New party in the ACT to oppose 'secret deals' on pokies and land development
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New party in the ACT to oppose 'secret deals' on pokies and land development

A fledgling political party is expected have enough members by Monday to begin a campaign against the ACT government allowing the Canberra Casino to install 200 poker machines.

The new group, Canberra Community Voters, will aggressively criticise "secret decisions" made by the government on the casino and the proposed make-over of Manuka Oval.

New player: Canberra Community Voters party convenor Richard Farmer.

New player: Canberra Community Voters party convenor Richard Farmer.Credit:Belinda Pratten

Its convenor is lobbyist Richard Farmer, while the treasurer is former NSW Auditor-General Tony Harris.

Canberra's clubs are also fighting the government's reversal of a longstanding club monopoly on poker machines.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr will now allow the casino to buy the poker machines, with smaller clubs having the first option to sell.

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The government says a redeveloped casino has the potential to revitalise the city with new restaurants, hotels, shops and entertainment, creating new jobs.

The new party's platform does not mention the pokies issue but says the party would work to "introduce a truly transparent and evidence-based system of government in the ACT, including putting an end to secret dealings in government and particularly in land development".

It would also promote the establishment of an independent commission to investigate corruption in government and ensure the application of good governance principles, including a commitment to probity, openness and transparency.

Mr Farmer said he would have the necessary 100 members to set up the new political party by Monday, in time for the June 30 deadline, to take the fight into the election campaign.

However, candidates selected to run for Canberra Community Voters in the ACT election later this year would not be specifically bound to oppose the pokies deal.

"I'm sure that they will [oppose it] because of the way that the decision to grant them was done, it's a perfect example of a decision by a government, made in secrecy," Mr Farmer said.

"If the procedures aren't correct, naturally you oppose it, just like I'd expect all our candidates would oppose the redevelopment at Manuka.

"Any change should be the result of open debate with full facts available to everyone rather than something that's been cooked up in secret by the normal suspects.

"I realised this was the kind of thing that's happening all over the city – it became apparent to me the clubs were not the only people taken by surprise by government decisions made in secret – the Manuka Oval was another outstanding example.

"I realised there were a whole lot of people disgruntled, the common complaint they had was they had no voice."

Mr Farmer said he had also worked on a union campaign several decades ago when the then Liberal ACT government proposed allowing the casino to have poker machines.

The Canberra casino has submitted a revised $307 million redevelopment bid envisaging up to 617,000 new visitors to the precinct a year by 2030.

The casino has also put a detailed business plan to the ACT government for the redevelopment, which includes a 10-storey five-star hotel, six-star luxury villas, seven new restaurants, nightclubs and bars, a shopping mall and a day spa and resort pool.

The information comes from a Deloitte Access Economics analysis which has not been released by casino owner Aquis Entertainment.

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The Greater Western Sydney Giants and Grocon have revised their plans for Manuka Oval, cutting apartment numbers from 1000 to 650 and promising to leave Manuka Pool and its grounds alone.

Earlier this year, Mr Harris, who has a lengthy background in weighing up the benefits of public-private partnerships, said ACT taxpayers would receive better value for their money if the government called open tenders for developing Manuka Oval.

Ross Peake is a senior reporter for The Canberra Times