Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

22nd December 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown

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and how has it been for you? It has seemed at times like a long one and a strange one; full of promise and pain; hope and horror; virtue and venality. But I alliterate. The fact that I'm here and you're there means we've both survived Christmas week. Lord knows, I've been to the Warehouse and I've been to Briscoes.

But it's also the end of 1995, nearly. How were things this time last year? I can't remember, to be honest, but it strikes me we've been though a lot. Remember the Fiscal Envelope? The take-it-or-leave it, kia ora, here's a billion dollars for your half of the country, non-negotiable Fiscal Enevelope? You don't hear much about it now, but it's not so long since Doug Graham and his party said that was the way it was going to be.

Or not. Unpleasant scenes at Waitangi indicated that the envelope would be hard to close. Spitting at the governor general was one thing, but some Maori also demonstrated the continuing ability to shoot their own generals. When Wira Gardiner, chief executive of Te Puni Kokiri, wound up in a fist fight, you knew something was wrong. Gardiner isn't in that job any more - and he left big shoes to fill.

Then there was the attack on the pine at One Tree Hill. I still think that Mike Smith's chainsaw escapade was a crude and stupid episode - find a flagpole, leave the trees alone - but if it was intended to put Maori grievances on the agenda, it did its job. If there was to be any doubt about that, then Moutoa Gardens settled it.

No one statement is true of Moutoa Gardens. The occupation which brought Ken Mair's chronic case of short man's syndrome to the nation's attention was studded richly with culture, contradiction, community and Catholicism. I do feel lucky to have been able to visit Pakaitore.

I wish I'd been able to linger similarly on the fringes of Tainui's settlement of its differences with the crown. Some people didn't think it was a good idea, but Tainui, as it has through the history of these isles, went its own way and what happened was history. The physical and fiscal recompanse never came near what Tainui had stolen last century, but they wisely opted to take the change in moral currency - specifically, an unprecedented apology from the Queen. That irked one or two Tories back in Britain - which made it all the better.

The saddest, maddest incident in Maoridom was, of course, the torching of the old school at Takahue, the concluding event in an incoherent tribal dispure that the country - and even the participants - didn't seem to fully understand. In the course of it, yet another general, Matiu Rata, was wounded, but carried on.

Still another, Buddy Mikaere, stepped down from the Waitangi Tribunal. Can we please, please, please treat the Tribunal with the respect it deserves? We can, it seems, lop three billion off government spending with a juicy little tax package, but we can't have the Tribunal running on a proper budget. The two-bob approach to an entity which has a hell of lot to do with how we'll look in the next millenium just isn't good enough.

Budgets were a problem in quite a few places. Schools had to fight for every penny of additional help they got and "care in the community" for those who had trouble caring for themselves seemed to be a reality in the mouths of ministers only.

The government, which drifted blissfully through the middle of the year, Bolger playing the anti-nuclear saint to the Chirac's sinner, did its best to play down that kind of thing. Indeed, we got to see quite how serious National is about damage control. Look at this week's report on the Cave Creek platform collapse. Terms of reference as tight as a swimsuit model's butt, and even then, it arrived too early for the government's liking. It could and should have been presented in the last few days that Parliament sat, but no, sorry, cabinet needed to "consider it". What bollocks.

We're barely halfway through aniother tightly-scripted inquiry which won't be so easily kept in the box - the winebox, that is. It's easy to forget, as the shabby tales of money-go-rounds and corporate amnesia unfold, that it's not even the revenue-robbing captains of commerce who are being investigated. It's Inland Revenue and the Serious Fraud Office. Is that dodging the issue or what?

I don't think that will matter in the end. I think the reputations of a few high and mighty people will be permanently shredded by the time this is over. Day by day, each paranoid utterance of Winston Peters seems less bizarre and more like what actually happened. I promise never to laugh at anything Winston says again. Unless he says something particularly daft - and that possibility is always with us.

Ah, but the public knows the score. The sweetest music of the year was the crowd jeering John Banks as he tried to bask in reflected glory at the America's Cup victory shindig in Auckland. Banks just never smells any better. In hell, the only radio station plays Banksie's talkback day in, day out unto eternity. It makes a reasonable argument for Armageddon.

We also had Radio Liberty, that ga-ga gathering of Lindsay Perigo and his acolytes. The Libertarians were ordered to apologise this week after the Broadcasting Standards Authority upheld a complaint from NZ On Air. No, you're not allowed to call them "Nazis on Air". Big deal. I'm pissed off that time and money was spent on this complaint. Just ignore them - or better still, laugh at them.

After all, was there a better act of intellectual slapstick than the Liberty looney Deborah Coddington? For so long as we can find mirth in abject stupidity, Coddington will have her place in the firmament. I hereby nominate Coddington as most banal New Zealander of 1995. Banks, Carter, Smith and company will just have to try harder next year.

Coddington was, of course, too far to the right for even the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers. ACT proved that money doesn't change everything. The public has consistently failed to share the dream of Douglas and his disciples. They still have that funny look in their eyes, but the lids are drooping. ACT might get up from the canvas next year and get a couple of list MPs elected, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The polls were unkind to the Labour Party, too - or, rather, one poll in particular. The rogueish Colmar Brunton poll which seemed to indicate that Labour was roughly as popular as leprosy may turn out to have been for the best. The boot up the bum the party was required to administer to itself has produced results. There are even indications that the public is beginning to recognise Helen Clark as a human being. It still prefers that unusual lifeform which scientists call Mike Moore - and I can't see why. But I also can't see why people eat food from McDonald's, so it's probably me who's twisted and not reality.

The Alliance bobbed up and down the polls - up with Jim, down without. Kind of a shame, really. It can hardly be a secret that I'm no fan of the MP for Sydenham. I'd feel a lot more hopeful about a viable coalition of the left if he just went away. But don't ask me, ask Bruce Jesson.

But of course, the only party which presently counts is National - well, them and the members of the Unelected Party who help shore up the majority. It would be an unhappy start to MMP indeed if National were to win the first such election with a first-past-the-post style majority.

Anyway, enough of all that. Good things do happen. An edgy, awkward peace has been achieved in Bosnia. Telecom has been stuck by the courts again, with a permanent injunction preventing it from dominating the broadcast industry the way it does the phone business. America seems to be rolling away from a bout of luvvies with the far right which would have affected all of us.

We didn't win the Rugby World Cup but we won the moral victory. OJ Simpson won in court, but lost the moral honours. Chirac bombed the Pacific, but can barely govern in his own country. Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered by dictators but his death bought recognition of his struggle. Did you know that the biggest single source of greenhouse gases in the world is Shell Oil's operation in Nigeria? Fact.

Anyway, I'm just pleased that my family's Christmas budget has offered sufficient room for me to fulfill my genetic requirement for good Scotch whisky. Talisker single malt from the Isle of Skye - the very lifeblood of a sound philosophy. I should say something Gaelic I suppose, but I can't. So cheers and thanks to Charlie Tumahai, kia kaha ... and


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

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