Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

26th April 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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I could not sleep yesterday morning; something nagged me to get the hell out of bed, even though it was still dark. I got up and, as it my habit, flicked on the radio, en route to the coffee machine. There was a live report from the Anzac Day dawn ceremony at the Domain; where upwards of 3000 people had gathered in the early chill. Later, I walked down to our local dairy, which is near a Returned Services club. I passed a lone piper, in kilt and full regalia, just playing. It was quite a scene. Hours later on the evening news, the Prime Minister was nodding amicably at suggestions that Anzac Day be transmuted into our national day.

Anzac Day this year has gained, I think, a larger slice of the zeitgeist than it has for years. Even though only two Gallipoli veterans are still alive, the day of remembrance which sprang from the events there has a pardoxical vitality. The Anzac generations, those whose lives were ruptured by either war, have a great deal to remember. Our national character was to some extent defined by the way we fought in somebody else's wars. Our country conformed to a post-war pattern for a long time - one which fell away only as the Mother country abandoned us and which only really cracked in the bonfire of of the certainties which began in 1984.

Perhaps that's the fascination the RSA types hold for us; they can recall a time when you knew who you were, what you were doing and what you were due. Never mind that New Zealand was also a socially bloody awful, narrow-minded, censurious place. No one went hungry, did they?

And, as if by exercise of a collective mind, the Anzackers and their offspring form a voting lobby which will have more sway than any other on this year's general election - the grumpy vote. The grumpy vote is fickle. It put National thoroughly into power six years ago then nearly scuppered it in the next election. More recently it has left the Alliance bleeding in the political gutter; having gone to be with Winston Peters.

The Labour Party is, I suspect, waiting in line for its turn, figuring all those voters surely can't be serious about New Zealand First, a party whose virtues are vested almost solely in its leader. New Zealand First has hardly any policy and a bunch of twisted old fruits for candidates. It may be running second in the polls with 22 per cent support, but its vote will surely collapse as it did close to the 1993 election.

Or will it? It would be wise to put nothing past a man who can make a political virtue out of the resignation of one of his MPs on the basis that he lied, covered up a forgery and spent public money with his wife's company. All were small transgressions, but I've long felt uneasy about Michael Laws' polls, which were so frequent as to seem like a fetish. For a while there, you expected him to consult his electorate on whether he should have a crap before or after breakfast.

Anyway, for those who couldn't work out the details, what happened is this. Last December, Laws, who was a Napier City councillor as well as an MP, told the mayor his electoral office could do some research. BZZT! That's not what your electoral office funding is for, Michael. He then got Harlequin, a research company part-owned by his wife, to do the poll. BZZT! Politicians should not channel public money into family interests. The poll is done and the report is signed off by someone called Antoinette Beck. BZZT! Publicly-funded reports should not be signed off by non-existent people.

By March, the tie-up between Laws wife and Harlequin was public knowledge - and a trifle embarassing to Laws. But it got worse. Early this month, it became clear that the signature on the report was false. A director of Harlequin, Paul Sheriff, claimed the "prank" signature was his and resigned. Laws let him do this. BZZZT! Don't tell lies, Michael. Eventually, once both Parliament and the council had gotten interested, it emerged that Laws secretary did the dodgy signature. Actually, I suspect it won't end there. There are none who cop vengeance so badly as the holier-than-thou - and all the unholy will be lining up to have a crack at Laws.

But he resigned. And Winston Peters was quite right to point out that that simple fact set him apart from anyone else in the current government. Lockwood Smith did not resign over student fees, despite his signed promise to do so; Simon Upton did not resign over the bad blood scandal which saw haemophiliacs infected with HepC; Denis Marshall did not resign over Cave Creek. Peters needed Laws to fall on his his sword to maintain New Zealand First's credibility and Laws, the good soldier, did so with a flourish - quitting the council, parliament and his newfound party in one fell swoop.

The events in Napier have forced the Prime Minister's hand over the forthcoming election; he doesn't want a by-election and we won't have one, but he'd rather not be pushed on a general election date just yet. He's very edgy at the moment - in a bizarre backdown, National this week tried to get rid of the inconvenient spectre of sick old people by granting an indefinite extension to the 2100 elderly folks in hospital who were about to start having their assets tested under the goverment's 1993 legislation.

This, you'll recall, is the issue which caused the Prime Minister to lose his rag and start comparing Winston Peters to Hitler last week. This week he turned to Helen Clark, declaring that her party's failure to train its guns on Winston amounted to aiding and abetting racism. Clark is taking legal advice, and I shouldn't wonder. For Bolger, who has been a member of the National Party through overtly racist electoral ads, through dawn raids on immigrants, through Muldoon's portrayal of African leaders as monkeys, through the Springbok Tour, to call labour racist is ... well, I won't say it's the pot calling the kettle black, because you're probably not allowed to say that these days. But you get the picture.

Weigh up what Winston has said about immigration in the past two weeks with what other people have said about what he's said about immigration. Who's keeping that issue alive, then? Labour's relative silence is no more or less political than all the earnest denunciations of National, the Alliance or Act.

Speaking of Act, phew, no prizes for spotting the delightful influence of Richard Prebble as leader. Act has been right in the thick of things in Napier, kindly helping Laws' erstwhile enemies on the council to generate sleaze. Expect the streets of Wellington Central to run with blood, now that Prebble has announced he'll stand there. He claims informal surveys have indicated 30 per cent support for him as an Act candidate.

Act certainly won't have a prayer in Auckland Central. You're gonna have to have *hair* in Auckland Central and that's something that Rodney Hide just hasn't got. It will fall to the incumbent, Sandra Lee, her challenger Judith Tizard and National's 26-year-old groover Shane Frith, who will no doubt add to the entertainment value of the campaign by making an awful mistake at some point.

But let's not get previous. There's a lot betwen here and the general election - a lot of sport mainly. Is it time for another installment of Tales from Eden Park? It is! Okay, the Blues versus the Chiefs - local derby and all that, so we figure we'd better get tickets in advance. Seeing as we're doing that we decide on South uncovered, right on half way and deputise Charlie to go down and get them during the week.

Now there aren't many places in Auckland where you can buy rugby tickets, but Charlie gets to the ground - only to be told that he can't have the seats he wants. Are they sold? No, but the phone sales people have those tickets. You can only buy them over the telephone, okay? What does Charlie do? He asks the nice lady in the ticket office if he can use the phone, calls and books the seats he wanted all along. Honestly. Look out Auckland rugby, the 21st century is upon us - and you'd better have worked out soft ticketing by then.


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

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