Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

9th August 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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if you wait long enough, you'll get a result. You might have to wait 15 years - as Mandela and all of non-white South Africa have, to be told that the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand was a bad idea. Yes, that is what our Prime Minister admitted to them this week; bringing his new-age transformation that little bit closer to closure.

So it takes a decade and a half to acknowledge that the life and liberty of millions of humans in South Africa was actually more important than the right of a few people to play rugby. And how long does an about-face take when it is horses, and not humans, whose welfare is at stake? About 24 hours, actually. This government, which has had to be coerced into action where the health and welfare of citizens is at stake, has rolled over and begged for the votes of a lobby which thinks sentiment is the same as thinking.

Yes, while families in South Auckland have to live two or three to a house and their kids continue to get meningitis, the government has leapt to the defence of the Kaimanawa horses. The horses are still damagaing the ecosystem; there are still about three times as many of them as are remotely sustainable, but they won't be culled.

They will, instead, be rounded up and presented for auction. This sounds kinder - but is it really? These wild animals will be captured, transported and held until members of the public can buy them. Which, on past form, they won't. So most of the horses will be shipped off to make pet food. The Bolger cabinet knew this. But, hey, the vote's the thing, right?

I am, staggeringly, moved to sympathy for the Minister of Conservation, that smug little twit Simon Upton. On top of being grossly undercut by his own leader, Upton has to share a caucus with John Banks, who told the listeners of his ghastly radio show "I don't profess to be a clever, over-educated Rhodes scholar" - an exercise in the bleeding obvious as well as an attack on Upton - before calling for "a minute's silence to reflect on the orgy of destruction that's soon to take place on the central plateau."

Still worse was Tasman MP Nick Smith, whose nose for a vote is the stuff of legend. Smith, incredibly, declared that the Department of Conservation had botched the whole thing. Why? Because it had made life hard for the National Party in the run-up to an election. That's all that mattered. I regard this as a rather telling peek into the Smith psyche.

Before we leave the topic, I would note that it's a little ironic that we only recently bade fond farewells to Barry Crump, who got famous by writing about blokes like him who made a living shooting large, exotic mammals which were damaging the native ecosystem. The mammals in question were deer, but the principle was exactly the same.

Oddly enough, I spent most of my week at a racecourse. Not for the races - there weren't any - but for a telecommunications conference. The highlight, and I do use the term loosely, was a debate on the telecommunications policies of the major parties. Well, when I say major, United and ACT were represented and New Zealand First wasn't.

Winston had been down to appear but had bailed out, presumably having been unable to knock together a policy on the phones thing. That didn't stop Clive Matthewson, who developed United policy every time he opened his mouth. Labour's Graeme Kelly had sort-of sound policy all typed up and ready, but wasn't able to convey the impression that he really knew what the policy meant.

Rodney Hide of ACT probably knew even less about the topic than Matthewson did, which he used as his rationalisation for maintaining that the government should take no role whatsoever in Telecoms. Oddly enough, the minister concerned, Maurice Williamson, thought pretty much the same thing.

The one way out in left field, was Jim Anderton, the Alliance's heavy hitter, drafted in at the last moment to replace the somewhat unknown Joel Cayford. Give Anderton his due - he can articulate a point of view with a bell-like clarity; the man sometimes seems on the point of physical collapse, but he knows how to argue.

Alliance policy on Telecom has shifted quite a way. No talk of renationalising the phones now; but the Alliance will be quite willing to set Telecom's line rental charges - in fact, to cut them by 30 per cent. Trouble with this is that that could seal Telecom's monopoly on local phone service in perpetuity. Most interventions in this sector tend to bounce back at you. Look at the Kiwi Share, which limited Telecom's price rises to the rate of inflation. Result: every single year, even though its costs have diminished radically, Telecom puts up its domestic prices by the rate of inflation.

In truth, no one in Parliament really seems to have an handle on the issue. Here's a potted summary: as a result of government actions, New Zealand Telecom owns the country's telephone network, to which it can control access as it pleases. It also has the kind of cashflow accountants have wet dreams about and, in the words of our own Commerce Commission, has become the "de facto industry regulator".

This might be deregulated, but it ain't a free market. What is required is someone to set some rules. Take number portability - it might not mean much to you now, but it's the cornerstone of good competition, and of the way personal communications are going to work in the near future. You'll have one number which you can associate with separate services which will follow you around. Cool.

But Telecom has been arguing that number portability is so hard that it'll take five years to bring in. Not true. Now Telecom argues that it's so hard that we should plump for the quick and dirty alternative - call forwarding, which could be put in place tomorrow. The great thing about call forwarding is that it's a no-brainer for Telecom. Every minute of call time anyone else in the industry can sell would simply incur a forwarding charge of 3.5 cents a minute, payable to Telecom.

There are many other such cases in the industry, wherein Telecom, exercising a rational self-interest, is going to plump for that which further enriches its shareholders and keeps out the competition. It's no way to run things.

Anyway, enough of the geek stuff. What about the rugby, then? Having maintained their composure in the face of head butts and manic punching attacks, the All Blacks are about to come up against a real killer. Henry Tromp, the South African hooker, was recently released from jail after serving a couple of years for beating to death a farm hand "for disciplinary reasons". It has already been suggested that there wouldn't have been such an outcry about Tromp's return if the victim had been white. If the victim had been white, he'd still be in jail.

On top of that, it sems highly unlikely that the big guy, Jonah Lomu, will play. Bad knee, y'see. He probably should't have played against Australia. Anyway, you're all hereby invited to join myself, Paula Davy, Jimmy Makin and a cast of dozens for the 95 bFM alternative test commentary at 3am on Sunday morning. Alternative radio will be the winner on the day


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

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