Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

15th March 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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about a month ago, our little old 1978 Mazda took its final journey. Two hundred dollars changed hands and the car, which was never going to get another warrant, trundled into the wrecker's to be melted down into glue or whatever they do to old cars. The way it turns out, we could have done the melting part ourselves - by simply running it for a week or two on 96 Octane Unleaded.

We didn't know that then, of course. And in fact we, all of us, still know next to nothing about the gas which appears to be causing cars to combust and forecourt staff to feel poorly. Well, we do know that it's the "aromatics" causing the trouble. Sort of. The oil companies still won't confirm there's a problem, even as they frantically re-blend their stocks of 96 Unleaded to bring down the aromatic content - and pay for rental cars for people whose engines went up when the rubber seals and hoses melted.

Perhaps it has all been an unforeseeable disaster - nobody knows what to do because nobody saw it coming. Or maybe the failure to account for the high number of old motors on our roads amounts to a scandal. Whatever, it's completely bloody hopeless that as of now, nobody knows what they're getting when they tank up. Bowsers marked with Leaded Super may contain that, or Unleaded 96, or the new, re-blended 96 - or a combination of all three. Anxious? You got a right to be.

I'd be pretty anxious, too, if I were John Howard, Australia's new Prime Minister. Howard joined the pre-election bidding war and promised four billion bucks' worth of spending goodies. He did so on the basis of a so-called budget surplus jacked up by Labour to try and win the election. Everybody knew there was no surplus - and now Howard's Treasurer has declared that because the national piggy bank is haemorhaging, there'll have to be spending cuts of, you guessed it, four billion dollars. How the great Australian public reacts to that remains to be seen.

The unions, which kept themselves in check through the accord agreed with the former Labour government, are unlikely to show any sympathy at all. It's going to be a messy old year for the coalition, even given what should amount to a whacking great mandate. But perhaps the creepiest thing about Howard's victory is that some of his coalition MPs are straight-out racists, by word and deed. Their election does not reflect well on the Australians who voted for them.

But do we have our own racist demagogue? Is the Prime Minister right in claiming that Winston Peters is employing anti-Asian "gutter politics"? Listen closely and you won't hear Winston say anything of the kind - he doesn't have to indentify Asian immigrants, because his audience will join the dots for themselves. It's shrewd, a little frightening - and it's working for Winston because it taps a big, fat vein of fear.

Immigration is, unquestionably, now a major election issue. If Peters can continue to tread his fine line, we may end up, post-election with some new laws - especially those relating to foreign ownership of land. If this gets out of hand, we've bought into something very ugly. Some people maintain all they want is honest, hard-working immigrant families - not absentee fat cats. But does anybody remember when Dutch people were the target of this kind of thing - because they, well, honest and hard-working?

Whatever, Winston's riding high, especially with his new shipmate Michael Laws, the man with the natural eyeliner. Laws didn't join Mike Moore's party and now it appears Moore won't be joining it either. Know why? Because he really hasn't the stomach to launch a new party - that would be too much like hard work. It would mean a lot of unglamorous trudging around the country and it won't happen. Does that then mean he'll pull his head in and behave like a grown-up in his own caucus? Don't count on it.

Don't count on being able to live in central Auckland if you're not pretty flush, either. Our highly charismatic mayor, Les Mills, has been privately conceding that decisions such as the infill housing bylaws and the sneaky sale of council rental properties mean the city can only become "a ghetto for the rich". Mills' much-vaunted working-class Grey Lynn roots would be ripped out of the soil in the Auckland he is helping to create.

I guess we can expect to hear a lot more about the working-class Auckland roots of one Richard Prebble, now that he has been revealed as the new leader of ACT. Whilst he may yet display slightly more interest in the job than did his predecessor, Roger Douglas, I suspect that a lack of real committment will do Prebble in - well, either that or his former wife Nancy will.

Ah, but that's not news. What is news, as 60 Minutes demonstrated, is brilliant Kiwi doctors applying gene therapy to sick little kiddies from America. Boy, it was exciting, all that stuff with brave Cameron Bennett coming so close to the operating table he seemed about to grab the scalpel and have a go himself. And oh!, the triumph as he burst through the swinging doors, his face-mask dangling, like some latterday Hawkeye Pierce. Trouble is - it never happened. Only the 60 Minutes camera was allowed in the theatre - and all Bennett's bits were filmed later. Maybe 60 Minutes can improve on this exercise in fakery and start making up whole stories. Does Genevieve Westcott now have a rival in her specialist field of tasteless grandstanding in the name of current affairs? We wait with baited breath and buckets in which to vomit.

Actually, isn't it surprising how little vomiting has been done during the Cricket World Cup? Foreign teams traversing the subcontinent have traditionally gone at both ends - and I don't mean the batting order. Instead, it's the local fans who've been spewing. Who'd be a cricketer in that part of the world? Pakistan lose their quarter-final and Wasim Akram's house is attacked on the rumour that he faked his injury and bet against his team. India get most of the way to losing their semi-final and the crowd sets fire to the grandstand.

All this, in response to just one losing game each. If we'd applied the same thing to our own plucky cricketers the past year or three, there'd barely be a building standing. Actually, the lads have done alright - although how we didn't beat Australia must forever remain a mystery. The West Indies will be feeling the same way, having lost after having Australia 19 for 4 from 11 overs. The two teams will have the chance to commiserate when the Kiwis visit the land of seam bowling and sinsemilla. We can only hope they don't fall prey to the herbal delights of the islands lest Pauline Gardiner MP declare them better off dead.

Lord knows what La Gardiner is making of Shortland Street at the moment, what with Lulu's dalliance with Ecstasy, Pulp Fiction tribute and all. In the next few weeks, Laurie gets a crack habit and Julia takes to sniffing Unleaded 96. Aromatics? Just say no, kids.


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

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Last update: 15 March 1996

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