Don’t mention Project Te Ata aka the secret airport deal

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New information exposes further secret-squirrel moves by Auckland Airport during its 24.99 per cent purchase of council-owned Queenstown Airport. 

The latest on attempts to keep the controversial deal hush-hush comes in an Official Information release to Mountain Scene from the Overseas Investment Office. 

It covers Auckland’s application for consent to its Queenstown buy-in. 

Just as Queenstown Airport had a code name for the deal – “Project D12” – Auckland had a code name too, “Project Te Ata”. 

Auckland Airport and its heavy-hitting lawyers Russell McVeagh urged the OIO to employ the utmost secrecy – information in its application was “strictly confidential and highly commercially sensitive”. 

“We request that no details of the application be disclosed to any person until the [deal] has been completed.” 

Russell McVeagh even took it upon itself to give the OIO what it called a “draft decision sheet”, containing information which could be safely released after the $27.7 million deal went public. 

OIO consent came through on May 28 – well before the airports finalised negotiations – and OIO was asked to keep its decision under wraps until the deal was done. 

“We are grateful the OIO will continue to delay the release of the decision summary,” Russell McVeagh wrote on June 14. 

Despite the deal eventually going public on July 8, Russell McVeagh had previously asked that “all information contained in the application be kept strictly confidential” afterwards – apart from the material which Auckland had said could be released. 

If anyone made an Official Information request the OIO was asked to tip off Russell McVeagh and not release anything until Auckland had given its reaction to the request. 

Yet it appears the OIO has disregarded Auckland’s plea to keep information secret for forever and a day. 

The OIO has told Mountain Scene the only materials withheld from the newspaper are “passport pages of the [Auckland] directors”. 

Extreme secrecy isn’t the only aspect of the airport saga exposed in the OIO papers – light is also shed on Auckland’s expectations for getting Queenstown Airport Corporation board seats. 

A document in the OIO package refers to “one or more members of [Auckland’s] senior management team [becoming] members of the board of [Queenstown Airport]”. 

Auckland says it will aim to have the number of Queenstown board seats “extended” so “all current board members of [Queenstown Airport] retain their roles”. 

Board representation will only become an issue if Queenstown Lakes District Council – which still owns 75.01 per cent of the resort airport – decides by next June to sell Auckland up to another 10 per cent. 

The entire airport deal could be up in the air depending on the outcome of separate court challenges by Air New Zealand and the Community Strategic Assets Group, an amalgam of heavyweight local business leaders. Court dates are expected to be announced shortly. 

Mountain Scene has previously revealed Auckland secretly trawled Queenstown councillors’ financial affairs to see if they owned any Auckland Airport shares.