Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

10th May 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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I'll admit, I have always been one for the portentous event, the sign in the sky, the dropped stitch in the taspestry of existence. But I'm at a loss as to what this week's crazy invasion of the Auckland Harbour bridge by partly-concussed bulls might signify. I'm sure the bout of bovine bullrush says something about who and where we are as a nation, but I don't know what. Metaphors on a postcard please ...

And was it not just the slightest bit strange after the cattle truck overturned that the Armed Offenders Squad happened to "coincidentally" be in the area and stayed around to help out? Coincidentally? It sounds like they were just sort of milling around with their balaclavas on - and you don't like to think of the Armed Offender's Squad going on an idle errand anywhere, do you?

All this mad cow mania could not, however be odder than what ECNZ appears to be proposing the government allows it to do with power prices in the next five years. The Corporation wants permission to raise wholesale power charges by double the inflation rate each year until 2001. What a fantastic deal that is - for somebody. Under current strictures and an inflation rate of two that adds up 21 per cent over five years. If Winston Peters becomes Prime Minister and dumps the Reserve Bank Act, God knows where power prices could end up.

It's all in order to bring us the benefits of a competitive market, of course, which is that much closer to being privatised since the government laughably lopped off part of ECNZ and called it Contact Energy, allegedly a competitor. It's like having an apple tree, snapping off a branch and sticking in the ground and telling everyone you've got an orchard.

Speaking of pip fruit ... don't even mention pip fruit while the dreaded Mediterranean fruit fly is abroad. And when I say "abroad", I stretch the word to its very limits in referring to Mt Roskill, which is about as far from "abroad" as it's possible to get. Anyway, there is still one mature female fruit fly either on the loose or, preferably, dead, and these are nervous times. If this goes poorly, kiss goodbye to much of an annual $800 million in fruit exports.

Speaking of fruits, Mike Moore's back in the Labour Party. He has been sighted asking Parliamentary questions, pulling his weight and generally acting as something other than a disappointed child. When approached this week, Moore denied he had moved at all - the party had come back toward him. "I've always been a party man - but I think some of the members have changed a lot, and they've learned a lot. Some of them have said sorry to me." Quite right too. I can imagine a line of Labour MPs saying "sorry Mike, for being so silly you had to describe us as 'Klingons' and the party as 'a toxic waste dump'. We know you only did it because of your abiding love for the Labour Party." What a pompous wanker.

But hey, how would things be if Moore had launched his own party? Laws, Elder and McCardle would have gone to him instead of Winston and there'd have been two would-be demagogues perambulating around the country promising the earth to pensioners. Weird.

No weirder, of course, than the goings-on within the Alliance, where the seams have finally burst on attempts to get a party list together. Mana Motuhake has withdrawn its three members from the "knitting committee" which is formulating the Alliance's national list. The problem was that the Alliance's powerbrokers had very different ideas about the relative desirability of the eight Mana Motuhake candidates than did the Man Motuhake's rank and file members. The members ranked Willie Jackson, who the Alliance regards as a bit of a glamour candidate, eighth out of eight. Alliance director Matt McCarten threatened to resign unless the list ran in his order, and thus it was.

Top of everyone's list, of course, was Sandra Lee, although you do wonder why after her performance in debating Richard Prebble on Ralston. Prebble came out this week with another piece of Maori-bashing in the shape of a call to scrap the Waitangi Tribunal in favour of a panel of retired judges.

The Tribunal does tend to be fairly slow in turning over claims - it could hardly be otherwise on the budget it gets. For example: last year, the government budgeted the Tribunal $2.5m for research into hundreds of claims - as against $4.6 million for the Treaty Policy Unit, the little entity which suggests to the government what to do about what the Tribunal says.

There are a few, more modern grievances, which could be effectively dispatched through a conventional civil court, but in general, it simply isn't correct to suggest that a bunch of old white judges could do a better, more appropriate - or even cheaper - job than the Tribunal.

Thus could Sandra Lee have argued - and did, for a while. She was winning the argument - until, suddenly, she started jabbering about hospitals and railways and asset sales and how there should be a tribunal about that and all, and ... and Ralston and Prebble and most viewers shrugged and exchanged glances that said. Phew, crazy woman ... deary me.

The government was back to its strategy of choice this week - stay out of trouble and try and keep 'em happy - especially given that an election date is likely to be announced next week. Jenny Shipley announced a third crack at hospital waiting lists, with the promise of an extra $130 million attached to a scheme which puts the onus of deciding who gets funded firmly on the doctors. The health reforms, which were supposed to clean up waiting lists by dint of increased efficiency, have not even begun to do so and frankly, it's all a bit embarassing. You can't fix a problem by throwing money at it - but you can enhance your own chances of re-election.

But damage control par excellence came from none other that the Prime Minister this week. He was due to fly out on a trade-oriented meet and greet to Korea. Problem - we had a former Korean ambassador who had royally pissed off his government by leaking information to the Opposition and now claimed his life would be in danger if he had to go back home. Choi Seung Jin had already had his immigration application turned down, and had just entered the refugee process. For most people this takes up to two years to work through. Not this time - intead, it was: "BZZZT! Thanks for playing anyway Mr Choi, and here's a valuable set of steak knives to take back with you to your beautiful country. Watch your back, now!"

In truth, contemporary Korea is hardly Iraq or Nigeria and I suspect everyone was having trouble telling whether Mr Choi is in danger of losing life and limb, or is just a paranoid nutter. It was still an interesting demonstration of quite how quickly we can bow to the demands of an important trading partner.

And, to close, television. I'm sure there will be some figures from New South Wales to show the effectiveness of hard-hitting drink-drive ads - but is it really necessary to pepper the ad breaks in Shortland Street with images far too gory to ever be allowed in any programming at that hour? The stump of a leg spurting blood might just be a tiny bit hard on the emotions of small children, don't you think? I had to be prompted into noticing this - I only watch Shortland Street with half an eye these days. And I don't watach 'Party of Five' at all - but is it not hypocritical to stick all manner of parental warnings before that show, on the basis that a *diaphragm* is seen, when the kids have just witnessed an advertising gorefest?

Yes, stop the horror - or, at the least, PLEASE place appropriate warnings before TV1's late news, so that we know that Cameron Bennett and Bernadine Oliver-Kirby are presenting it. Come back Simon, come back Ally. All is forgiven. You pictures in Woman's Day looked really nice, we're really happy for you and if we have to listen to Cameron inflecting like a half-dead elephant for much longer we will go out and kill something.


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

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