Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

15th December 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown

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and as the end of the year draws near, perhaps it's time for us to count our blessings as New Zealanders. Not in terms of our rude economic health, because those bounties don't yet fall equally on all of us and maybe never will. I'm thinking more of the fact that this is generally a pretty straight place.

Sure, it'd be nice to know a tad more about which well-heeled entities are donating to which political parties. But we don't see the plain evil which pervades other systems in other countries. And if by chance we do, there's a reasonable chance the dirty washing can be forcibly displayed - as it currently is in the winebox hearings. He may be irritating and occasionally incoherent, but we have a lot for which to thank Winston Peters.

I was put in this mind by watching this week's Panorama documentary - yes, ATV is good for something - about Camelot, the company which runs Britain's versions of Lotto and scratchies. Camelot's major shareholder is an American firm called G-Tech, which is apparently addicted to bribery, standovers and massive profits. Camelot's 50 per cent return on equity in its first couple of years makes Telecom look like a charity. It makes me feel quite glad that our lotteries are run by an entity with the word "Commission" in its name.

The putrid government of John Major will likely do nothing about it, even in the light of a statement from Richard Branson that Camelot sought to bribe him into dropping his rival bid for Britain's lottery contract.

Ditto in the case of the Westminster Council, a group of Tories characterised by moral bankruptcy and a teflon coating. Under Lady Shirley Porter, the Westminster Council gerrymandered an election by selling off council housing in marginal wards. There were homeless families in those wards, but they'd have only voted Labour. So the council sold the properties to Tory-voting owner-occupiers.

Where did the homeless families go? It has now emerged that they were shipped off to council blocks which shouldn't have been occupied at all. They contained life-threatening quantities of asbestos. And the council knew that. And even as it did this, it spent about $7 million dollars fixing up a road overbridge which contained far less asbestos, lest commuters should inhale it. These bastards should be in jail, but instead they'll carry on, rich, regardless.

Phew. End of sermon. Spleen vented. And what of our own dirty linen? Well, Paul Collins, chief executive of Brierly's, has become the latest to suffer the scourge of the winebox companies - corporate amnesia. Even though he was a board member of European Pacific - and Brierley's was a singificant benefactor in its profits - Mr Collins claims he didn't know much about what it did. And what he did know, he can't remember.

Now, would it stick in your mind if an expensive corporate lawyer told you that your company policy was probably fraudulent? It'd stick in mine. I suggest Collins and everyone else whose mind has gone blank be stood down, because they're plainly not up to the demands of corporate life. Poor loves. Perhaps a little occupational therapy might help.

Just as well we have a government which acts strictly in all our interests and never its own. No, Bill Birch's tax cuts have nothing to do with next year's election, they're our dividend in the economic miracle. Or not.

The government hasn't met its own conditions for tax cuts - in chief that the net public debt should fall below 30 per cent of GDP. It might, maybe, by July 1997. The balance of payments deficit will be worse by then. Don Brash, the governor of the Resreve Bank will be obliged by statute to keep interest rates high. Perhaps those things don't really matter - but why force the pace? It's the election, stupid.

I don't object to tax cuts in principle. The government has been collecting a hell of a lot of money lately, as the economy has grown. But the goodies should accrue to those who have missed out on the growth - the very bottom socio-economic sector. But, strangely, the only people who don't get a bean out of Birch's plans are those pulling in less that $9500 a year. There's also a case for helping out middle-income families, who in the rush to targeting in recent years, have been clobbered with all manner of extra costs if they dare to earn more than $30,000. That has been delivered, along with increased family support payments for earners in that range.

So it ain't all bad - but is the entire public sector running like clockwork? We'd reasonably expect that to be the case, if revenue was to be foregone. Think Cave Creek, think schools that will lose *all* their Special Education Service entitlement next year, think kindergartens being told to cut back staff ratios and and greatly increase their fees just to stay open. Consider that three of those arbitrary four issues lie in the portfolio of the appalling Lockwood Smith.

Bulk funding made the news again this week, with the teachers union - saying bulk funding is just a code for less funding - squared off against prinicpals, who say they want and need it. They're both right. The problem is less with bulk funding as a principle than with the fact that people don't trust the government. And why should they, when the government is represented by the unpleasant person of the idiot Smith?

Over to the tertiary scene, and it can finally be revealed that the man who threatened Craccum editor Stewart Gardiner in the wake of the "dope supermarket" story was Mark Stevens, aka the Parnell Panther. A charge of threatening to kill was dropped and Stevens was instead accused of frightening Mr Gardiner. Yes, that's an actual charge. Flushed with the knowledge that such an offence exists, I demand the arrest of Birch, Smith, Shipley, Douglas and others. They frighten the bejeezus out of me sometimes. I could add Deborah Coddington and John Banks, but I fear the courts would consider them comedy acts.

In the case of Roger Douglas, most of the population has already testified to his frighteningness. Did you catch the poll in which Douglas was overwhelmingly named as the politician people would least trust to hold the balance of power in an MMP Parliament? He *romped* home. I'm put in mind of a conversation I overheard whilst nervously twiddling my thumbs in ACT's Auckland offices. "Oh, just *wait* till they understand, Rodney!" roared Douglas. They don't and they won't Roger.

There'll be a movie in it all of course - one titled Once Were Chairman of the Warriors. ACT has not yet sought to explain why a man who couldn't run a rugby league club should run the country.

Well, that's my lot for the week and, almost, the year. I'd just like to wish maximum health and efficiency on those people who owe me cheques before Christmas. When I say "health and efficiency" I don't mean to say that there should be pictures printed of them, naked, playing beach volleyball. But I'm sure that freelancers of any stripe would join me in a considering that a most appropriate fate for slow payers.

I should add that most of the people who pay me are prompt and wonderful. But the idea has merit. Bill Birch and Lockwood getting you down? Just imagine them in their own Health & Efficiency pictorial. And if any of you are inclined to charge me with frightening, I already can't remember what I just said.


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

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