The mode of business that SkyCity operates is one that is going to be toxic for politics. For a politician to be taking favours from a company whose central business is gambling makes them reek of possible corruption in the public eye.
Schmoozing up politicians with free rooms might look like a harmless freebie when they come to pay their bill, but it looks downright fishy and probably corrupt to everyone else when it involves a gambling company. So does being wined and dined at their corporate box at Eden Park to watch a game. So does National holding their frequent conferences at the existing SkyCity convention centre. Every time I see that I ask myself – just how good was the rate that they actually paid?
The reason is obvious. SkyCity derives most of its profit from the highly regulated area of gambling and where they have clear business focus of trying to monopolize the local market in Auckland. They badly need politicians to give them a free run at that by removing the regulation that protects the public. For them the reputation that the politician has after they get what they want simply doesn’t matter that much.
But the reputation that a politician has is what they trade on election after election. Once it gets tattered with any major perception of corruption then they really a dead meat walking. John Banks has pretty much already been convicted in the public mind. I rather suspect that Len Brown is going to find that out.
The report that the Auckland City Council commissioned* about use of council resources showed no particular smoking gun. It was largely sloppy management control of the resources of the mayors office. The nearest thing to systematic misuse was the use of a mobile phone on which about a third of it’s use was to txt or call Bevan Chaung. The problem is that separating personal and work use is notoriously difficult, and that the phone was almost certainly on an unlimited or near unlimited contract which makes the marginal costs of calls moot.
In the course of the investigation the report looked at hotel rooms, which turned out to have little to do with the council. However they have a lot to do with politics.
|Hotel||Total room nights booked||Complimentary room nights||Upgrade room nights|
The estimates about the value of hotel room upgrades is complete bullshit. Hotel room upgrades are common if there isn’t demand for the better room. Then it costs the hotel essentially nothing to do. It is a marginal cost for different consumables.
As you can see the mayor and his family (the mayoress paid for it) used the Stamford Plaza on a regular basis, which had 57 of the 74 hotel nights over a 1087 day period. That made them high value regulars and that meant that any hotel with upgradeable capacity will be upgrading them if at all possible.
But what is interesting are the complimentary hotel rooms where the room is free. This actually does cost the hotel. But it also isn’t uncommon especially if the hotel can make money on other services like meals or if they are trying to poach a regular customer from another hotel. The 4 free rooms at the Hilton and one each from the Langham and Copthorne look like examples of this. For that matter so do the 3 free rooms at Skycity….
But the problem with the Skycity free rooms is that they happened over the same period that Skycity was lobbying both the local and central government to provide a convention centre (that many including myself think is a white elephant) in exchange for significiant increase in their ability to increase their gambling capacity. The dirty (and in my view – corrupt) deals done with the National government have been pretty well documented.
The stench of that is probably going to carry over to those three free room nights. It doesn’t matter if the Hilton did 4 nights. It is fairly clear that they had no particular advantage to schmooze the mayor apart from his habit of staying at another hotel. But Skycity is far more vertically integrated between its gambling and hotel business. Politically Len Brown accepting three free nights there is political suicide.
Of course as Brian Rudman at the NZ Herald points out, there is bugger all that anyone can do about Len Brown before the next local body elections in 2016. People who want to whine about that should direct themselves to Rodney Hide who monumentally screwed up most of the supercity legislation including making the mayor a presidential style of position.
* Incidentally Christine Fletcher is a bit of a munter trying to get Len Brown to pay for a report that the council commissioned. At least a large chunk of the fault for the few minor bits of questionable spending lies with the council for not monitoring expenditures better. That the Bernard Osman at the NZ Herald has written this stupid piece without bothering to note that, indicates he really needs to brush up on his basic organisational responsibilities.