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Chris Ford: A quick word on National's Sky City climbdown

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce announced this afternoon that Sky City had backed down on its demands for government cash to help build its vainglorious Convention Centre complex. Instead Sky City have agreed to build a less costlier, watered down version.

It's clear that the Government is wanting to make this look to be a climb down on the part of Sky City. All well and good but, in reality, the Government in forcing their hand is backing itself out of an electorally tricky corner. Over the past week, voters and commentators alike on both the Left and the Right had been deeply critical of John Key's statement that the Government may yield to Sky City's demands. Key's statement is what put the Sky City deal back in the news - and for all the wrong reasons.

That's why it's interesting that Joyce fronted up on this issue and not Key. Inevitably, I would dare say that  the twin track strategy is being used again to distance the PM from a mess (largely of his own making) by getting Joyce to front the news conference. Key and his office will no doubt be counting on the usual bout of electoral amnesia to start kicking in on Monday amongst Middle New Zealand. For that reason, expect to see plenty of Beehive news stories with the words 'beneficiary' and 'terrorist' in them this coming week.

But National's distancing won't completely hide the fact that this is the biggest Government climb down since Hekia Parata's class sizes schmozzle in 2012. I have little doubt that David Farrar's tracking polls and focus groups were going off the wall in terms of voters expressing their strong disapproval of National's earlier intention to give more cash to Sky City. Strongly negative views of the government were also expressed even on usually supportive comments pages. No doubt Key, the great electoral survivor and ducker and weaver, would have picked up on this sentiment and delivered the message to the nation's biggest corporate gambling corporate to not ask for any more dollars. After all, the price for Key and Joyce in delivering more dollars would have been a very steep fall in National's support.

Nontheless, people power has also triumphed. The Labour Party and other websites have been running interactive petitions against the proposal which have been signed by thousands of New Zealanders. The Opposition should rightfully congratulate itself (both Greens and Labour) for hammering the Government over this issue and forcing the largest u-turn in years. It's a great start to the year for my side of my politics!

I can only hope that this is a sign of more to come!

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