Billionaire James Packer and then-NSW premier Barry O’Farrell failed to reveal a private lunch at influential broadcaster Alan Jones’s apartment as they became central players in the high-stakes battle to build Crown Sydney.
Now Sydney’s tallest building, the tower opened last year on land that was meant for a public park, but its gaming rooms remain closed after an inquiry deemed Crown unfit to hold a casino licence in NSW over money laundering and criminal links.
It was the lunch hosted by Jones in 2012 that paved the way for the $2 billion casino development on the prized edge of Sydney Harbour. The lunch meeting didn’t become public for years.
A Four Corners investigation has found that both gambling tycoon James Packer and then-NSW premier Barry O’Farrell failed to disclose the lunch when asked about their meetings.
In February 2012, Mr Packer and Mr O’Farrell were brought together by Mr Jones inside his luxuriously appointed apartment in the building known as “The Toaster”, which boasts uninterrupted views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Mr Packer had asked Jones to set up the meeting.
“He said he’d like to meet Barry O’Farrell, that was my recollection,” Mr Jones said. “So, I just invited the premier to lunch and we had lunch here and they met and away it went.”
Mr Jones said the catalyst for the meeting was that Mr Packer “had this vision for Sydney” — a luxury hotel, to be financially underpinned by a casino.
It was all to be housed in a new skyscraper at the prestigious waterfront development site Barangaroo, which was in the process of being transformed from a shipping container port into Sydney’s flash new financial centre.
“He said he wanted something that would be a destination. And he said, ‘Look, everyone knows the Opera House. Everyone knows the Harbour Bridge [but] we’ve got to do more than that’,” Mr Jones recalled Mr Packer telling him at the time.
Mr Jones said it was an “unpretentious” lunch between the billionaire and the premier over some “pies and mash”.
Mr Jones told Four Corners the proposition Mr Packer put to the NSW premier was in “general” terms but was about building a hotel and VIP casino at Barangaroo.
“In a very vague and general way … But he’s always drawing things, so he had some diagrams and whatever, and showed Barry.”
“Barry O’Farrell, as I remember, quite rightly indicated … everything’s got to go through about 155,000 regulatory bodies so, Barry made the point that it wouldn’t be all that easy, but he embraced the vision, if I could use that cliched word.”
Mr Packer’s pitch was for a “passport casino” aimed at wealthy international gamblers.
“He [Mr Packer] was concerned with the public perception that these things might have been a hive of gambling, and that would diminish the capacity of the ordinary battler to keep his money in his pocket,” Mr Jones said.
“So there would only be people who are overseas people who’d come to the destination, who would use the casino.”
“That also appealed to Barry O’Farrell. Barry was impressed by this, as the new premier and so on, that he was someone who was wanting to do something and I guess, sort of leave a legacy in a way.”
Mr Jones said the lunch ended with “no guarantees” but he had the impression that Mr O’Farrell was “open to the idea”.
In a little over an hour, the stage was set for a future deal.
Later in February, an artist’s impression of what Mr Packer had in mind appeared in The Daily Telegraph, which ran it under the headline: “The Jewel in Packer’s Crown”.
Almost immediately, Mr O’Farrell signalled his approval, declaring the idea, “could add life to Barangaroo — not only a world-class hotel, but extra jobs and a boost to tourism”.
The following week, Mr Jones was on air as usual, helming his influential radio program on 2GB with Mr Packer as his guest.
Mr Packer either forgot or failed to mention the lunch he’d had with Mr O’Farrell to discuss his plans just weeks earlier.
Mr Packer did not respond to questions from Four Corners.
At the time, media interest in the proposal was at fever pitch. Mr Packer and Mr O’Farrell met at NSW Parliament House later that week to discuss the idea.
We hope you enjoyed reading this story about “News in the City of Melbourne titled “The private lunch to pitch Crown casino that James Packer and then-premier Barry O’Farrell failed to mention”. This post was posted by My Local Pages Australia as part of our Australian events & what’s on stories services.
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