Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

7th June 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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And what a long, strange week it has been. Even as Ben Couch, that one-time stalwart in the cabinet of Sir Robert Muldoon, friend of apartheid and frankly confused Minister of Police and Maori Affairs passed away, the ghost of Muldoon was among us. We are not yet done with the legacy of that man.

Muldoon was perching like a gargoyle on the shoulder of Mike Moore, MP, as the latter brought the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee to his home turf. The committee is conducting an investigation in the the gang problem - and Christchurch's Road Knights played their part to perfection by refusing to turn up to the hearings. Moore then conducted a theatrical interrogation of their legal repesentative before mugging up to any media handy and spouting a bunch of cliches about getting tough, cracking down and stopping these thugs selling drugs to our children.

It was rubbish, mostly. Off the back of their government-mandated monopoly in the marijuana trade, some gangs may perhaps be becoming more organised in their crime. But I grew up in Christchurch, and there were always the sad-arsed white-trash gangs of which the Road Knights are a prime example. And indeed, when I was growing up, I remember Muldoon promising to curb what were then rather quaintly called "bikies", although they didn't always ride bikes.

Like Muldoon did, like Winston Peters has, Moore was seeking to turn fear of The Other into political capital. It'll all be alright if you, the public, give me the mandate to thump these thugs. What concerns me is that every time a man like Moore talks about curbing the gangs, it seems to break out into increased police powers to search and stop. Not to mention scrubbing the right to freedom of assembly - do we really want to become one of those countries which runs a list of banned organisations?

And anyway, what was Moore doing grandstanding in such a manner? He's not even chairman of the committee - that job falls to National MP Alec Neill, who was in no doubt as to the reason for Moore's circus tricks. Yes, it has become clear that Mr Moore has spent the last two and a half years poking at the festering wound of his own failure as Labour Party leader and plotting a way to get back.

So it is no accident that the challenge to Helen Clark's leadership is happening now; Moore meant it thus for his own personal advantage. But its timing also tells a lot about his own commitment to the party he wishes to lead. Labour has put its faith in high and detailed policy, and this week's Education policy launch was an absolutely crucial plank in the party's election hopes. It has been buried.

Madness. But then, it has been a mad little coup. The five rebel front-benchers who went to Clark last week and asked her if she'd mind awfully stepping down did so because they didn't have the numbers for a proper leadership vote. They were surprised - haplessly so - when Clark went on the offensive, leaked their visit to the media and made it an issue of her own fortitude. She is, it must be said, making a good fist of the crisis.

So it has become clear - thanks in part to a pretty nauseating televised smirkfest between Moore and his old drinking buddy Bill Ralston - that Moore is the rebels' substitute leader. Are they joking? This is the man who channeled election funds into something called 'The Mike Moore Supporters Club'; who, when the chips were down on election night, made the bizarre 'Long Cold Night' speech; who has run things ever since purely for his own benefit and who, crucially, has very little support in the party ranks. If Moore was to succeed, he could conceivably find himself without a party organisation.

Speaking of nauseating, Michael Laws is back - and behaving like a silent killer. It was made official when he was named as a "special advisor" to Winston Peters. But neither Laws nor that friend of openness and honesty, Winston, would say exactly what it was that Laws was doing. Actually, it sems pretty clear that he is settling a few scores to start with. Already, it's goodbye to the spokesmanships of Terry Heffernan and Rex Widerstrom. The first is no great loss, but Widerstrom seems like a decent bloke, has been with the party almost since its foundation and has been putting in a lot of work. He just wasn't a friend of Laws, is all. And if you're not a friend of Michael Laws, you die. I shall be interested to see if the already legandary Winston Peters is a Nazi home page on the World Wide Web is joined by the Michael Laws is the Devil home page, with photographic proof.

And while Winston became the first party leader since, you guessed it, Muldoon, to also be finance spokesman, it was goodbye to the high school economics teacher in Nelson who has for the last couple of years believed he was New Zealand First's finance spokesman.

All this took second place, of course, to Winston's appearance at the winebox hearings. Now, I have long been inclined to forgive Winston Peters his sins of creepy populism because he hung in there on the issue of shabby Cook Islands tax deals so long and so hard that the Prime Minister had to grudingly grant an inquiry. I now feel relieved of such inclinations.

The sight of Peters grandstanding for a party of 50 Tauranga pensioners, specially bussed in, rosettes and all, was disturbing. They didn't really understand what is was all about - hell, I don't really know what it's all about - but they knew when to applaud. Peters was, essentially, doing that same as Mike Moore was doing at the gangbusters hearings in Christchurch, only better.

Winston got a bit of a grilling from the lawyers for the Serious Fraud Office, but he'd just about have to break down and admit he was doing it with his secretary, nightly, on the desk of his Parliamentary office, to dent his popularity at present. The SFO, Inland Revenue, KPMG Peat Marwick, Fay, Richwhite and the rest of the guys, on the other hand, just suffer every time they come up at the hearing.

The corporate injunctions aimed at preventing that happening are running out of steam - but perhaps there was an answer from the Hamilton District Court this week. Ten inmates were unable to appear before the judge because they'd gotten far too stoned in the holding cells. The idea has merit. Brierley's could permanently avoid appearing at the inquiry by keeping all relevent executives throughly intoxicated with marijuana. If they did get dragged before Sir Ronald Davison, they could quite honestly claim that not only could nthey not remember the transaction in question, they couldn't quite remember what was going on and, could you stop bumming me out with all these questions and, hey, do any of these computers have good games on them and is anybody else hungry and ...

Somewhere where you wouldn't want to be stoned is the interviews for the post of Editor of the New Zealand Herald. Yes, the ghastly rein of the awful Peter Scherer, New Zealand newspaper journalism's answer to Tapanui Flu, is ending. It is important to Auckland, and by extension the country, that he is replaced by someoneone with the spark and energy to drag the Herald into the 21st century. I know who I'd like to see in the job, but we'll just have to wait and see.

So much for news - now for sport; and the new era of pro-rugby extends to the All Blacks, who begin a massive season with a test against Manu Samoa. I don't expect Bryan Williams' boys to beat an All Black side which has grunt up front and pace out wide, but I think they deserve bonus points for their spanking new logo. Whoever designed that should be snapped up by the Auckland Warriors if Super League wins the court battle and they have to change jerseys and branding again. Because in sport as it is in politics, you ain't nowhere without good branding.


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

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