Hong Kong billionaire plans $4.8 billion Australian casino resort

SYDNEY (AFP) - A Hong Kong billionaire has revealed plans for a A$4.2 billion (S$4.8 billion) tropical resort and casino in Australia which he says will be a "man-made wonder of the world".

The Queensland state government confirmed on Friday it has streamlined the approval process for Tony Fung's Aquis project near Cairns, plans for which include a casino, nine luxury hotels with 3,750 rooms, and one of the world's largest aquariums.

"North Queensland is missing the man-made wonder of the world, which is presented in Aquis," Mr Fung's Aquis Resort at the Great Barrier Reef said in its initial advice statement.

Mr Fung, from one of Hong Kong's best-known banking families, said the resort would see North Queensland benefit from growing numbers of Asian tourists, particularly from China.

"Facilities of the like of Aquis Resort at The Great Barrier Reef don't only attract the Chinese mass-market middle-class, but also the big-spending, high-value, ever-expanding Chinese upper-class," the statement said.

Australian billionaire James Packer already has plans to bring lucrative Asian tourists Down Under to a casino and six-star hotel complex in Sydney he wants to build, but Aquis said its development would be "Australia's only genuine, world-class, integrated resort".

It said it would be an inclusive facility - "whether a local retiree or a Chinese billionaire, all will be welcomed, treated equally and feel special".

The planned project, to be 13 kilometres north of the Great Barrier Reef gateway city of Cairns in Yorkeys Knob, will include 1,200 apartments and 135 villas, high-end retail shopping, theatres, a 13-hectare reef lagoon, 18-hole golf course, a convention and exhibition centre and a 25,000-seat sports stadium.

It is expected to create 9,300 construction jobs and 10,000 ongoing positions once operational in 2018, and supporters see it as a "game-changer" investment in the tropical region.

"Tony Fung is keen to make sure it is done properly environmentally, socially, and to the benefit of the whole region," chief executive of advocacy group Advance Cairns Mark Matthews told the Cairns Post newspaper.

"This has not happened overnight, it is part of a broader investment confidence in the north."

But the development has alarmed some locals in Yorkeys Knob, with the community-elected "King of the Knob" Jim Cadman saying he will oppose the "steamroller" project which could threaten the environment and hurt local businesses.

"Most people are incredulous," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The state government on Thursday gave Aquis "co-ordinated project" status, meaning all approvals - including environment, social and licensing requirements - will be handled in a coordinated way rather than separately by different departments.

The next step will be for it to submit an environmental impact statement.

It must also satisfy foreign investment regulations.