Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

1st March 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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and welcome to hatch, match and dispatch ... wherein the Prime Minister hatches a plan to win the forthcoming election by matching up National and United - and dispatching the troubled Lockwood Smith down to the farm.

It ended up being a cabinet reshuffle of most underBolgerlike magnitude, but it's not hard to join the dots. In return for propping up the government until the election and perhaps beyond, United got a free ride for Peter Dunne and Dunne into his old Labour Party post of Revenue - this time with genuine executive knobs on.

Former Revenue Minister Wyatt Creech has been shuffled over to Education, in the hope that he will bring his immense dullness to bear and neutralise education as an election issue.

Smith was pushed - he did not jump. And for all his praise of his own achievements yesterday, he leaves a mess. Sure, Education ministers rarely achieve popularity - but Lockwood Smith began his ministerial career by making himself a liar. T'would have been a very brief career had he made good his promise to resign if tertiary student fees went up, wouldn't it?

But he didn't resign, despite frequent polite invitations to do so from his own sector. And he ended his spell in the portfolio amid a rash of symptoms of an ailing ministry. Under Smith, the ministry appeared incapable of basic forecasting - witness the failure to predict Auckland population trends. It could offer little solace to schools failing under the sector reforms. It saw special education scrambling for funds and the advent of tertiary courses which effectively cost $100,000 to complete. Wanna be a dentist? Got rich folks?

And late last year, when he should have been trying to head off a teacher shortage, Smith was, infamously, in Canada, speaking to a bunch of pointy-headed right-wingers about voucher education - in idea which had been expressed as policy only by the nutters at ACT. The enduring image of Lockwood Smith will be that of the man who snuck out back windows rather than fronting up to students. He was a minister who was not trusted - and that had more impact than anything else on the reception of bulk funding and performance pay for teachers. Both those initiatives could have been good things - but they could only proceed under a minister whose integrity was broadly accepted.

Indeed, the arrival of Mr Boring Bubblehead himself - Wyatt Creech - may see some progress. Creech is no idelogue, which tends to be an advantage in actually achieving things. The reshuffle also saw Bill English transferred from his post as minor humunculous at Treasury to underling at Health. This is no coincidence. The dispatch of one of Bill Birch's flunkies to Health was akin to Birch leaving a horse's head in the bed of the health sector. It's just Bill's way of reminding every who really runs things.

Birch's brief but ugly flirtation with ACC came back to haunt us all this week, with a self-interested posse led by the Employers' Federation launching its campaign against ACC. We'd all be much better off without this silly accident compensation scheme, they said. Wrong. We'd be better off if Birch's 1992 Accident Compensation Act hadn't messed so badly with the scheme that public confidence in it could only ebb.

The employers' lobby would have us believe that we'd all be better off under private accident insurance. Well, actually, we'd all be paying more as employees - and when a major company went under and defaulted on payments, we'd still being picking up that tab as taxpayers. And we would, inevitably, still be funding accident prevention campaigns. And we wouldn't regain the right to sue, either, if the lobby got what it wanted.

So what can be done? Do we need a brave knight on a milky white charger? Pick me, says Mike Moore - but not just yet. If Moore is going to form his own party, he should do so. He cannot continue to absent himself from his own party and then point the finger. Moore this week described his fellow Labour MPs as "Klingons". This, from the man who made an election-night speech which you had to be from another planet to get the gist of.

Moore, if he does branch off with Michael Laws and Peter McCardle, will be rolling more on prejudice than policy. He currently has a number of slogans and this week made his customary tenuous appeals to history. What about Vietnam and South Africa? he demanded. What about them, Michael? Moore had the chance to stake a meaningful position - but instead he wrote several irrelevant and incoherent opinion pieces in the Herald about ... political correctness. Poor New Zealanders are not living in trailer parks because of political correctness.

One of the good things about the broadening of party political support under MMP is that policy is generated in more places. Even if we don't agree with the policy, the effort and research and the presence of a different voice are all valuable to us. ACT, the Alliance, Labour and perhaps even Christian Heritage have pulled their weight in policy development thus far. Winston meant to, but he based it all on the wrong figures.

But many of us have been gripped this week not by the machinations of political life but the extraordinary things happening to rugby league. Super League, Rupert Murdoch's media ram-raid on the game, has been stopped dead by an Australian judge. The judge has indefinitely banned Super League from promoting anything that even looks like rugby league. Maybe it was always going to be thus - after all, contracts are contracts and the law is the law. But is everything alright now? Hardly.

Remember the ARL? That bunch of ugly old thugs from Sydney which believed it had a god-given right to run the game worldwide - and especially in New Zealand? They're back - and behaving in a manner which makes the Murdoch crew look subtle. The ARL godfathers have been here this week to bang some heads together. They are trying to replace the Super League-aligned New Zealand Rugby League with their own hand-picked body. They are offering financial inducements to the right sort of provincial official. Oddly enough, before Super League, the ARL never had a cent to spare for New Zealand provinces - unlike Super League.

Really, there were only two things wrong with Super League. One was that Rupert Murdoch was behind it. The other was those bloody awful Auckland Warriors jerseys. The original Warriors strip is a stone New Zealand classic - a garment actually exciting to behold. So if the Warriors are marched back into the ARL at gunpoint, it will not be a total loss.

And it's goodbye also to Dame Catherine Tizard. You talk about the "common touch", but Dame Cath's ability to be Governor General in a manner that most of us could relate to was rare indeed. She has arguably been more like a person than any GG in our history. The arrival from the judiciary of Sir Michael Hardie-Boys is probably prudent as we approach the complexities of MMP, but well, thanks Cath.

Yes, MMP is messy - but it must be better than the shabby spectacle of the Australian federal elections. What a load of rubbish that is! Both sides promising lavish spend-ups on the basis of an apparent budget surplus which everyone knows is a jack-up. Australians are gritting their teeth and preparing to vote for a crap coaltion with crap leader - because they hate Paul Keating so much. And the US Republican primaries get weirder. This week, Steve Forbes took the honours. He has but one policy - "Hey, if we cut all income tax back to 15 cents in the dollar everything will be fantastic! " It is, perhaps, exactly the sort of fond musing you'd expect from a man who inherited millions from his father.

And let us now conclude with this week's words of trascendence from Pauline Gardiner, United MP and Mother of the Nation. You will recall that last week she declared that we'd be better off if all dope-smokers died, because then the state wouldn't have to support them. This week, she lent her healing hand to the foolish young people who brewed up some datura and nearly died an ugly death in Port Chalmers.

Now, one of those people was the mother of a four-year-old girl. Taking datura in that situation was unacceptable - but that's what people do with datura. They brew some up on a whim, expecting to see some funny colours - and they end up, variously, deeply embarassed, arrested, injured, blind or dead. I seriously doubt this mother will go anywhere near it again.

Enter Pauline Gardiner. The four-year-old, she declared, would be better off if her druggy mother was dead. Well, thanks for the sentiment, Pauline. You obviously know very little about the substance in question, about young people, or about simple human decency. Kindly keep your evil mouth shut in future.

Well, that's it. No time for the slight return to Moutoa Gardens, the justifiable strings attached to any further aid to the Cook Islands government, or even the gracious announcement by Diana, Princess of Wales, that she'll grant Chuck a divorce. Typically, she made it a guerilla announcement, full of terms and conditions of her own devising and packed with money, a title, and a palace. You might think she was a devious bitch, but I couldn't possibly comment ...


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

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