Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the America’s Cup and convention centre handouts

October 22nd, 2013

According to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, Team New Zealand “is not a job for life” but it certainly seems the next best thing to it. For a sport that prides itself on its entrepreneurial edge, our America’s Cup efforts seem to be chronically dependent on government handouts and media-generated frenzies to generate even a domestic following in New Zealand. As for its international appeal…this remains next to zero, as sports columnist Joseph Romanos has pointed out:

The media has hyped it up massively…..It’s all been delivered in a rather smug we’re-taking-on-the-world-and-winning-again manner. We aren’t, of course. Only four teams entered the 2013 America’s Cup contest. The Swedes turned up late and, like the Italians, were second rate. Only the New Zealand and American franchises were serious contenders. Whole continents – Asia, Africa, South America – were absent. Except for New Zealand, no country really cares about the America’s Cup. There were New Zealanders in all four teams in San Francisco…

Regardless, the gravy train keeps rolling on. Yesterday, the government extended a further $5 million handout to enable Team New Zealand – which to all intents is Grant Dalton, Dean Barker and the people they choose to hire – to stay together and attract sponsors, if and when another America’s Cup challenge eventuates, by around May of next year. If we do decide to challenge, the government would be willing to stump up $35-40 million in total, Joyce told yesterday’s prime ministerial press conference, subject to certain conditions. If no challenge eventuates, the initial $5 million will be “speculative” money down the drain. Incredible, really. The problem is not simply that yachting at this level is an entirely elitist sport, with none of the natural following enjoyed by the All Blacks or Silver Ferns. With the Americas Cup, failure also seems to have no consequences, and the selection criteria for the top team is opaque. For all his skills, Barker has now fronted three failed Cup challenges, and has an 11-20 ration of wins to losses at Cup level. Yet if he wants to continue, there seems to be no barrier to him and Grant Dalton still being the arbiters of who gets on the team, as part of their role as conduit for taxpayer subsidies.

In defending the government’s further investment, Joyce cited the exposure that this year’s challenge allegedly earned for our “beverages” (i.e. wine) high tech and marine industries in San Francisco, which he described as the “gateway” to the US market. Funny then that the New Zealand consulate is located in Los Angeles, because that’s more commonly seen as the natural gateway to the US market. The front page treatment of the America’s Cup races in the San Francisco press that Joyce cited was also a highly misleading analysis. For much of the regatta, the Cup contest was stolidly ignored by the US media, and it barely registered coverage even within the San Francisco Chronicle sports pages. What coverage it ultimately got was entirely a product of Oracle’s unlikely come-from-behind victory. (USA! USA!) Judging by this precedent, and if the next regatta is sailed in the US, we can expect little or no exposure for our taxpayer investment if we win, and will get coverage only in the shadow of another American victory. Steven Joyce may have a theory where its good for our business push into the United States to be cast in the role of losers. It certainly is a novel marketing approach.

Convention Centres Multiplying Like Rabbits
Auckland is building a convention centre. Queenstown wants to build one. Christchurch wants a new one. Wellington needs a ‘purpose built’ convention centre, according to the new Council CEO, Kevin Lavery. Is anyone doing the sums on what the competition for the domestic convention dollar is going to mean for the viability of all these expensive edifices now on the drawing boards all around the country? Because at a time when tele-conferencing is becoming a viable, cost saving alternative, logic would suggest that there can’t be that many international conventioneers willing to fly all the way to New Zealand to fill up all these convention halls on a regular enough basis to justify the massive investment.

That economic reason alone – let alone the social effects of gambling – is reason enough for why future governments should not be locked into compensating SkyCity for the next 35 years if and when the Auckland convention centre venture fails to hit its targets. For his part, Steven Joyce is portraying the disreputable, gerrymandered deal that he and Prime Minister John Key have concocted over the Auckland convention centre as being one that future governments should be somehow honour bound to observe. Some gall. This isn’t, and never was an honourable deal. Currently, the SkyCity convention centre’s enabling legislation may well depend for passage through Parliament on the vote of Act Party leader John Banks – whose guilt or innocence in his criminal trial may come to hinge in turn, on the testimony given by SkyCity about its donation to his 2010 mayoral bid. What are the chances that Banks and SkyCity might realise they have a mutual interest at stake?

For good reason, Parliament is sovereign when it comes to the treaties and the business deals to which future governments – and future taxpayers – are made liable. Bad deals and treaties that no longer serve their purpose cannot be allowed to stand, just because in the past, a government of the day was foolish enough (or venal enough) to sign on the dotted line. The obligation cuts both ways. If Joyce doesn’t want to put a future government in the position of renegging on a deal, he shouldn’t be signing up to such a questionable deal in the first place.


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    1. 12 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the America’s Cup and convention centre handouts”

    2. By Williamson on Oct 22, 2013 | Reply

      An other America Cup race should have rules on the type of boat such as; a boat capable of carrying a hundred tonnes of freight in all types of weather.
      This would be more in line with the ideas of the original races.

    3. By Andrew R on Oct 22, 2013 | Reply

      It is very rich for Joyce to babble on about how Labour/Greens/whoever will chase away business because gambling legislation might be changed.

      This is the same government who unilaterally changed the “contract” I and lots of others had on Kiwisaver payments.

      Is there a difference?

    4. By Kat on Oct 22, 2013 | Reply

      “The problem is not simply that yachting at this level is an entirely elitist sport, with none of the natural following enjoyed by the All Blacks or Silver Ferns”

      None of the ‘natural following’, like nearly the ‘entire country’ ground to a halt as nearly the ‘entire population’ watched……get a better grip Gordon, you are spouting ‘elitist’ Marxist nonsense!!

    5. By clairbear on Oct 23, 2013 | Reply

      This is another case of a journalist taking his opinion, and then selecting facts to support his position and discounting facts that do not support his position.

      In this case I would love to have an objective journalistic piece that looks at the costs to the NZ public (Gordon has managed to do this) but then contrasts this by looking at the wider commercial benefits that we may have made, e.g. a portion of $300 million (three teams) invested back in business in NZ, technology spin-offs into the wider leisure sailing market that is massive.

      I am not sure of all the pluses and minuses revenue wise when considering the 26 years of involvement in the cup and associated activities, but I would be just good to see some balanced reporting so that the public and not the journalist can make up their minds based on well presented information.

      Then we could make informed decisions and react accordingly.

    6. By Elyse on Oct 24, 2013 | Reply

      Whether or not taxpayer investment in the AC is worthwhile, the assumption that Dalton and Barker, multiple losers, should head it, is unfathomable . It would make more sense if they handed Russell Coutts the $5million and asked hime to come back and assemble a team. He has won it 4 times, after all. Oh, but that’s right, he’s public enemy #1. NZ excels at exporting talent.
      If the kiwis are so crash hot at this sailing business, (which they seem to be, given the fact that there were kiwis on all the boats) then surely they’re good enough to attract enough private sponsorship?
      @Kat Sorry but sailing at AC level is an elitist sport and always has been. Participation is not available to the masses. Note the lack of brown faces on the boats? Kiwis are quite peculiar in believing that it’s nation vs nation competition and that the whole country should get behind the team.

    7. By Myles on Oct 24, 2013 | Reply

      But how sovereign is parliament when it comes to treaties? Apparently when Bolger signed GATT it ended our right to impose quotas on broadcasters, as Helen Clark found after initially floating the idea to support local creative industries. And will future govts be able to back out of TPPA?

    8. By Te Kupu on Oct 25, 2013 | Reply

      $5M for a sport no one cares about until our NZ media says so. How about giving Lorde, Kimbra and even Scott Dixon the $5m. They are on GLOBAL stages that have more exposure than some piss-ant richman’s boat race!

    9. By Kat on Oct 25, 2013 | Reply

      @Elyse, the Ac has always been about nation vs nation, that was in the beginning and should continue to be the point of it. There may be some merit in describing sailing at this level as ‘elitist’ however that means nothing to a boy in his P Class. The remark about no ‘brown faces’ is fatuous and not worth commenting on further.

    10. By Elyse on Oct 27, 2013 | Reply

      I suggest you read up on the history of the AC. Even the “America” part of the name was not a country but the name of a yacht. It is a contest between yacht clubs.
      Perhaps the point of my remark about brown faces escaped you. Non- elitist popular sports are accessible to ordinary people in any country, especially poorer ones. Sailing teams are mostly all white and the sailors come from families who can afford to buy their boys a P class to tool around in. I happen to be a fan of sailing , but I’m under no illusions that it’s a popular sport worldwide. I live in the USA where it barely rated.

    11. By Kat on Oct 27, 2013 | Reply

      I suggest you look at a map of the world to figure out what countries these competing ‘yacht clubs’ reside in.

      You say you live in the USA where the AC barely rated, so what?

      Boys in NZ worked paper rounds, collected bottles, mowed lawns and did all sorts of odd jobs to buy their first P Class.

      NZ has a very different culture to the USA. We are an island nation, sailing is in our DNA.

    12. By Robert on Oct 31, 2013 | Reply

      Maybe Joyce is onto something (this time) backing losers to sell New Zealand to America. Flight of the Conchords took America by storm…the hipster bit, at least.

    13. By simon rolleston on Nov 21, 2013 | Reply

      John Key has set a new benchmark for businessmen entering politics.Instead of renouncing private interests to serve the Public interest,such conservative politicians see being an M.P. as just an extension of their business lives.Profits come a long way before the ‘social good’,telling half-truths comes a long way before full and frank disclosure,and keeping your business-class mates happy with such frivolous expenditure of public money as the Americas Cup trumps any form of socially conscionable expenditure.

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