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Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Canberra Convention Centre and Casino

The construction of a Canberra casino and convention centre was a drawn out affair. The Fraser government was keen to develop a conference centre and hotel, but not a casino. Between 1977 and 1982, Cabinet considered and rejected proposals for a casino three times.

In 1977, it rejected a proposal for a feasibility study whereby a developer would build a concert hall in Canberra, and in return would be allowed to build a casino.131

In 1978, Prime Minister Fraser announced that the 1981 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting would take place in Australia. However, the meeting would be held in Brisbane; Canberra was not considered due to its lack of a suitable conference centre.

The following year, a private developer put forward a proposal to build a conference centre, together with a hotel and casino. If the casino was unacceptable, the company would require a government subsidy to fund the conference centre. The government decided to seek expressions of interest from other parties. Four offers were received, the favoured one being an offer from Genting Berhad from Malaysia. The offer included a 2400-seat conference centre, an international standard hotel and a casino.132Cabinet rejected the proposal in February 1980 and sought other means to build the conference centre.133

The report of the Review of Commonwealth Functions issued in April 1981 deferred the project, but only for a short while. In January 1982, Cabinet considered the casino proposal for the third time. It noted that casinos were being established in other states, or were under active consideration. There was even a suggestion of building a casino in Queanbeyan. If those projects proceeded, it would be detrimental to Canberra's tourism industry. Nevertheless, Cabinet rejected the proposal.134

Although opposed to a casino, the government still supported a conference centre and hotel. In October 1981, submissions were sought to develop a 'Tivoli Gardens', comprising lights and gardens, outdoor theatre, planetarium, space theatre, restaurants, bars, cultural centre and a children's amusement centre. When submissions closed in May 1982, only one offer was received, from White Industries, to develop the gardens, conference centre, hotel and offices. In November 1982, White Industries put forward its final proposal for a 2500-seat conference centre, together with a five-star hotel, offices and Tivoli Gardens, but no casino.

Negotiations were still continuing with White Industries when the Fraser government lost office in March 1983. Unlike the previous government, the incoming Hawke government supported the casino. On 18 October 1983, Minister for Territories and Local Government Tom Uren issued a media release advising that the government had approved the construction of a convention centre and casino.135 The 'legislative controls' that Minister for the Capital Territory Michael Hodgman had sought in 1982 were encompassed within the Casino Control Ordinance 1983.

The Convention Centre opened in 1989. The casino opened on 29 July 1994, although it had operated from temporary facilities since 1992.

City Section 19 – economic impact of the proposed casino development, 1987–89 NC–88/1044
Proposed casino site NC–76/00567#2
Proposed gambling casino for the ACT 81/5116
Establishment of casino 79/3527
Land Marketing Branch – Canberra casino 76/3341
Proposed concert hall and casino 76/2828
National Archives
Casino for the Australian Capital Territory, 1977 A12909, 1553
Proposal for convention centre/casino for Canberra, 1979–80 A12909, 3743
International hotel casino for Canberra, legislative controls and expressions of interest, 1981–82 A12909, 5226
Malcolm Fraser – Canberra Convention Centre, 1983 M1268, 31
National Library
Canberra casino and White Industries, 1982–83 (Tom Uren) MS 6055, series 12, folders 2–4, box 70
Canberra casino papers, 1983 (Tom Uren) MS 6055, series 12, folders 5–6, box 70


Chapter notes | All notes

131 NAA: A12909, 1553, July 1977 and 2 August 1977.

132 There was no five-star hotel in Canberra at this time; the first such hotel, Hyatt Hotel Canberra, opened in 1988.

133 NAA: A12909, 3743, January 1980.

134 NAA: A12909, 5226, 27 November 1981.

135 National Library of Australia: Casino papers, 18 October 1983 (Tom Uren) MS 6055, series 12, folder 6, box 70.


Chapter 6
Changes in the wind, 1972–89