The new Queensland Labor government has said it was committed to proceeding with Brisbane’s $1 billion-plus Queen’s Wharf casino and entertainment complex sooner rather than later, despite undertaking a review of the process following the January election victory.
Amid speculation the former Liberal National Party government chose not to receive the recommended winning bid from the department before the election, the Palaszczuk government said it did not want to hold up the process.
Deputy Premier, Planning and Infrastructure Minister Jackie Trad said there were still probity checks being undertaken on the two consortiums led by Echo Entertainment and James Packer’s Crown.
With Labor scrapping the Newman government’s $37 billion asset sales program and the accompanying $8.6 billion infrastructure program, the Queen’s Wharf proposal is one of the few big-ticket capital works projects that could be given the green light by the new minority Labor government this year.
“We don’t want to hold it up. We are not starting a new process. We are under no illusions about the job creation [potential of the project] – that’s why we won’t hold it up unneccessarily,” Ms Trad said in an interview with The Australian Financial Review.
“The gaming licence is still under probity consideration and that is a key feature of that re-development. We are working through the planning documents. We are going to knuckle down and have a look at it but all of those gaming licences are still under probity.”
Ms Trad said she had had no direct contact with Echo or Crown since Labor won office. She said a decision on Queens Wharf was expected well before the new Labor government finalises its infrastructure pipeline by the end of the year.
The former LNP government also had two regional casino licences up for grabs, short-listing resorts in Cairns and the Gold Coast.
Echo and Crown have invested significant time and money in the new Brisbane casino licence. The Queensland capital has become the new battleground for the gaming companies after Crown won the right for a casino licence at Barangaroo in Sydney in 2013.
Echo – which has teamed up with Chinese conglomerate Chow Tai Fook and developer Far East consortium for the Queen’s Wharf project – has the competitive edge because it already holds Brisbane’s only casino licence at Treasury casino.
Under its plans it would re-locate the existing casino to the Queen’s Wharf site adjacent to the Brisbane River and convert the Treasury casino site into a luxury hotel.
Crown, which has casinos in Melbourne, Macau and the Philippines, has joined forces with Chinese property developer Greenland Holdings Group for the Brisbane project.
Both groups have been spruiking their designs ahead of the final decision by the government which they hoped was going to be made before the state election.
It is understood the recommendation from the department was “ready to go” to the Newman government late last year, according to industry sources. But the Newman government decided to wait until after the state election which it thought it would win.
A former senior LNP minister denied the recommendation was ready to be put to the government or the decision to proceed had been held back until after the election.
The decision over the bids for Queens Wharf was undertaken by the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, with input from the William Street precinct advisory committee which includes Brisbane Airports Corporation Renaye Peters, property investor Andrew King and architect Bevan Lynch. Former auditor-general Len Scanlon was also the probity adviser on the project.