Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

26th January 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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Crisis? What crisis? Well, we don't seem to be able to make sufficient provision for radiotherapy for cancer patients or teachers for schools, but, hey Dame Kiri's going to be a Opera in the Park, so everything must be alright ... Yes, the perennial New Zealand anaesthetic is coursing through our veins. How can there be a problem when it's summertime and and the weather is fine? Well, give or take a sub-tropical storm or two ...

But several hospitals have testified to their difficulties in providing cancer treatment when it's required - and Jenny Shipley's response has been all too familiar. How dare anybody suggest the health service was running like anything less than a gold-plated Rolex?

She hinted that in going public with its problems, Auckland Healthcare was just playing politics. And declared that she had "investigated" patient issues at the CHE and everything was alright. This came as quite a surprise to the CHE chief executive Dennis Pickup, who rightly wondered what sort of investigation could be conducted without actually contacting the hospital itself. Look, it's unreasonable to expect all things to be perfect in a difficult and sprawling sector - but it still seems to be a treasonable offence to suggest that they aren't. Who'll resign next then?

And the Education minister is playing down a fairly serious shortfall in the number of teachers available to our schools. There were 500 vacancies, but most of those can be filled by relief teachers, so that only leaves us 188 teachers short. Oh, good. And where do we get relief teachers this year, given that they've all been effectively signed up to full-time jobs? It is true, as Lockwood Smith says, that part of the problem is his loudly-trumpeted undertaking last year to improve pupil-teacher ratios. But does that not now look like a very idle promise?

It's just as well that the United Party is making such a great fist of its holiday job - which is, of couse, providing light summer comedy in an electoral vein. Having gone into complete denial over any plans it might ever have had to jump in bed with ACT, this week's skit sees United hitching its wagon - and the massive 0.5 per cent of voter support stored therein - to National. Labour is right out, according to Morecambe and Wise - sorry, Matthewson and Dunne - because it might be friendly with the Alliance. I'm pissing myself laughing and I can't imagine what they'll do next week to top it.

But a more substantial chuckle was served up this week by that virtuoso of verbal wit, David Lange. No, seriously. I'm glad somebody had the nerve to poke the Australian government in the ribs about its over-inflated commission to rid the world of nuclear weapons. We're all down with that, I'm sure, but the Keating government has been, staggeringly, even more craven than our own in seeking to churn political capital out of the nuclear issue.

This plucky Aussie battler of a commission is, I'd suggest, as much about making Paul Keating and his foreign minister Gareth Evans look important as it is about freeing us from the nuclear scourge. As Lange pointed out, where were they when Australia pilloried us for withdrawing from a nuclear alliance in the 80s? And is the launch of the commission connected with the fact that Keating will announce an election date within the week - or am I just being cynical?

Speaking of our friends across the Tasman, what a relief it is that we no longer need listen to the Channel 9 cricket commentators. The regard in which these men hold the Australian cricket team is borderline homoerotic. Should Michael Bevan (or whoever the current favourite is) run a bit to get the ball or play a regulation drive, it begins: "A real athlete, Michael Bevan," or "Such a beautifully balanced player, Michael Bevan." How long before, "Jeez, he's a spunk, that Michael Bevan. I'd give him one. What about you, Ritchie?"

The Sri Lankans have found out how hard it is to win a World Series against the green and gold Gods. The words "cheating Aussie umpire" and "racist abuse" come to mind.

We've had a bit of cricket on over here, of course. Nothing too glamorous, just Chris Cairns smacking 120 off 96 balls, hitting nine sixes and a number of quite terrifying reverse sweeps in the process. Jeez he's a spunk, that Chris Cairns.

But on to events played out in sports stadia which are not strictly sports. Last week's Gathering of the Brands, The Big Day Out, became the Wet Day Out. That was a a truly strange and pernicious bit of weather. It rained and the wind blew, but it didn't go anywhere; just whirled around above Ericsson for hours. I'm told that just as it started hammmering down, the control room fax burped into action and spat out a message from the Met Office. It read: "No rain on the radar for the entire Auckland region." Actually, the fact that the whole thing didn't go down in a screaming heap was a testament to the organisation. Well done, everybody.

Oh, there were some tears - young things who'd guzzled their flasks of Southern Comfort outside the gates and subsequently felt a bit emotional about getting wet and cold. Being old and wise myself, I ingested in a more diverse and more moderate manner and even contrived to accidentally bring an umbrella. Highlights? Well, I missed the star turn - the couple who mounted a long and imaginative display of public coitus - but I still had a good time. I thought Rage Against the Machine was a bit like being harangued by Donald Duck, but Nick Cave was the great chanteur, King Loser were cool and Shihad were awesome.

It was deeply sad, then, that Shihad's manager, Gerald Dwyer, died later that evening. I first met Gerald years ago, when he was the slightly nervous lead singer of some new outfit called Flesh D-Vice. Even then, he was notably motivated and conscientious. He'll leave a very big gap - his work as a manager was only the half of it. He was the person everyone depended on to put up their billposters in Wellington. And unlike some people in that line of work, he did it properly. It's because of people like Gerald that's possible to be a band in New Zealand. He'll be missed.

And so we look towards a new year. Waitangi Day, which traditionally signals the onset of business as usual, will be celebrated in Wellington as well as Waitangi this year, in search of a ceremony without the stoush. Hone Harawira has already declared that the government is "insulting" pakeha New Zealanders by shifting the focus. He presumably figures that's his job.

Me, I'm a little distraught that both Hamish Macbeth and The Final Cut have concluded in the same week. Somehow, 'Friends' and Home Improvement don't quite do it, tellywise. Perhaps some entertainment can be gleaned from two fungus-like growths at TV3 - Bill Ralston's beard ... and Genevieve Westcott, whose spores have drifted over to 20/20. Aaargh! Quick! Where's the bleach? Thank goodness Hero starts this week.


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

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