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Joyce in hot seat for another grilling

Peter Wilson, Political Writer

Ministers face another grilling in parliament on Thursday as Labour and the Greens try to nail them over the SkyCity convention centre tender.

Opposition MPs are convinced the government struck an underhanded deal when it decided SkyCity should build the $350 million centre in Auckland, but so far they haven't been able to get anywhere near proving it.

Prime Minister John Key on Wednesday rejected all their assertions that Deputy Auditor-General Phillipa Smith's report on the way the tender was managed implicates the government and senior Beehive officials.

Mr Key will be out of town on Thursday and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce will be in the hot seat.

Ms Smith's report found there were numerous deficiencies in the way officials handled the tender but nothing inappropriate happened to influence the outcome.

Opposition parties don't accept Mr Key's assurances that he had little to do with it, and they're trying to prove he was "in it donkey deep" as Labour leader David Shearer puts it.

Mr Key says the report has cleared the way for the deal to be closed and told media on Wednesday he hoped work on the convention centre would start next year.

"SkyCity has the right location and it was the only one prepared to put up the cash - all the others (bidders for the contract) wanted the government to pay for it," he said.

The inquiry looked at the process the Ministry of Economic Development followed in 2010 when it chose SkyCity to build the centre, in exchange for a law change allowing up to 500 more pokie machines in its casino.

The report identified delays in advice from officials to the government about SkyCity's proposal, and poor planning and execution of the expressions-of-interest process.

Ministry office staff were still meeting with SkyCity to talk about its proposed plans and what regulatory changes it might want after expressions of interest opened, and SkyCity was given a better understanding of the government's thoughts - including that it did not want to contribute funding to the convention centre - than other interested parties were given.

Mr Joyce says he doesn't accept that the process was flawed.