There seems little difference between the NSW Government kicking out public housing tenants from Millers Point and the Rocks in the vicinity of the planned Crown casino and the ruthless clearance and demolition of Palestinian villages to make way for Israeli settlements.
So many sordid stories in politics without even going near the one about James Packer and the other sharp practice businesspeople on the Crown Resorts board who were found unfit to hold casino licence for their $2.2 billion megaplex on the shores of Sydney Harbour.
In September 2014, ABC’s Four Corners ran “High Rollers-High Risk”. The program exposed the criminal ties Crown casino was developing with gambling interests in Macau and Hong King. This finally kicked the NSW Government out of slumber to establish the Bergin Inquiry. The evidence laid out over the course of months in 2020 painted a picture of an organisation “fixated on doing whatever it could to rake in millions of high-roller dollars, sometimes at the risk of its own staff, while leaving the door open to criminal syndicates”. A former senior public servant is on record describing how two government ministers, under Crown influence, pushed him hard for a facilitated service for private jets bringing Crown’s “whales” (high rollers) into Australia. The story goes that not only were the “whales” provided with expensive alcohol and prostitutes but were taken to properties where they could shoot wombats! Sick. Just plain sick.
James Packer appeared under compulsion at the Bergin Inquiry.
Inquiry: Mr Packer … you accept that you were making threats against Mr X?
Mr Packer: Verbal threats…
Mr Packer: No, that came as a surprise to me.
Inquiry: Do you accept that your conduct in these communications was shameful?
MR Packer: I do.
Inquiry: And you were a director of Crown Resorts at the time you wrote these emails, weren’t you?
Mr Packer: Yes.
Inquiry: At the time of these [threatening] emails, Mr Packer, you understood that you had an obligation not to engage in conduct likely to bring discredit upon Crown Resorts, didn’t you?
Mr Packer: I had clearly forgotten that.
Inquiry: Do you accept that your conduct in these emails reflects adversely on your character?
Mr Packer: I think my medical state [alleged bipolar] is what it reflected most on.
The Packer history can be understood as a history of moral decline. More specifically, a history of the increasing amorality of the Packer men. A far cry, one would say, from the Packer progenitor, Frederick Alexander Packer, James’s great, great, grandfather, who came to Hobart in 1852 to take up the position of organist at St. David’s Cathedral in Davey Street
From then on, each Packer patriarch provided their sons with tough love that got close to child abuse at times. When James’s grandfather, Frank, died his son, Kerry, (James’s father) said it was the happiest day of his life. James’s biographer, Damon Kitney, gives countless examples of how often the young James was brought to tears by his father’s cruelty. Packer’s partner in the ill-fated One.Tel venture, Jodee Rich, told the ABC that James was “a loving son” but Kerry was “an extraordinarily evil father.”
Young and vulnerable, James often found himself keeping the motor running while Kerry was inside doing all sorts of fringe legal things. It would take a Sigmund Freud to consider whether James has ever moved out of his father’s malevolent shadow. Rodney Tiffin tells us that in 1994 various cabinet members of John Fahey’s Government got a call from the 27-year-old James, that if lacking in subtlety, got to the point real fast. “The old man told me to ring… This is the message: if we don’t win the casino, you guys are fucked.” Notwithstanding the fact that Kerry did not get his casino, there were a lot of NSW politicians with gravel rashes on their knees from that day forth.
Fast forward to 2012. Still trying to separate himself from his father, but possessing all his business agro DNA, James dumped his father’s unassailable media assets in favour of a trade in human misery. He finally got something his father failed to get, a Sydney casino. Jack Waterford has told the story in a recent piece for P&I. In August 2011, James and his minions took the executive lift straight up to Premier Barry O’Farrell’s’ executive suite. Tinkling scotch glasses on crackling Chesterfield chairs were props as O’Farrell baptised James’s unsolicited Barangaroo project. No tender process, no independent public consultation, just a nice chat with Barry.
Thanks to the corrupt interplay between Crown and successive NSW governments up to the present, this precinct of .62 hectares of priceless history is now lost to ordinary Australians for 99 years. The appalling history behind Crown’s land grab should be in every school textbook. The Cammeraygal People who fished, hunted, and camped at the Barangaroo site for millennia were quickly warned off in 1788. Now 233 years later and the same thing is happening to ordinary Australians.
Crown is hurting. The mother company has recently posted a half yearly $120 million loss. But life must go on for the wealthy few. Although they cannot access the 24th floor casino at Barangaroo, there is still plenty of narcissistic opportunities for the super-rich. Crown shopping is the go. Watches from the Rolex Boutique, pearls from the Paspaley shop, bags from Louis Vuitton, and clothing from high end stores such as Saba and Seed Heritage. Then up to the Love Always Executive Opera Suite where for a mere $5000 per night you can “Float away in a spacious, superbly appointed suite with personalised Frette 1860 bathrobes and chilled Champagne to toast the moment. Rouse to a decadent buffet breakfast overlooking water views at Epicurean, soak in the lapping turquoise infinity pool and depart refreshed and revitalised, as if you were walking on air”.
What of the family from Blacktown, sitting in the park opposite the Casino eating their ice creams? Do they feel the dispossession? Probably not. But they know intuitively that they cannot go inside Barangaroo. On the train back home, they rationalise that the children were perfectly happy with their 90c ice creams. They joked that if the kids went inside to the a’Mare Restaurant they would not know what to do with their serving of Tiramisu at $130 a plate.
All dispossessions in Australia have been government initiatives. Crown’s project has driven NSW Governments to “gentrify” the surrounding 22 hectares by kicking out public housing tenants from Millers Point and the Rocks. In October 2012 Greg Pearce, the then NSW Finance Minister, announced that the government was selling off 330 public housing units in Millers Point as the homes were perceived to be not compatible with the Barangaroo development.
Tiffin summed this up,
“In other words, having working class people in the area is an “eyesore” for the wealthy clientele who will frequent the resort that Packer expects to make billions from. Meanwhile, the NSW government is determined to clear out working class tenants in order to also help its rich developer mates make a fortune from turning Millers Point into luxury accommodation for resort executives and patrons.”
I cannot see much difference between this and the ruthless clearance and demolition of Palestinian villages to make way for Israeli settlements.
Right now, the roulette wheels are not spinning, the pokies are not lighting up, the craps dice are locked away, poker cards are not being flicked across green carpeted tables, and the Sic Bo, Baccarat, and Blackjack tables have mortuary sheets over them. The casino is locked shut because of the Bergin Inquiry finding that Crown was not a suitable entity to run a casino. Too much money-laundering, too much bad governance, too much involvement of criminal organisations and too much aggravation of the Chinese Government which has banned gambling and the travel of Chinese high rollers to international casinos.
In February 2021 the last Packer spy on the Crown Board was fired, meaning that James Packer no longer has formal Crown Board influence. But through his company, CPH Crown Holdings Pty Ltd, he remains the biggest shareholder by far, with 36.81% of shares.
What will this man with a troubled past who has known nothing but rich excess, do next?