Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

12th July 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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and does the air smell any sweeter since the World Court decided that nuclear weapons were "the ultimate evil" and their use should be outlawed except in defence of national sovereignty? Frankly, no - the decision still enshrines the nonsense that you can defend anything with nuclear weapons.

But it would be churlish to complain about a result which vindicates the vision of Christchurch's Harold Evans, who set the ball rolling nearly a decade ago. And, to be fair, it vindicates the fourth Labour government, which put disarmament indelibly on the New Zealand government agenda.

Another act of that government - the Homosexual Law Reform Act - clocked up its 10th birthday this week too. It seems, and indeed it was, another era, the run-up to that bill. The law which made physical love betwen two men a criminal offence had over the years taken a direct toll on some New Zealanders, including Frank Sargeson, one of the select group of artists and writers who have helped us define ourselves. But just as important was the symbolic weight of the law. It hurt us all to live in such a place.

Fran Wilde, in sponsoring the reform as a private member's bill, flushed out New Zealand's conservative fringe, which, as she noted this week, proved ugly enough to scare middle New Zealand into supporting her. Remember the petitions taken through workplaces, where peer pressure made sure everyone signed? I recall having to summon a policeman on Queen Street, to stop two so-called Christians recruiting a group of 12-year-old boys to sign. The opponents of the reform were not only wrong, they were notably morally lacking.

Police commissioner John Jamieson vainly argued for a turning back of the clock this week, but he was yesterday's man. On the other hand, he no doubt approved of the governments announcement of abrupt shifts in the law to deal with the alleged gang problem. The goalposts have been considerably moved on the police's rights to stop and search, on freedom of assembly, and on the number of people required to constitute a conspiracy. The range of circumstances under which the police can use bugging devices has been greatly extended and now includes cannabis offences. All without so much as a by-your-leave. If this is election year, I don't like it.

The irony is, of course, that Graham and his gutless government have been driven into this by weeks of grandstanding on the part of the member for Christchurch North, Mike Moore. Moore, who in the past has expressed his admiration for the way they run things in Singapore, has welcomed the new moves but wants more. He wants a national crime authority established to deal with the gang problem and he'd no doubt like it to be named the Mike Moore Memorial National Crime Authority.

Fact is, Moore and, to a lesser extent, his pals on the outcast please-go-away fringe of the Labour caucus, Goff and Hawkins, are being played by certain elements in the police establishment. For months the police have been leaning on the justice and law reform select committe for more money. Indeed, the first response of the police spokesman to this week's news was, basically, great - but we'll need more money to exercise our new powers.

Odd? Not really. Let me explain. The police have an expensive and impressive new computer system, INCIS, gradually coming online in the next two years. INCIS itself is a generally good thing - it will let the police be more efficient and, crucially, it will offer proper audting of all file access. No more untraceable, clandestine dipping into the Wanganui computer by certain cops.

Anyway, more technology means fewer police - 500 fewer staff, actually - something the force is keen to avoid. So a certain lobby has been drip-feeding figures and even leaking a quite dubious report called 'The Fat Mexicans Are Coming', to foster the impression that there is a gang crisis. Gangs generally aren't great citizens, but their incessant presence in the news and the attempts to make them part of a global conspiracy don't have much to do with reality.

The other aspect to this is dope - marijuana, cannabis, wacky-backy, weed, hooch ... The police brass has recognised - but not admitted - that there is a serious problem with the police undercover programme, especially in the marijuana trade. Good young policepeople are being sent off to smoke pounds of pot with scary gangsters, flipping out and not coming back. Surprise, surprise ...

The police would like instead to move more towards the American model of surveillance - but that needs more money and certain changes in the law; half of which they were promised this week. That may not be such a bad idea - but the police should in turn submit to American style curbs on entrapment. And if you don't think our police commit entrapment, read Peter Williamson's 'Stoned on Duty'. Indeed, the policing of cannabis is corrupting the police themselves - which is one of the arguments for decriminalising it.

But you won't hear much about that at the moment. Didn't you know there's a moral panic on? Lord, it's in our schools! The grubby little secret here is that New Zealand public health officials have been recommending the decriminalistion of of marijuana, so as to better treat it as a health issue. Nora Duffield, for whom I have a lot of respect, said this week that pot shouldn't be decriminalised because what sort of message would that send to kids? Frankly, what sort of message is being sent by the Steinlager All Blacks, or the DB Bitter Auckland Warriors or Export Gold Auckland, or Speights Otago or Vaillima Manu Samoa?

Ah, but emotive generalisations came come from the left as well. Especially from the left, in some cases. Did Jeanette Fitzsimmons really call on New Zealanders to boycott McDonalds and Coca-Cola last weekend? And why? Well, because they're foreign, aren't they? Hey why not chuck in Microsoft and Levis and Thomas the bleeding tank Engine too? I'm certainly in the capture of those multinational brands - well, except for Microsoft, thank God. Fitzsimmons went on to castigate any Kiwis who thought the right to shop outweighed all else. Her fellow Alliance Green Rod Donald got really revved up and said, quote:

"It is absolutely not in this country's best interests for there to be free trade ... New Zealanders are losing their jobs because of cheap imports and we get those imports because in other countries workers, including kids as young as six, are working in inhuman conditions for poor wages. Free trade is the freedom to exploit."

How many countries are we talking about here? Half a dozen out of all the signatories to Gatt? Would our not signing Gatt change a thing in those countries? Would the political and social environment in, say, South Korea, have improved the way it has had it not become a trading nation? I buy Italian pasta and our space heater is Italian too. Should I feel guilty? My kids, on the other hand, wear New Zealand-made shoes, which are a little more expensive but more durable.

We'd suffer very badly indeed in the kind of world Donald would have us create - all boundaries, borders, tariffs, duties, quotas and petty economic nationalism. He ignores the fact that national boundaries are dissolving anyway, and that free trade zones can actually raise working standards - the European Community's social charter, for example, is so enlightened that Britain is refusing to meet it. So work for that, or stage specific consumer boycotts - I've stopped going to Shell stations because of Nigeria - but don't insult the intelligence by presenting human commerce as the work of the devil.

The Prime Minister, of course, has been saying nothing so rash - although he has, arguably, been as emotional. Has anybody noticed that Bolger's major address to the nation each week is now his post test-match summary? His evaluation of the Athletic Park Test was almost as long as the game. Ah, but what a game ...

Our best rugby players came astonishingly close to walking away from the whole history of rugby in this country last year. Instead, they got the professional money and terms they wanted. In return, they have taken the national sport to an entirely new level. What happened on Saturday was one of the greatest All Black performances. It's hard to express to any non-followers of the game quite how good the All Blacks were. Is this extreme potency of the national icons good for the government? Regrettably, yes, and you can expect to see Bolger behaving like the chairman of selectors right up until the election. But it is also, and I testify, good for the soul


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

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