Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

14th June 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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we are in the closing minutes of 3 National News on Wednesday night. Not much remains to be said; even the silly story has been done. But wait! Something has gone terribly wrong. Hawkesby, in the urgent yet soothing tones of the quality newsreader, informs us there has been a crash landing at Kaitaia airport. Rescuers are dragging the seven passengers from the burning plane. Details as they come to hand throughout the night ...

It falls to Leanne Malcolm to tell us in the first news update that there has not been a plane crash at Kaitaia airport. There has been, well, a training exercise, actually. Nothing is burning - apart perhaps from the ears of the over-keen reporter who was sitting on the police and emergency radio band. I tell you this to illustrate that it is not only the subjects of the news who can commit bloody great cock-ups, it is the almighty purveyors of that news too.

Cock-up number one this week - the uber cock-up it might be said - was committed, unusually, by Winston Peters. Peters has been cheerily treating his turn at testimony in the Winebox hearings as a chance to rsmugly parade himself before the nation in general and his fans in particular. But with a whole fleet of expensive corporate lawyers looking to do him down, there was always the chance that he'd slip. And he did.

It has become clear to anyone with a pinch of sense that certain large tax deals done by our corporate leaders were, at the least, morally lacking, and may even be adjudged wilful fraud. But Peters has for some time made allegations which go considerably beyond that. Specifically, that the Inland Revenue Commissioner Mr David Henry and the director of the Serious Fraud Office Mr Chas Sturt were either grossly incompetent - or corrupt and in cahoots with the captains of industry.

Winston clearly favoured the corruption theory but, under pressure to cite proof, could only trot out the most risible bit of hearsay regarding there being "more than an acquaintance" between Sturt and Sir Michael Fay, based on statements made by a Ms Read. She could confirm that Sturt, despite claiming not to know Fay, had actually been to Fay's house. Oh no she *couldn't* ....

The Ms Read proved to be the founder of the Phobic Trust, Marcia Read, who was duly called to the hearing to explain that Mr Peters must have been mistaken. She had never seen Sturt at Fay's house, nor ever seen them together. There semed no reason whatsoever to doubt her word.

I suspect that Peters has pushed it too far. You can agitate for proper investigation of a box of interesting documents which appear to be giving a lot of people amnesia - but you'd better be able to back up what you say when you start accusing very senior public servants of corruption.

On the same day, Winston also copped some bad news on the defamation action being taken against him by the businessman and head of Electricorp Selwyn Cushing, about whom Peters made allegations amounting to corruption way back in 1992. Cushing had been seeking to use Parliamentary speeches as proof that Peters was referring to him in an Australian Four Corners programme. Peters claimed Parliamentary privilege. Nope, said parliament's privileges committee, you ain't got it.

The case opens next week. It could be argued that there's a certain credibility attached to being sued by Selwyn Cushing, but Winston's adoring elderly fanclub might have trouble cheering for someone who has been on the wrong side of the line two weeks in a row.

One party glad to see Winston's cock-ups taking the headlines was, of course, the Labour Party, which was finally able to find its way off the front pages of the nation's papers. It's hard to find words to fully describe the shambolic nature of what has taken place, but the result - Clark as leader, Cullen as deputy, each holding the reins of his or her own caucus tendency and more or less in balance - was probably what the Parliamentary party needed all along. It's just a shame they had to make such complete prats of themselves along the way.

Cullen, the erstwhile rebel, was able to place his bum on the seat of power by the grace of David Caygill, who both resigned as deputy leader and announced his retirement from Parliament come October. It will be said to see the back of the man who was once referred to as "pathologically reasonable". He's the kind of politician I quite like - the unglamorous, policy weenie sort.

The other sort, of course, was on display on a central Auckland street corner this week - although God knows why. Mike Moore and Phil Goff brought the gang-panic select committee circus to the Queen City this week - and they let George Hawkins tag along because he was Opposition police spokesman and he hated Helen Clark too.

Three Amigos? Three Stooges? Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse? God knows. But the message is plainly that we are about to be overrun by organised crime and Mike Moore is just the plucky sort of Kiwi bloke who can knock these blighters for six. Personally, I'd rather he just did his work on the select committee, reported back on whatever gang problem there genuinely is, and helped to formulate good policy. That's what he was elected for.

And that, of course, is what Pam Corkery will do if she is duly elected as an Alliance candidate. Actually, if she isn't elected - at number six on the party list - the Alliance will have gone well and truly around the S-bend. I'd welcome Pam in Parliament - although I'd still have been happier with her as Mayor of Auckland.

Pam declared Jim Anderton to be a special man in her life - yes she did, possums - and committed herself to work for him and a party which wasn't riven with infighting the way the Labour Party was. Bzzt! Not! We all know that the Alliance has been wracked with the most ghastly bloodletting, it's just that it doesn't poll well enough for anyone to notice these days.

That should remain the official status given that the Alliance this week also re-emphasised as the cornerstone of its alternative budget, the Financial Transactions Tax. Otherwise known as the 'What!? You're Using Money? We Can't Have That!' Tax, the FTT is a tiny little 10 cents per $100 levy on bank withdrawals that will bring in enough money to completely replace GST. Probably.

Actually, even assuming that the big payers don't even try and avoid it and that banks don't pass it on to the punter, and ignoring the fact that it favours large, vertically-integrated businesses over small, specialised ones in the same sector, the FTT should be enough to keep the Alliance well clear of power, which some argue is exactly the idea this time round. Like Act at the other end of the spectrum, the Alliance is saying 'Vote for us, and we'll completely upset the applecart' - and look how well Act is doing.

Anyway, did you hear the one about the Texan philosopher and the Texan economist? They were commissioned by the Business Roundtable to write a report about crime in New Zealand. The document they delivered was very similar to one they wrote about New South Wales a couple of years ago - which was obviously the idea. You don't want to rush around paying for research when you don't know what you're getting, do you?

What the Roundtable got for its money was lots of great stuff about the need to reform the welfare state, increase penalties, roll back the Bill of Rights and the Children and Young Persons Act, privatise part of the police's work and all of the prisons ... you get the picture. I'm just surprised that producer board monopolies were spared a sound thrashing.

But the really outstanding thing about this report was its claim that the police emphasis on domestic violence was all very nice, but hey, there are social workers for that. More to the point, there are PROPERTY CRIMES being committed out there and what are the police doing about THAT?

The reality, as was swiftly pointed out by people who actually knew what they were talking about, is that domestic violence accounts for half of all murders in New Zealand and it probably is wise to treat it as a police matter. Even the Herald was moved to derision by this stupid report, declaring: "This latest of innumerable reports on our community from the Business Roundtable just confirms, again, how much spare money it must have."

Speaking of money - and going spare - I see we have Beverly Hills 90210 back on our screens - but it's just a shame it's never as good as the promos. Indeed, it is a flagrant case of promosexuality, a condition in which TV programme promos generate and firce and unhealthy excitement to which the shows themselves do not do justice. Shortland Street also comes to mind.

And again speaking of money - loads of it - it seems that million dollars worth of boot sponsorship from Mizuno isn't enough to melt the heart of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. I can't be arsed paying $35 for an uncovered seat at Eden Park - but the real issue is that, unless you want to take your kid to the terraces, that's what you'll pay for a child's ticket too.

This new pricing is particularly objectionable when applied to the Manu Samoa vs New Zealand Maori game at Ericsson Stadium, where children's pricing is unavailable for most of the ground. Here's the perfect opportunity to promote rugby in South Auckland, to get whole families along - and the union's greed gets in the way. I've said it before - rugby is on the up because of the players and the crowds; and in spite of the clods who run it.


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

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