Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

29th September 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown

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And what a long, strange week it's been. Bad madness in Invercargill. A man in the grip of that most intractable of psychological illnesses, schizophrenia, barricades himself in a gun shop and winds up dead. The hitherto unknown MP for the city, Mark Peck, makes an extraordinary, emotional address to Parliament. He is comforted by his party leader, Helen Clark ­ whose rare moment of sympathy in the media is all but lost on the viewing public, which can only see the top of her head.

Jenny Shipley responds by highlighting Eric Gellatly's marijuana use, which is hardly the point. It seems that various people sought and were unable to procure residential care for this man. He didn't get it. Instead, the incident that ended his life was sparked by an arrest warrant on a charge of threatening to kill. Whatever the rights and wrongs of community care, something has gone badly wrong when a man needs the health system and finds only the judicial system.

Of course, it has been nature providing the drama to the north, with Ruapehu rumbling into life. It has been a display so compelling that all of us, even those who stand to lose lose money and farmland, have been hyponotised. Awesome. But if it follows the pattern of 1945 and continues to rage for nine or 10 months, how long before we become jaded, even with this?

And who should 3 News approach for comment? Why, that eminent vulcanologist and seismic sticksman, Bevan Sweeney of the Headless Chickens, who happened to be in the area. Nice work, Bevan. Next week, Greg Johnson on the health reforms.

But there are rumblings underfoot up in these parts too. Noise, danger to property and, in Pam Corkery's case, clouds of ash. Yep, it's the Auckland local body elections - and this time round, it might just mean something.

Current status is this. Les Mills and his backscratching CitRat mates are - along with the New Zealand Herald - the major symptoms of the Auckland malaise. They're a suffocating, disempowering, mediocre force. Les gets elected on the basis that he doesn't frighten the horses. That he's stable and so are Citizens and Ratepayers. Yet how can any party which has attempted to spirit the ridiculous Britomart transit centre proposal past public scrutiny be considered even remotely prudent?

Les played the wise man angle for all it was worth on the final ATV mayoral debate. Goodness, he mused, Auckland City Council is a big business - and what would become of all those ratepaying families if he wasn't at the helm, keeping an hourly watch on the way their money was being spent? It was an attempt at mystification of which Pam was having not a bar. Someone does have to count the council pennies. But it's not Mr Blobby, it's the very competent chap that the council pays $200,000 a year to do so.

The establishment is starting to sweat - as well it might. I like the fact that Corkery has tried to reach young voters and, apart from anything else, it has not escaped my notice that she's the second person involved with the Alliance to actually be allowed to own and operate a personality. The first, of course, is Chairman Jim. Sandra Lee had a personality, but people didn't like it, so she wasn't allowed to use it any more.

Of course, Pam's nominally an independent - which I regard as a plus. I just hope her chances haven't been harmed too much by the Alliance's idiotic plan to have a computer automatically call every single house in greater Auckland with a recorded message asking people to vote for them in the local body elections has pretty much lost them my vote. Alliance strategist Matt McCarten, the author of this dreadful scheme, says it's no more intrusive than a knock on the door or a phone call from a real human. No, but it is a great deal more annoying.

It's a cheap, tacky marketing tactic. As an Internet user, I have learned to hate unsolicited, automated, intrusive advertising. Wanna know why? Part of the contract of me turning on the television is that I know there will be advertising there to pay for what I'm seeing. That contract does not extend to the goddam telephone - and for very good reasons. Anyone could do this kind of blitz - it takes little in the way of committment, personnel or even money. So what if everyone did? End of the the telephone as a useful communication device - or another damn law to stop it happening.

What makes it really daft is the fact that the recorded voice reaching all of Auckland, night after night, is that of Jim Anderton. The MP for Sydenham, Christchurch, for God's sake! Is this some way of saying that everybody on the Alliance tickets in the Auckland region is a complete nobody? It sure sounds that way.

And anyway, why should we listen to a man based in a city whose rugby team we stuffed so convincingly just this past weekend? What the hell has anyone from Christchurch got to teach us? Well, quite a few things, actually - many of them pertaining to half-decent city stewardship, popular involvement in local politics and nice pedestrian malls. But about rugby? No way.

Righto, down home. In my ward, Western Bays, a flock of Alliance people got onto the community board last time round. And ­ with the exception of Penny Sefuiva ­ what a useless pack of Herne Bay yuppies they've turned out to be. Did you know there's a proposal to widen Ponsonby Road? Neither did they. It was a Community Coalition candidiate that told me.

Actually, all but one of my local Community Coalition candidates are already known to me by their works ­ which in the case of arts and community administrator Brian Kirby are considerable. It should be acknowledged at this point that I personally know one of the community board candidates, Paul Rose, possibly too well for the good of my health. He's a rock Śn' roll person ­ as is Tim Mahon in Hobson Ward and even Dame Pamela herself, even if she does work for dull radio stations where what music there is, is dire.

There are bigger things afoot, of course. Cosmic wheels turning, that sort of thing. Hindus the world over are flocking to their temples, where Ganeesh, the elephant god, is quenching an ancient thirst on as much milk as believers can give him. I saw one statuette appearing to repeatedly drain a teaspoon of homogenised on the World Service news and it looked pretty convincing.

But, really, it doesn't rate. A far greater miracle has been taking place in my very neighbourhood. My family and all the families in the area have made offerings which have been mysteriously uplifted by strange beings. Ye shall know them by their Hirepool trailers, their battered utes and the odd flat-deck truck.

Yes, it's the people who drive around picking up the crap everyone else leaves out in the inorganic waste collection. I really do not believe it. On Saturday, I had just carefully placed the last offering on the grass verge when the first one arrived. He got the good stuff ­ a box full of damp, dirty old cassette tapes that had been in the shed and an uncomfortable but viable lounge chair with torn covers. Thereafter departed a whole range of grade-A crap. Bar one item. So what was wrong with the old paddling pool with all the holes in it, you bastards? Why didn't somebody take that?

You won't get that from the French. Greenpeace delivers them ships and the French military kindly takes them away. Have we already reached the extent of Greenpeace's tactical nous? Frankly, after what happened in Tahiti, Greenpeace pissing about in and out of the exclusion zone looks a bit trite. The French have realised that if they don't beat anybody up, it's hardly even news anymore.

Don't think by that I mean what the French have done and are doing is any less obscene. I was chilled by their rather cocky assurances that they had things nailed down in Papeete and there'd be no riots after the next test. There will be ­ and given the French government's demonstrated disregard for the life and limb of others, they'll probably end up killing someone.

Well, this already the omnibus Hard News and it's probably more than enough for your fragile attention spans. It certainly is for mine, after a night out at the multi-venue Private Function. Nice idea, bFM. Ta! Me, I'm off home for a kip. But I'll leave you with the vox pop from a little old lady in Invercargill. "It gets," she sighed to 3 News "More like Auckland every day." I'm speechless.


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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