21 Feb 2013

PM forced to back down over TVNZ claim

8:24 pm on 21 February 2013

The Prime Minister has been forced to back down over a claim he made that SkyCity Entertainment had reached a deal to buy land from TVNZ in Auckland.

John Key retracted the claim after Television New Zealand said it had received no approaches from SkyCity.

Mr Key made his claim in Parliament on Wednesday as he answered questions about the Deputy Auditor-General's report into the process, made public on Tuesday, which ended with SkyCity the preferred bidder to build an international convention centre in Auckland.

But just after midday on Thursday, TVNZ representatives appeared before Parliament's commerce select committee and told MPs that no deal had been negotiated, nor had there been any approach from SkyCity.

TVNZ's chief executive Kevin Kendrick said the company didn't know anything about it.

"I've only been involved since May of last year, but we've seen the speculation in the media same as everybody else and so we've acknowledged that is a topic that's live. We've yet to have any approaches from SkyCity about the land."

TVNZ board chair Wayne Walden told MPs as soon as he read about SkyCity wanting the land, he approached Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss, who told him he didn't know about it either.

Later, the Prime Minister conceded that he had got it wrong and accepted TVNZ's explanation.

"If Television New Zealand are saying they've never had an approach from SkyCity, then I accept them at their word. That's what I've been informed this morning and if that's the case, that's the case.

"As I said yesterday in the House, it's a matter for the parties - I assumed that that had been the case, but if they haven't done that, they haven't done it."

It is likely that John Key will now have to correct his answer when Parliament resumes sitting next Tuesday, Radio New Zealand's political editor reports.

The Deputy Auditor-General's report into negotiations between the Government and SkyCity revealed that SkyCity wants land currently owned by TVNZ to be freed up.

TVNZ's chief executive Kevin Kendrick told the select committee TVNZ has done preliminary work to see what moving its Hobson Street studios would cost, should the land they are on be sold to SkyCity.

"Obviously, we've been aware that this is something that's in play. We have had initial discussions with an architect about what options we might have in our building. At this stage, we don't have any indication about what the costs associated with that would be."