Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

24th November 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown

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Forgive if I miss a big one this week, for I am sorely distracted. In my trade, Christmas comes early - or, to be more precise, everything that must be done for 1995 must be done this week. Still, freelance journalism is a handy barometer for the state of the economy - if there's work out there, then people are advertising. Where there's advertising there is business. Where there's business, there's money changing hands. Especially in Auckland.

Perhaps it is an Auckland fever. Once again this week, the rest of the country gritted its teeth as it was told that national interest rates won't fall because Auckland property speculators can't keep their hands out of their pants. Tell me about it. I have lived in Grey Lynn, on and off, for over a decade. For most of that time, you knew where you were - and you knew that the rich folks lived east of Newmarket.

Not any more. These days, $230,000 will buy you a house in Remuera. The same sum might, if you are lucky, get you into a garden shed in Grey Lynn. It is madness. Still, I'm happy for the Pacific Island families who are, gradually selling up and clearing out as the tone of the neighbourhood falls. When my Niuean neighbour finally sells his house it will be for more than 10 times what he paid for it. And then some yuppies will park their jeep outside and spend another $50,000 refitting the place. Weird.

Is it something to do with the America's Cup? It's a popular theory, but it doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense. I don't think even Pete Montgomery could render exciting a yachting duel as viewed out my back window. Indeed, nobody will actually be able to see any racing from anywhere in the city.

Still, at least we know who we'll be supporting. Peter Blake has announced that Team New Zealand will be the only New Zealand team to defend the Cup. No arguments, no race-off. It's not like I actually care, but I fondly hope there'll be a challenge from Team Aotearoa of the Ngati Whatua Yacht Club, representing the sovereign Maori nation. Now wouldn't that be a jolly little assertion of tino rangitiratanga?

Taking to the skies, we can make out the silhouette of yet another plucky little company taking on the big boys and offering cheapo flights to Australia. Not. Why can't Air New Zealand just be honest about its attempt to stomp Kiwi Air, instead of pretending the, ahem, "Freedom Line" is a venture on the part of Mt Cook airlines. Anyone with half a brain knows that Mt Cook is wholly owned by Air New Zealand anyway.

Actually, I'll tell you why - because once the goal is achieved and Kiwi is rendered flightless, it'll be a good deal more politic to simply pack up and put away the Freedom Line than it would be to whack back up the prices on Air New Zealand proper. Does anybody seriously think Air New Zealand intends to compete with itself in the long term? Speaking of which, what happens to domestic competition now that Air New Zealand is getting its hands on a chunk of Ansett? Bah.

Our current favourite effective monopoly, Telecom, has shown its caring, sharing nature by whacking up domestic line rentals again. It is not doing this to correct the invidious imbalances wrought by cross-subsidisation. It is doing it because it can. Sure, it's only a correction for inflation, but it wouldn't happen if Telecom actually had any competition. As it is, the only real challenge, from Clear, was fended off in court for nearly half a decade.

It'll be years yet before Clear is an effective competitor in residential telephone services - and by then we'll be looking at shenanigans in cable TV services. It will be thus: Excuse me, Mr Deane, but I'd like to buy a chunk of bandwidth on your fibre network, at wholesale rates, in order to provide innovative broadband services to New Zealanders. Answer: piss off, sunshine.

The Labour Party hatched its own little ray of sunshine at its party conference last weekend. The delegates got rousingly in behind Helen Clark, even as she was being subtly repositioned. The new issue of the party's public tabloid is full of Clark as walking, talking human being. Look! She has a family! She wasn't beamed fully-formed onto a university campus by a race of lesbian space aliens!

I find this kind of thing a little tedious from whatever quarter it comes, but the fact is, everyone's doing it because it works. Rustic farm girl Helen is just another version of ruddy-faced King Country farmer Jim, or born-again Canterbury plainsman other-Jim - or, for that matter, friend of the common man Mike. So is the discovery of Clark's minor melanoma this week a craven attempt to align her with Joan Bolger? Er, no ... let's not get carried away now ...

The party also elected Michael Hirschfield as its new president. He takes over from the redoubtable Maryan Street, but brings, well, different talents to the job. Translation: Labour needed another strong, intelligent woman in a senior job like it needed a hole in the head. The Great New Zealand Male would have had a social coronary.

Hirschfield has already set about mending fences. He didn't have much luck with his old mate Mike Moore, who described the party he once led as a "toxic waste dump" in rebuffing yet another offer of a front-bench position. God, the man is a berk. So should Labour expel him? Are you joking? Moore probably already has his John A. Lee speech written for just such an occasion. Let him fester. But, please, stop him writing newspaper articles.

Approaches to Jim Anderton were rather more succcessful. An accord with the Alliance would be less a matter of dragging that party to the right than convincing it to give up on the silly stuff. Can we all admit, right now, that GST can't and won't be magicked away, least of all by something so unlikely as the Financial Transactions Tax?

Still, at least there is broad consensus now on that dependable political touchstone, getting rid of the so-called "superannuation surtax". Yes, we all stand up for the right of senior citizens to keep every cent of their national superannuation, no matter how wealthy they are. Actually, Labour's new policy is to only apply the abatement - no, it's not really a tax - to the beneficiaries who are still working and earning. It could be worse. And it is worse, if you happen to be on any other kind of benefit.

Still, one can't moan in a week when the All Blacks have so thoroughly redeemed themselves by giving the French an out-and-out spanking. To see Robin Brooke soaring into the air to gather the ball, Eric Rush displaying a turn of pace that fairly burned the turf beneath him, Jonah Lomu heading down the field like a very large guided missile ... it did my heart good.

I have become aware of research which suggests that productivity among New Zealand workers actually rises after the All Blacks lose a test, as if we were all trying to do our bit to restore them to their rightful place in the firmament. Fascinating.

The only thing to shade the glory of it this week was the $45,000 a jury dished out to former All Black halfback Mark Donaldson. It was found that the New Truth had defamed Donaldson by claiming that he was a thug who hit old men. As the video evidence showed, this was not the case. He was an equal-opportunity thug. I don't know what sort of message this sends out, but had it been up to me I'd have recommended he be awarded 45 cents and a boot up the bum. Creep. Anyway


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

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