Resort dreamers keep chips close to chest
Enigmatic Chinese billionaire Tony Fung is proposing to build a "mega resort and casino" on the northern beaches of Cairns at Yorkeys Knob.
This Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort - with its nine luxury hotels, convention centre, two 2500-seat theatres, 18-hole golf course, sports stadium, high-end shopping, 20-hectare reef lagoon and mega aquarium - promises to be Australia's biggest casino, sorry, resort, yet.
At a cost of $4.3 billion, it well and truly eclipses the $1.5 billion earmarked by Crown casino, sorry, integrated resort, for Barangaroo in Sydney.
And it has even passed the first hurdle with Campbell Newman's government in Queensland by achieving "co-ordinated project" status, and "streamlined approval".
How this "streamlined" process compares with the NSW government's "unsolicited proposals" process that delivered the green light for James Packer's Barangaroo project we are not sure. Both processes seem quite streamlined.
Both are designed to lure Chinese tourists to Australia, rather than leave this great nation to rot as a 21st century backwater.
The Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort, with its 750 gaming tables, 1500 pokies, 3750 hotels rooms, 1200 apartments and 130 villas, is far bigger than even Crown's Mecca-on-Yarra itself.
The social benefits of a mega-resort on the Great Barrier Reef are obvious - the fish will love it - but we were keen to evaluate its economic credentials by seeing the Preliminary Economic Impact Assessment for the project prepared by KPMG.
Alas, the office of the Queensland Co-ordinator-General could not help. "The report was commissioned by Aquis. You will have to talk to them about obtaining a copy."
Tracking down Aquis was no mean feat. Following the Crown modus operandi and its streamlined Barangaroo process, the Aquis development had been gloriously splashed across the nearest Murdoch tabloid to kick things off. This time it was The Courier Mail and the Cairns Post as opposed to The Daily Telegraph. But the trail went a tad cold after that, stopping dead with the Queensland Co-ordinator-General and the Aquis Facebook page.
A contact in Cairns suggested the $4.3 billion investment would be made by 4JS Group, a company associated with the Hong Kong tycoon Fung. But a phone number was hard to come by. Neither Aquis nor 4JS were listed on the directory at the building specified as the address on the Aquis website.
Our intrepid contact in Cairns duly followed the signs to a locked door with no business name and this sign said: "By appointment only. Please call Fiona on ... All Deliveries, please phone Fiona ..."
Fiona answered! She suggested we call Crook Publicity (true story). However, Crook operatives were unable to furnish a copy of the elusive KPMG report, or anything beyond the majestic headline numbers on Facebook.
Aquis, the Queensland government, Crook publicity and News Corp are running a tight ship on this one. Crook does Clive Palmer's publicity, too, and has done a Titanic job.
Let's face it, the last thing you need when you are getting a casino up to speed is the disruption of a public consultation process.
As laid down by the David Murray panel, commissioned to report on Sydney's second casino, sorry, resort, what the nation desperately needs is competition in the sector. Fear not, competition is coming. Indeed, when it comes to casinos, it is a case of "show me and I'll raise you one resort".
Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate reckons his region can do with another five casinos. Tate is a visionary, too. He met his Las Vegas counterpart in the US to forge a partnership between the two cities. South-east Queensland could learn a lot from the City of Lights. "They have 40 million tourists coming in, we have 10 million," he said. "They have 122 casinos, we have one."
Other businesses would benefit from a new "cultural precinct". Indeed, it soon emerged that Tom's own businesses in one of the precincts might be among these.
"Five per cent of people come to Las Vegas for the gambling," he said. "The balance comes ... [for] the attractions, the conventions and all the things that excite families."
According to a story in the Gold Coast Bulletin, there were at least two international investors already interested in Tom's resorts. "Two cashed-up international investors have emerged in the race for the exclusive development rights of Wavebreak Island, rivalling Sembawang's $4.9 billion super-resort proposal."
Tate's enlightened plans for a new cultural precinct are likely to enrage the latte-sipping elites of Sydney and Melbourne who believe they have a mortgage on arts and culture - not to mention the anti-electronic entertainment crusaders who would oppose the family-friendly cultural precincts.
Too bad. Roll out the resorts from Cairns to Carnarvon. The mega-resort at Yorkeys Knob may put the squeeze on the existing casino at Cairns, Casinos Austria's Reef Casino, but Reef could do with a spot of competition for the Papua New Guinea high-roller dollar.
Besides, Australian government aid grants to PNG, not to mention oil and gas royalties, could be streamlined more expeditiously straight back into the Australian economy with a new casino, sorry ... resort.