Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

17th November 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown

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Well, the red carpets have been rolled up, the leaders have left and the Commonwealth communique has been issued. Our government, having hosted one of the most interesting CHOGMs of recent years, should be basking in the afterglow. But it isn't.

The spell has been broken not by a few dozen protesters sitting down in Queen Street for a spot of street theatre, but by the aftermath of the Cave Creek disaster. The report on the tragedy came out this week and, frankly, the government did not want to know.

The impression is that this is a government so drunk on good news that it doesn't even want a sniff of the bad stuff. How else would you explain Bolger's complete refusal to acknowledge the report's criticisms of government funding and management of the Department of Conservation? It was all, Bolger insisted, about a bucket of bolts that didn't go where they ought. Nothing to do with the government.

Oh yeah? Where does this cosy little view allow for all the other DOC structures which were tested and found wanting in the wake of Cave Creek? And what about the report delivered by DOC to National when it took office - five years ago? That briefing said that unless work was carried out on DOC's infrastructure it would continue to deteriorate, and there would be a disaster.

The Minister of Conservation then, as now, was Denis Marshall. Before he ran for cover, Marshall declared that resignation would be a soft option for him. So he'll continue to suffer, tens of thousands a year richer on his ministerial salary. Yet even if you accept that DOC wasn't underfunded, there were clearly huge systemic problems in the way it did things.

That is a matter of ministerial responsibility - or at least it used to be. Once again, we find ourselves wondering what the hell you have to do to be obliged to resign as a minister in this country. I put it to you that a similar situation in many other democracies would have seen the minister down the road.

There was more creepy stuff bubbling up through the cracks in the form of the new protocols allowing CHEs to solicit for private business. Health Minister Jenny Shipley dodged the issues and suggested we trust her. That would be pretty dumb, when every knows the health reforms are being run by Treasury.

Funny chaps, Treasury. Alright when they're told what to do, but a liability at the wheel. Reality just doesn't come into it. Dennis Pickup of Auckland Healthcare this week became the latest hand-picked business brain to chuck in a CHE job because the numbers didn't add up. He was polite, but let's not be fooled by that.

Indeed, I'm minded to believe that the cluster of ministers assigned to the health portfolio, and the CHE minister too, of course, are naught but a smokescreen. Are they in charge - or just clay pigeons?

But back to our regal visitor. Nelson Mandela appears to have made an extraordinary impression on anyone who got near him. Indeed, he filled the role that royalty used to fill. People lined up just to see him. His visit to the people of Tainui at Turangawaewae marae on Tuesday will be spoken of for many, many years to come.

I really don't know how this man does it. In his twilight years he performs the most difficult balancing act in the world - and people who take cosy little potshots at his government's economic policies should remember that. He managed also to keep a lid on what must have been rage at the dictators of Nigeria.

Mandela arrived declaring that matters were in hand, he was speaking to Abacha on a regular basis. He was duped. Ken Saro-Wiwa and his comrades were hanged, even as CHOGM delegates ruminated on their case. In the days that followed we got a fascinating glimpse into the PR of bad politics.

The son of one of the murdered Ogoni leaders turned up here to declare that Saro-Wiwa was indeed a murderer. Who flew him here? And was it anything to do with Abacha's clandestine meetings with Sir Tim Bell, Lady Thatcher's personal PR flunky? Why didn't anyone ask? The whole issue has been poorly reported in this country.

Saro-Wiwa was not an angel - who could be in such an environment? But the facts of his so-called conviction are these. He was in custody when the murders took place. The tribunal which tried him was a construct of the regime, stripped of most of the provisions of a civilised justice system, such as the right to appeal. Even then, the tribunal did not meet most of the conditions of the decree which created it. Most of the 15 defendants not only had no case made against them, they were not actually even named in court. Two prosecution witnesses signed affadavits saying they and others had been bribed. These were ignored. It goes on ...

And who in the free world should take the rap? John Major. Major displayed ill grace at the CHOGM condemnation of nuclear testing, but he should have counted himself lucky. It was Britain which delivered 18 battle tanks to Nigeria last year, in the face of European sanctions. It was the British Foreign Office which hired out a room for conference intended to boost trade with Nigeria only last month. It is Britain, in short, which props up Nigeria's dictators. It must stop.

There is also a case to answer for Shell, the company which extracts much of Nigeria's huge reserve of oil. Personally, I'll try and avoid spending my money at Shell stations for the time being. But we should be careful about urging an oil company to exercise too much political clout. Start wishing for multinationals to bring down governments and you might get what you want. Such corporations are amoral. If they want to do business, they'll play ball. It is still governments which matter.

And as it was last century, the colonials are always a nastier breed than the transnational gentlemen of the empire. Who are our creepy corporate citizens, the ones being carpeted at the winebox enquiry? Companies being run by New Zealanders. Like Brierley's, which, despite owning a third of European Pacific, now claims to have had no knowledge of what it actually did. Can we really believe this?

Speaking of colonialism, Niko Tangaroa again showed everyone else how protesting is done. He went to Sydney on a temporary New Zealand passport and now he wants to come back on a Maori passport - more specifically, one issued by the sovereign tribes of the Whanganui. This has, naturally, caused all sort of consternation. But why the hell not?

The right to hold a parallel passport would be both a benign and powerful symbol of sovereignty. If New Zealand Internal Affairs were to play ball and approve and accept such passports on entry, who loses? It would be up to individual iwi to convince other nations to accept their document and, realistically, they wouldn't have much show.

But, as Tangaroa did, to seek recognition from other indiegenous peoples - well, that's cool. Never underestimate the power of symbolism in Maori politics. Tainui clearly regarded an aplogy from the Queen as making up the change between what they got on their raupatu settlement and what they lost last century. It was most polite of them to do so.

Over to the plonker patrol, and step up once again TVNZ. The rest of the world is seeing the Beatles Anthology TV special this week. It's a global televisual event. But not us. After scheduling the special, TVNZ decided that nobody would mind if it was bumped back a week. Hey, we're all too stupid to notice, right? Well I'm going to stop watching TV after Carmen bows out of Shortland Street anyway. Speaking of the Street, how many more glimpses of Rachel McKenna's black lacy underwear do you think they can cram in before Christmas?

If nothing else, sighting Rachel's smalls distracted us from the collapse of the national expression of manhood. The All Blacks lost. To France. Badly. Will Colin Meads' lecture on what it is to be an All Black do the job this weekend? Roy and I hope so. Join us again, 2.30am, Sunday morning.

But, hey, let's not part that way. Let's go with something upbeat. The end of the world has been cancelled. Or, at least, postponed. The leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses have announced they will no longer be setting a date on Armageddon. After unsuccessful guarantees that the world would end in 1914, 1916, 1925 and 1975, I should think so. Of course, when the day does arrive, only the five million JWs will be saved. So Michael Jackson will be delivered and you and I will burn in Hell. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Stiil, at least we'll take the Scientologists with us.


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

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