Power Move

Terrible twins Arbib and Bitar head up Packer's gun lobbying team

If you want to see a pretty pack of pollies, you need look no further than James Packer's new political mates.

The billionaire's offices in Sydney's Park Street are now becoming a stronghold for the Labor Party in exile. How strange.

Not content with hiring just one hard man from the NSW Right -- former ALP General Secretary, Karl Bitar -- James Packer has now hauled his terrible twin, Mark Arbib, on board

Bitar has been working as a lobbyist for Crown for more than a year. Arbib will join James's select team of strategists at James's private company, Consolidated Press Holdings.

You may remember that this pair played a major part in the downfall of Kevin Rudd in June 2010 -- which brought disaster on the Labor Government -- and an even bigger part in the backing and sacking of a succession of NSW premiers, which ultimately guaranteed the implosion of the Labor Party in NSW. 

One can only hope that they'll do a better job for Packer than they did for their last employer.

But what will they be doing for the gaming and media tycoon? One imagines it won't involve running his casinos or managing his interests in Foxtel, because they have no expertise in that area. More likely, they will be using their political contacts and campaign expertise to lobby for a new Packer-owned hotel/casino in Sydney, which would be reserved for Chinese high rollers.

More broadly, it will be to spruik James Packer's vision of a new tourism policy for Australia, centred on attracting middle-class Chinese gamblers, on the basis that this has already worked wonders (of a sort) for Singapore and Macau.

Helping them in this enterprise, no doubt, will be Geoff Dixon, the chairman of Tourism Australia, who happens to be a director of Packer's casino group, Crown.

Helping, too, will be fellow Crown director, Harold Mitchell, who praised Macau's casinos last month to readers of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and assured them, "The biggest driver of tourism in our region is the blooming Chinese middle class." 

James's old radio buddy, shock jock Alan Jones, will also be saying what a wonderful idea it is to build a huge new Sydney casino on that Mr Packer is so keen on. Back in the early 1990s, Jones was tireless in supporting Kerry's (ultimately unsuccessful) bid for what became Star City, and he has already been singing hard this time. In February, he told his listeners, ''What Sydney needs now is a big visionary iconic structure -- and I've argued about that for years -- and James Packer has conceived such a development."

But Packer will also have help from current and former stars on the other side of politics.

His best friend from south of the border, Jeff Kennett, the former Liberal premier of Victoria, will also be out there telling everybody that (another) big casino is what Sydney needs to revitalise the premier state. You may recall that Jeff is James's pick for chairman of Echo Entertainment, which owns The Star casino, and which is currently under siege from the Packer armies.

If he gets elected by shareholders, one can expect Kennett to play a prominent role. As we know, he is no shrinking violet.

Last but not least, James also has the NSW Premier barracking for him, without needing to put him on the payroll. When the new Packer casino was first mooted in February, Barry O'Farrell dubbed it an "exciting proposal" that would "give Sydney another world-class hotel, generate jobs and boost tourism".

This week he was back into the fray, noting that Packer's fight for control of Echo Entertainment, which has involved Packer taking out huge and hugely expensive newspaper ads, was "starting to look like a political campaign".  He then cast his vote for James, describing him as "A shrewd and successful businessman", and adding, "I'm sure shareholders are impressed with the success that Crown's had in recent times".

Well, no doubt they are, and no doubt an influx of Chinese gamblers to a Packer-owned Sydney casino would impress shareholders even more. But is there going to be any debate on this, or is the weight of Packer's lobbying -- from all sides of politics -- going to carry the day with decision makers?

Watch this space.


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