Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

21st June 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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and what about the government, eh? Eh? I ask the question because it occurs to me that the government has avoided its fair share of stick in this forum by dint of the same tactic - keeping its damn fool head down - that sees it over 40 per cent in the polls. So before we proceed, let us meditate on the drifting shambles in health care, where waiting lists are double what they were in 1990 and Treasury's hand-picked business brains resign in disgust from the running of Auckland hospitals. On education, where the teaching profession haemhorrages talent. On the policy-free zone that is immigration. On the poorly conceived and dreadfully-timed tax cuts.

And on government paralysis in the face of the biggest single driver of urban poverty - spiralling housing costs. The government has cut itself off from the most direct and effective social intervention - housing and housing finance provision - and instead created a housing agency that is out of control. How else would you describe the new Housing New Zealand policy of taking over private rental properties and immediately and substantially raising the rents?

Sermon over. If you plan to throw money, please fold it into dart shapes first.

We have had a volcano. If nothing else, Ruapehu has shown how hard it is for public servants to get overtime these days. The vulcanologists watching for the mountain's next move had to wait a while to see if they'd be allowed to work nights, for God's sake. Hello? Shall we have a vote on that, then?

More staggering yet than the volcano was the news that should this be the big one, our lives are in the hands of John Banks, Minister of Uncivil Offence ... sorry, Civil Defence. It could of course, be a cunning plan to get rid of the Idiot of the North by luring him into a expedition to the mouth of the crater, but I doubt it.

They're not nearly so fussy in New Zealand First, where yet another inconvenient body has been tossed over the cliff. With some justification, it might be said, given that a Maori language correspondence course has been signing up all its applicants as NZ First members - without asking first and possibly out of the taxpayer's purse. It was all an effort to secure the nomination of John Hoani Cribb as party candidate of Te Puku o te Whenua. Bye bye, Mr Cribb. What an interesting political party.

And after stitching himself up at the winebox enquiry last week, Winston Peters has made a mess of defending a defamation action by businessman Selwyn Cushing. Way back in 1992, Peters claimed, both here and on Australian television, that an emissary from the Business Roundtable had come to him two years earlier and offered him a $50,000 bribe to change his economic policies.

Why Winston Peters' economic policies should have mattered that much given that he was never going to get anywhere near the finance portfolio is but the first of the questions we must ask. After telling the story of the bribe-happy businessman to enthralled audiences, Peters finally named him, in Parliament, as Selwyn Cushing.

Flick forward to the present - where Peters unsuccessfully tries to convince both the privileges committee of the house, and a High Court judge, that anything he has said in Parliament is absolutely protected by privilege and cannot be used in evidence. Not that simple, says the committee and the judge, with the latter reserving his judgement.

I'm hardly an expert, but it seems clear to me that you shouldn't be able go round repeatedly accusing someone of attempted bribery, step inside Parliament for long enough to say the man's name, and then claim every statement you've made is subject to privilege.

So Cushing turns up in court to give his side of the story. He is not and has not been, he says, a member of the Business Roundtable. He was, however, a fund-raiser for the National Party in the run-up to the 1990 election. He did invite Peters to his house - a meeting organised by Winston's chum, Michael Laws. Even Peters would probably not quibble over any of this.

But when, as Peters did, you instruct your lawyer to formally pack a sad and waive the right to cross-examine the plaintiff or present any evidence at all, you are taking a risk. Especially when the plaintiff tells the court that you turned up an hour late, pissed, and apparently not terribly in touch with what was going on.

This has taken four years to come to court because Peters has spent that long trying to prevent that happening. Even now, he has declined to address Cushing's claims. Winston's followers might consider Cushing to be just another bucketful of the big business slime which besmirches our land, but those with even half a brain must be wondering if this is fair and right.

And, indeed, New Zealand First's surge up the polls has gone into reverse. The latest Colmar Brunton says NZ First has sagged back four points to 25 per cent support, with the bulk of that appearing to go to National. Labour, which could have been expected to be punished most sorely for its recent leadership antics, has edged up one point to 16 - and, oddly enough, Helen Clark has overtaken Jim Anderton in the preferred Prime Minister stakes.

The Alliance has problems - and not only with the polls. The wisdom of trying to bind its disparate member parties under one indivisible banner has come into question - especially in the case of Mana Motuhake.

It was about a year ago that Labour got the word that it had better promote some young, urban Maori if it was to keep favour with an increasingly young, urban Maori electorate. It responded, after a bit of pain, with the very urban Joe Hawke for Northern Maori and the very young Nanaia Mahuta to take the place of the retiring Koro Wetere. In the bargain, Labour got considerable mana - Hawke is a lynchpin in Ngati Whatua, and Mahuta comes from arguably the most influential bloodline in Maoridom.

New Zealand First already has, of course, Tau Henare - a very handy name to be able to bandy about up north - and even National has been horrifying its constituency of conservative Maori by promoting bright young women. National's list candidate, Georgina Te Heu Heu; a capital city lawyer with a major-league surname, was a real find.

The Alliance, however, has Mana Motuhake - a party founded in the far north and still very attached to its rural power base. The Alliance list fixers knew how they wanted Mana Motuhake to rank its list candidates. Trouble was, Mana Motuhake had very different ideas. Willie Jackson, a radio star much beloved of Alliance campaign organisers, came way down his own party's list. Eventually, last week, he changed parties, for God's sake, joining New Labour so Matt McCarten could get him higher up the list.

The goings on have not impressed McCarten's brother John, who, like about 30 others in Auckland alone, has resigned from Mana Motuhake. The staggering thing is how little sway the leader of the party, Sandra Lee, appears to have held in all this. Despite - or perhaps because of - its proud and important history on the margins of New Zealand political life, Mana Motuhake simply does not have a bill of goods for the mainstream.

Mike Moore would have sorted it all out. Or something. The Great Sulk of the South burst forth with more tosh about gangs this week, expressi ng his outrage that the Devil's Henchmen of Timaru are, well, building a clubhouse. For shame! How could they afford this luxury? fumed Moore. With membership fees, woodcutting contracts and gang labour, they reckon - and it certainly looked that way when the camera crew came calling. On return to Moore; fuming about how these gang types were "probably" on the dole; it became clear that he didn't have the foggiest about the case. It just looked like another chance to get on TV.

As was the Assignment mini-doco on Moore by Richard Harman, in which Moore described his arch-enemy Maryan Street as appealing to 3 per cent of the population - "the ones who live in Grey Lynn." Well, who are you calling a poof, Mike? Eventually, Harman was bound to ask Moore the question "Are you a flake?" - which the answer could only be "Regular, or luxury?"

Speaking of the media, ever heard a newsreader read through gritted teeth? Thus did Tom Bradley deliver his own redundancy notice on the ATV 7 o'clock news this week. I was coming to quite like that bulletin - especially the fact that it used all the good bits of One Network News without feeling the need to tell me that the first item up was "our top story" or begging me to come back after the break. But Horizon Pacific has gutted its news service and applied some bizarre doubletalk in doing so. News hasn't been cut, claims the management - it looks that way when, in Wellington for example, two out of the three reporters have been fired. Bollocks.

You will know by now that I have never shrunk from sports coverage - and it has been a sporting, sporting, sporting week just passed. New Zealand Maori rugby coach Matt Te Pou has suggested that the All Blacks should retire the Ka Mate haka because shortly after first performing it, Te Rauparaha went and slaughtered some Ngaitahu, to whom it is still offensive.

The Ka Mate haka - one of the short, free-form kind - has a long, long history in All Black rugby. But I suspect that most of those who would object to its passing wouldn't have a clue that it is about being dead meat, hiding from one's pursuers under a woman's bottom in a kumura pit, then re-emerging to marvel that the sun still shines and life, frankly, is good. So good, indeed, that you'd better be off to kill some South Islanders.

Fair enough - but why not, as Te Pou suggests, commission a new haka for the new era of rugby? Or, as his team did on tour, be prepared to perform more than one haka as the occasion demands?

Speaking of occasions; you can forget Frank Nobilo, Aaron Slight and even the All Blacks this week. The standout performance for New Zealand in any code has been the incredible batting of Debbie Hockley as she helped her team wipe out England in their three-match one-day cricket series. Debbie Hockley is HOT.

The English would hardly have noticed their women cricketers losing, given that their male footballers beat the Netherlands for the first time in a competitive match - and 4-1 to boot. Embattled British Prime Minister John Major wasted no time at all in getting alongside them to share the victory.

Ditto for our own PM, who is making himself available for post-match comments after every test; opining in the manner of the ordinary bloke. And he does do it well. Some readers and listeners have pointed out to me that the attraction of a pre-election tour through South Africa is that he can be seen not only alongside the national rugby team, but the saintly Nelson Mandela. But of course ...

And yet a really big temptation comes Bolger's way in September. How better for him to complete his transition to sensitive new age statesman than a walk in the gardens with the Dalai Lama? How much can he afford to piss off the Chinese government? And, most importantly, how long will it take before he starts talking like the Dalai Lama? Will we ever hear the King Country boy explain that consciousness is neither created nor dsetroyed, but has been constant since time began? And as what will John Banks come back after he falls into the volcano? I can't wait.


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

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