The Queensland government is avoiding the “c-word” to describe and spruik a new multibillion development on Brisbane’s riverfront.
Casino, that is.
The fledgling Labor government used the word just once in a 400-word news release announcing the Destination Brisbane Consortium, led by Echo Entertainment, had won the right to develop the Queen’s Wharf project, beating a proposal from James Packer’s Crown Resorts.
The casino did not even get a mention in a list of the project’s key highlights.
Instead, the release focused on how the development would enhance Brisbane’s international appeal and create 3000 construction jobs and 8000 continuing positions.
But c-word or no c-word, Queensland’s government is still betting on a new Brisbane casino and resort to boost the economy, but critics warn it is chasing fool’s gold.
The government is spruiking the “transformational” Queen’s Wharf project, awarded on Tuesday to the Destination Brisbane Consortium – led by Echo Entertainment and including Hong Kong-owned Far East Consortium (Australia) and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises.
The project, believed to cost $2 billion-plus, includes a casino, five hotels, three residential towers, 50 bars and restaurants, a grand ballroom and a cinema.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says it will be an iconic development that will attract millions of tourists to the city annually.
“The flow-on effects will be felt for decades to come,” she said.
Echo Entertainment chief executive officer Matt Bekier also predicted the project heralded an Australian tourism boom.
He said Queen’s Wharf would transform the industry.
“This is going to be the next mining boom,” Mr Bekier said.
“If we look in Asia in terms of the aspiration of where people want to go to, Australia stands out as number one in terms of aspiration and desire to go to.
“But we’re about number 14 of the places they actually go to. There’s a huge opportunity.”
Queensland’s existing four casinos – in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Townsville and Cairns – have failed to spur economic activity and instead encouraged gambling addiction, Senator Xenophon said.
“Having a state development model based on gambling is chasing fool’s gold,” he told AAP.
“There’s no question that this project will lead to more aggressive marketing by other gambling venues trying to compete with it.
“This is a classic case of the public interest losing out to the corporate interest.”
The Australian Family Association also questioned the need for the casino, even if it offered discounted dining.
“They will say it creates employment and it has cheap good food, but I see that as a lure for something that’s socially negative,” national spokeswoman Terri Kelleher told AAP.
State Development Minister Anthony Lynham said the Echo-led consortium succeeded because of its plans for public space.
“Their plan for Queen’s Wharf provides space for thousands of people to eat, shop or simply enjoy Brisbane’s subtropical lifestyle in South Bank-style open spaces and parklands,” Lynham said.
Cottee Parker Architects Rob Cottee said there was not a directive to play down the casino, rather the idea was not to simply channel people into that part of the building.
“The casino is there, it has its own entrance, but you can use all the facilities of the integrated resort without going into the casino,” he told AAP.