There's no point anyone else bothering to enter the Public Relations Institute of Australia's Golden Target awards this year – Team Packer blitzed all possible entries last night by taking over Channel 7's Sunday Night program, the pinnacle of a campaign to turn Crown's bid for a privileged Sydney casino licence into an act of philanthropy, a nation-building vision of something that means “more than money”.
A casino that's “more than money” – maybe only a billionaire can imagine that as the highest possible praise.
With both the O'Farrell government and what's left of the Labor Party already in the cheer squad with sections of the city's media for Crown avoiding a competitive tender, you might wonder why Packer is bothering. But a good PR machine leaves nothing to chance.
On Friday the Daily Telegraph was gushing about James Packer building a $10 million training college as part of the Penrith Panthers complex.
“It will be unabashed luxury, a creative masterpiece, a centrepiece for Australia's biggest urban development – and it will all be staffed with eager workers from western Sydney,” was the Tele's intro.
It's an interesting concept that might fall foul of some sort of discrimination regulation, specifying that only people from western Sydney might apply, but the Tele insists all 1250 staff for the Sydney Crown will be trained at Penrith.
“Crown also will push into local Penrith schools and create avenues for students to complete school-based traineeships and apprenticeships. Panthers staff also will be given the opportunity to be trained in the college and seconded to work at Barangaroo when required.”
Given that Penrith Panthers is a casino in all but name, it's a reasonable fit, particularly when Panthers has financial challenges of its own.
But it was the Sunday Night performance that has to be a Golden Target winner. The show worked to humanise Packer – he cries and says he loved his Dad and his Dad loved him and was depressed by blowing the One.Tel thing – and avoided a single challenging question on what the exercise was all about: obtaining the Barangaroo casino licence. It was a glossier puff piece for Crown than the advertising the company has paid to run.
And it worked a treat – good ratings for 7, lots of secondary publicity and the social media reaction on side. And, just like many a current affairs show's interview with a big star, it all stayed within bounds. It was of passing interest that Packer fingered the Fairfax press for giving him a hard time when he was having difficulties - well the Murdoch press certainly wouldn't, given that Lachlan Murdoch was in the same One.Tel trouble. But there was no mention of the defamation action he started against Channel 7 over a story I had a small role in. Maybe that's just gone away.
There's nothing wrong with Crown building a big flashy casino in Sydney, a city already awash with mini-casinos and gambling of one sort or another anyway, but it is fundamentally wrong for it to be done via the back door, avoiding a competitive tender and without the government even pretending to have developed anything like a coherent casino policy.
If the current Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings do anything it all, it's to underline that favours and licences bestowed by the state must be treated with unquestionable good governance – by open and very public tender and preferably with ongoing competitive tension.
And as we now know that James Packer believes the Barangaroo casino will complete him “as his own man”, that it is bigger than money, I'm sure he would have no problem with that.
Or NSW can just hire Ian Macdonald to look after it expeditiously and be done with pretence.
Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.