Packer and O’Farrell met over pies and mash to discuss Crown Sydney plans

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
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A private lunch held at the apartment of prominent broadcaster Alan Jones, featuring casino tycoon James Packer and then-NSW premier Barry O’Farrell was central to the high-stakes approval process to build Crown Sydney in Barangaroo.

The ABC reports that now Sydney’s tallest building, the tower opened last year on land that was meant for a public park, but its gaming rooms remain closed after an inquiry deemed Crown unfit to hold a casino licence over money laundering and criminal links.

It was the lunch hosted by Jones in 2012 that paved the way for the $2 billion casino development on the prized edge of Sydney Harbour.

The lunch meeting didn’t become public for years.

A Four Corner investigation has found that both Packer and O’Farrell failed to disclose the lunch when asked about their meetings.

In February 2012, Mr Packer and Mr O’Farrell were brought together by Mr Jones inside his luxuriously appointed apartment in the building known as ‘The Toaster”, which boasts uninterrupted views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Mr Packer had asked Jones to set up the meeting.

“He said he’d like to meet Barry O’Farrell, that was my recollection,” Mr Jones said.

“So I just invited the premier to lunch and we had lunch here and they met and away it went.”

Mr Jones said the catalyst for the meeting was that Mr Packer “had this vision for Sydney”, a luxury hotel, to be financially underpinned by a casino.

Barangaroo vision broached at 2012 lunch

It was all to be housed in a new skyscraper at the prestigious waterfront development site Barangaroo, which was in the process of being transformed from a shipping container port into Sydney’s flash new financial centre.

“He said he wanted something that would be a destination. And he said, ‘Look, everyone knows the Opera House. Everyone knows the Harbour Bridge but we’ve got to do more than that,” Mr Jones recalled Mr Packer telling him at the time.

Mr Jones said it was an “unpretentious” lunch between the billionaire and the premier over some “pies and mash”.

“James loves his pies. The premier was trying to loosen the waistline somewhat so I’m not too sure if he accepted the pies. But look, it was very simple, very unpretentious.”

Mr Jones told Four Corners the proposition Mr Packer put to the NSW premier was in “general” terms but was about building a hotel and VIP casino at Barangaroo.

“In a very vague and general way…but he’s always drawing things, so he had some diagrams and whatever and showed Barry.”

“Barry O’Farrell, as I remember, quite rightly indicated…everything’s got to go through about 155,000 regulatory bodies so, Barry made the point that it wouldn’t be all that easy, but he embraced the vision, if I could use that cliched word.”

Mr Packer’s pitch was for a “passport casino” aimed at wealthy international gamblers.

“Mr Packer was concerned with the public perception that these things might have been a hive of gambling, and that would diminish the capacity of the ordinary battler to keep his money in his pocket,” Mr Jones said.

“So there would only be people who are overseas people who’d come to the destination, who would use the casino.”

“That also appealed to Barry and he was someone who was wanting to do something to leave a legacy in a way.”

Mr Jones said the lunch ended with “no guarantees” but he had the impression that Mr O’Farrell was “open to the idea”.

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