Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

1st November 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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and did everybody catch the Simpsons Halloween Special this week? I ask because I fear we have suffered the same fate as Homer; we, the nation, have stepped through the wall into a mysterious new dimension, adjacent to, but not of, the real world.

How else would you explain that New Zealand - a country in which, relatively recently, the state owned most stuff and and set out rules about how most of the other stuff could be done - has quietly gone about its business without a proper government?

The sky has not fallen on us. It might, but it hasn't, and I fear that we are, deep down, sort of confused about it all. Sure, the vacuum - or should that be 'giant sucking sound'? - on the political stage has been filled by other things - like weird and brutal murders - but you will notice that the weird and brutal murderers are showing a puzzling tendency to walk into police stations and give themselves up. They too, are confused.

Thank God Auckland's would-be Jack the Ripper has turned himself in after only three killings; but does anybody else find that one a bit odd? The gulf between the crimes - a young streetwalker being bashed to death with a rock in a graveyard in the dead of night, and a pimp and a sex worker being knifed in a parlour in the early evening - is so great that I wonder if the man simply *thinks* he has done them both.

One thing I do know is that Les Mills, Mayor of Auckland, is a boofhead. In an amazing episode of victim-blaming, Mills declared the city sex industry to be "an industry we can do without" and said he'd like to see it wiped out. The next time a corner dairy gets knocked off, he'll presumably be calling for the scourge of small retailers to be eradicated from Auckland.

In Palmerston North, of course, there has already been a purge on goatee beards, ever since the police released their sketch of the Satanist villain who tortured a local policeman then left him to die in his burning house. The perpetrator even has his own Website, which has been popular the world over.

Of course, all these things are mere distractions while the great dramas of MMP are played out behind closed doors. Or, as was the case this week, played out at 2am in a Wellington bar. I mean, how strange is this? Winston Peters, the man who has styled himself the very pivot of Parliamentary power, is getting sorted out by the bouncers in bars.

Peters fronted up to the opening of Wellington's new Cafe Brava and proceed to have both shouting and shoving matches with a senior NZPA journalist - who had himself been on the free turps for a manful seven hours - and a woman and her boyfriend. The bar's bouncer had to be restrained from decking Mr Peters, the boyfriend having already been restrained by Rana Waiati, former senior cop, now a Winston First MP.

Labour's Mike Moore and Philip Field, who were with the group, presumably contented themselves with getting the drinks and meeting some babes. Indeed, as Labour leader Helen Clark pointed out with a sly smile the next morning, her boys had behaved "impeccably".

But Peters? Another story altogther. Having been out on the piss - sorry, engaged in additional coalition negotiations - with his Labour Party mates, he bailed without notice on a coalition session with National, much the the annoyance of Mr Bolger. And when he did turn up, at 2.30 in the afternoon, his eyes looked like the proverbial pissholes in the snow. Curiously, he looked no better the next day. Party on, Winston.

Indeed, in the wake of this kind of activity, the New Zealand First Party maybe needs a new name. How about the All Night Party? Or the New Zealand Last One Standing Party? Or, in the collaborative spirit of MMP, the BYO Party?

Yes, if Winston and a number of other MPs have practised at the bar, then they have also had plenty of practice in bars. Indeed, such is the charm of central Wellington. The great and good are everywhere; mingling with, and occasionally having to be separated from, the rest of us little fo lk.

I myself was briefly in Wellington last week and found myself rubbing shoulders with Reserve bank governor Don Brash. It was only that day that Mr Brash, lack of a proper government notwithstanding, had reset the economy with a single sentence to the effect that monetary conditions were "firmer than are required to combat inflation" - and boy did he look like he'd done a day's work.

I'm glad someone took the initiative, because we had been suffering a kind of monetary dissonance since our inconclusive election. Immediately after the dust had settled, foreign investors, having seen this sort of thing before, rather quickly recognised that nothing was going to go seriously wrong and just about trampled each other in the rush towards our frankly attractive interest rates. The dollar, revelling in all the attention, shot up in value, in turn rather unnerving the export sector.

Eventually, after, no doubt, lots of hand-wringing, the Reserve Bank issued that one-sentence declaration. Bingo! Interest rates fall, happy days are here again and chatter rings drop $10 in price.

Ah, the chatter ring. Our school playgrounds ring with the zzzzing zzzzing zzzzing of thousands of rings. What a genuinely homegrown phenomenon; one made all the better by the sheer openness of the field. There is no intellectual property on chatter rings - if you can make one and sell it, then good luck to you, sir. If you hate the bloody things then pause for a minute and consider that this humble Kiwi invention has probably saved us and our kids from a major attack of the sponsor's product.

GenXers would recognise from their own schooldays the re-run of the Coca-Cola-sponsored yo-yo hype currently sweeping Australia. Yo-yo demos, different models, all stage-managed by the marketing machine to emphasise branding, branding, branding. I'm sure it'd be happening here too if that space in the collective kid consciousness wasn't already fulled by the chatter ring thing.

Speaking of the Australians, their mocking of our choice of MMP is looking pretty sad given what their political system seems to keep on turning up. With bicameral assemblies in every State and at Federal level, they've got Parliaments coming out their ears. There are so many jobs as politicians going that some of them go to people like the nutty racist redneck Pauline Hanson, who wants military service for teenagers and just plain doesn't like gooks or abos.

She makes Winston Peters look like Jeanette Fitzsimons on Asian issues - and Australia's Prime Minister John Howard hasn't got the nerve to call her the nazi she is. All Howard does is insist that Australia doesn't have a tradition of bigotry or racial intolerance. Which is pretty funny from the leader of a country which ran a whites-only immigration policy for decades and didn't recognise aborigines as Australian citizens until the 1960s.

The Poms have also reacted with horror to our current situation, but then they've had the same putrid, sleazy, for-hire Tory government for nearly two decades, on less than 50 per cent of the vote, so what would they know?

No, bug sweeps and late nights notwithstanding, our progress towards a coalition government is, really, proceeding in a pretty civilised manner. The key third party is engaged in what appear to be genuine negotiations with both of the leading parties and we are getting on with our business. It would be wrong to mistake the shrill pitch of the weeks preceeding the election as the sound of MMP.

The irony is that Peters, having so carefully tried to play off National against Labour in his bidding war, may have blown it himself. I mean, to demand that the PM calls in the spooks to debug the meeting room only to conduct "negotiations" with the other side in a number of all-too-public hostelries ... you're taking the piss, are you not? Is the TAB offereing odds on how many rank insults Bolger will absorb before he walks away? Watch this space


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

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