Fall-Out Continues from Crown Inquiry

The fall-out has continued from the explosive findings of the NSW inquiry into Crown Resorts’ (ASX: CWN) suitability to hold a casino license. After going through the inquiry report “line by line,” the Victorian minister responsible has announced a royal commission into Crown’s suitability to continue running its Melbourne venues.

Last week, Western Australia announced an inquiry into Crown “with the powers of a royal commission.” WA’s “chief casino officer” was also outed as regularly going fishing with key members of Crown’s legal and compliance team.

The NSW inquiry – which resulted in an 800-page report authored by former Supreme Court Justice Patricia Bergin – led the NSW liquor and gaming regulator to refuse Crown a license to open its Barangaroo casino. Construction, which is already complete, cost Crown $2.2 billion.

The primary concern and lead recommendation from Justice Bergin was money laundering at Crown and implementation of new legislation to prevent it. Bergin also confirmed earlier media allegations that Crown collaborated with organised crime to break Chinese laws against laundering money out of China. A slew of directors as well as Crown’s CEO have been obliged to resign.

Forgive me for overloading on schadenfreude, but it is not just criminal liabilities weighing against Crown. The company has for decades shown utter contempt for the inherent public interest of the Barangaroo Point harbour foreshore.

The original proposal under Premier Bob Carr promised 50 per cent parkland, a 14-kilometre foreshore walk, and 25 per cent residential space. Carr called it a “historic opportunity to return a substantial part of Sydney’s foreshore back to the people.”

The Barangaroo harbourfront

Now, following modification after modification, the foreshore park walk is 650 metres. Residential housing is 2.5 per cent. Oh yes, and a casino found its way into the plan along the way.

It started with the Murdoch press touting “Packer’s plans for a stylish building at Barangaroo.” In 2011, Packer convinced Liberal senator Helen Coonan to resign from the senate and take up a position on Crown’s board. 

To make it bipartisan, from early 2012 notorious Labor figures Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar lobbied for Crown. The Barangaroo casino was approved in November 2013. 

Approval followed a suite of timely legislative changes, including changing Sydney’s “one-casino” rule to a “two-casino” rule. NSW parliament also introduced an “unsolicited proposals” process for development applications to go straight to parliamentary vote.

The architect Philip Thalis, who won the initial design tender under Carr, said in 2015, “Barangaroo is a demonstration of everything that is wrong in contemporary Australian city-making.” Now officially a white-elephant monument to Sydney’s extraordinarily brazen corruption, Thalis couldn’t have known how right he was.

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