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House: Govt Accused of "Bad Faith" On Casinos

An attempt to enforce local polls before casino applications were approved was defeated on a conscience vote in the House last night amidst allegations of conspiracy and collusion.

In speaking to the report back from select committee of her Casino Control (Poll Demand) Amendment Bill, Phillida Bunkle could hardly control her anger.

She said there had been "shameful, bad faith" by the Government with an "orchestrated litany of foot dragging" to ensure that people in Queenstown and other areas could not have a say on casinos.

The Bill says that before a casino application is granted a study is done on the impact and then a poll is held of local people. It has been in select committee for two years and was returned without amendment.

The Alliance MP said she had been misled into believing that a Government Bill on the same subject would include a binding local poll, but it did not. She was angry that on the day the Bill was to come back to the House, the Casino Control Authority had approved two licences for Queenstown.

The MP said that the public were against casinos, but they had been shut out and that the Government had been lobbied to ensure that her Bill did not come into force before the Queenstown applications had been processed.

Internal Affairs Minister, Jack Elder, said the Government and he did not collude to delay the Bill and he said her accusations that lawyers acting for the casinos had somehow influenced committee members and others were without foundation.

Mr Elder said he was not averse to considering referenda on casinos, but the idea of retrospective referenda was appalling and would terrify all businesses, not just casinos and would be opposed. He said the Bill as it stood was retrospective and this was intolerable.

The Minister said the Government legislation (tabled in the House yesterday after being in select committee) could be amended to include a local poll, which the Authority must take into account. He said currently the legislation proposed that the Authority should take account of local opinion, but he would not worry too much if a poll should be held as long as it was at the beginning of the application process, not the end.

Graham Kelly (Labour) said that he did not agree with the Bill, but appealed for members to vote for it making progress in order for it to be amended in the committee stages. Mr Kelly said that the Bill was not retrospective as it was just to come into force from the time of introduction and all applicants since then had known about the Bill.

When the vote was held after a number of passionate speeches from all sides of the House on the Bill, including a particularly angry John Banks (in favour of the Bill), the vote went 62 to 55, with one abstention, against the bill proceeding.

Earlier in the day the Animal Welfare Bill (no2) proceeded through report back stage and was set down as a Government Bill. (see earlier story in the headlines wire) as did a bill concerning the governance of Christ's College in Christchurch.

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