Packer Casino lost in Perth merger gamble

By Paul Hemsley

The Town of Victoria Park and the City of South Perth have blasted the City of Perth’s planned annexation of the highly lucrative James Packer-owned Crown Casino as part of the Western Australian state government’s shake-up of Perth’s metropolitan councils through amalgamations and boundary changes.

The Casino rezoning is a prelude to Mr Barnett’s wider plan to overhaul local government boundaries in the Perth metropolitan area that plans to cull the number of councils from 30 to 14 to abolish what the government calls “outdated” local government boundaries and replace them with “improved economies of scale” and “better co-ordination across the metropolitan area”.

The angry salvo of “disappointment” from the two affected councils comes after an announcement by Premier Colin Barnett and Minister for Local Government Tony Simpson and City of Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi to expand the City’s boundaries and more than double the central council area from 782 hectares to 1,893 hectares.

Perth’s absorption of surrounding areas consumes parts of the neighbouring City of Vincent, Kings Park, the new Perth Stadium on the Burswood Peninsula and the University of Western Australia (UWA).

These border movements are gains for the City of Perth and follow Ms Scaffidi making a concerted push to the Metropolitan Local Government Review Panel in April 2013. But the crown jewel for the City is its expansion into the Town of Victoria Park to arch its boundaries around the Crown entertainment complex, which sits on the Burswood Peninsula across the Swan River.

The real kicker is that the City of Perth will take the casino and the planned stadium into its council boundaries, but the remainder of the land on the Peninsula will remain under the Town of Victoria Park until its planned amalgamation with the City of South Perth by July 2015. 

Town of Victoria Park Mayor Trevor Vaughan said the loss of the Crown complex from its council area would result in a drop of $2.8 million in rates per annum, which would place a significant burden on the council and its remaining rate payers and would cost the Town 15 per cent to regain that lost revenue.

“They decided that they wanted to cherry-pick the casino because they felt that was an icon and the stadium would be an icon of the city that the City of Perth should take over,” Mr Vaughan said.

Mr Vaughan told Government News he disagreed with the City of Perth’s “cherry-pick” because there are plenty of other icons that aren’t in the City of Perth that encourage people to come to Western Australia.

Both the City of South Perth and the Town of Victoria Park have argued that the loss of the Crown Casino to the City of Perth is a contradiction of the state government’s own guiding principles for sustainable local government.

City of South Perth Mayor Sue Doherty said that the City of Perth will enjoy the rates revenue, increased status and promotional benefits from the Crown Casino and the new Perth Stadium.

Ms Doherty said the proposed new boundary is illogical and cannot be justified.

“It has been done to satisfy the whims of the City of Perth and is detrimental to the financial sustainability of the proposed new local government entity,” she said.

She said the loss of revenue with the move of the Crown Casino to the City of Perth will significantly reduce the capacity to deliver essential services and facilities to the disadvantage of communities.

As a result, the councils have already banded together to appeal to the state government to let the Town of Victoria Park keep the Crown complex within its council boundaries.

However the present council boundaries of the Town of Victoria Park complicate the issue because of the geographic characteristics of the Perth area. As the Swan River separates the City of Perth and the Town of Victoria Park, the boundary expansion has presented a tricky borderline for the Town to argue its appeal to the state government.

Mr Vaughan told Government News that the Town has argued to the Review Panel that the river is a boundary, “which they’ve always said is the case for when you look at council boundaries”.

“There’s land around there around the stadium and around Burswood that we will now have to cope with because of parking and so on,” Mr Vaughan said.

He said whatever happens around that land, the Town of Victoria Park will have to deal with it, but the City of Perth will not.

“For them, it’s all fun and no responsibility,” he said.

Instead, the Town of Victoria Park will be arguing to the Review Panel that the river is a natural boundary and that the Town should be able to keep the Crown and the planned stadium, Mr Vaughan said.

Ms Doherty said “there is no boundary more natural than the Swan River”.

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