs known as triads.
“Australian casinos that target Asian VIP gamblers to boost their profits could run a serious risk of exposure to organised crime, according to a range of law enforcement and security experts,” Besser reported. “Organised crime has found a home in Macau. Will it look for more opportunities here?”
Triads have a long history in the two former colonies. They kept the peace for British and Portuguese colonialism for almost 150 years suppressing trade union militancy and supporting commerce (Hong Kong) and gambling (Macau). Today we find them undertaking the same strong-arm tactics on behalf of Beijing, most recently deployed against peaceful protesters in Hong Kong.
Kaye said that the casino industry had a history in the United States, Asia and Europe of attracting organised crime and money laundering, making full disclosure of all legal arrangements with the Coalition government essential.
“There is a powerful and abiding public interest in the terms of the agreement being made public,” he added.