Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

15th November 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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did you ever, as a kid, approach the beach with the intent of building the biggest castle in the world? And then your sandcastle would fall to bits or get washed away or simply become more effort than it was worth to maintain. I can't help but feel that that's what we've got down at what used to be Auckland's beachfront, at Britomart.

So the City Council has approved this giant upside-down castle, which will go five stories deep into land which didn't use to be land at all - and still isn't land in the solid, dependable sense. It's wet down there - we'll be pumping out water for 35 years, remember. And it gives me some grim amusement to recall that the quality of Auckland's foundations has long been the council excuse for not running buses under part of Queen Street. Too wet. And besides, that would be a transport plan, wouldn't it? And there are precious few transport plans associated with this transport centre.

It was ironic that the Auckland City Council was one of three to complain about a report by anti-environmentalist Owen McShane which claimed that the councils were publicly notifying too many resource consents, thus costing developers time and money. After all, Les Mills and his chums were going to try and get Britomart through without publicly notifying it. Can you imagine that?

If there has been a gratifying aspect of the whole farrago, it has been the city's newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, forging into the previously uncharted territory of campaign journalism. Cautiously, as if nobody could quite believe it was happening, the Herald ran a what-the-hell's-going-on editorial and then pestered Les Mills with a list of relevant questions. Could it be that the Herald is becoming an advocate for its readers?

It was the Herald which can take credit for, at the least, drawing attention to the fact that only days away from a final decision on Britomart, TranzRail hadn't agreed to anything and wasn't sure if it liked the deal at all. Not so good for a transport centre, eh? If Mills and his cronies think anyone should be impressed that he did hurriedly cobble together a deal - from an abjectly hopless bargaining decision - he's got another think coming.

Speaking of stuff worked out on the back of a fag packet, Winston Peters this week appeared to be putting the heat on Labour and National to accept his party's compulsory superannuation policy. Fortunately, it appears that both his potential coalition partners have told him to get a big, smelly dog up his super plan.

Even if it were any good, the introduction of a scheme which would eventually claim eight per cent of everybody's income as the result of behind-closed-doors haggling would simply be unacceptable. We have established a collective policvy mechanism for superannuation to avoid just such a travesty, and Peters should get with the plan.

Speaking of which, on the occasion of yet another record quarterly profit for Telecom, would a little service be out of the question? The ISDN collapse at the Mayoral Drive Exchange this week had been coming for a long time and it messed things up for a lot of major customers - so if Telecom would like to be relieved of the responsibility of running exchanges, it should just say so. Interestingly, the word on the wires is that Telecom's dream ride from the regulators is about to end. Maurice Williamson and Rod Deane have been exchanging angry letters and the love affair is very much over. Good.

That said, I almost found myself warming to Rod Deane whilst watching the first installment of 'Revolution'. He was deputy governor of the Reserve Bank in the final, dark days of the Muldoon era and it was hard not to smile, albeit grimly, at his stories. Muldoon was barely talking to the Reserve Bank, so the civil servants said, okay, fine, just don't make any sudden moves because we think there might be a run on the currency. So what does Muldoon do? Gets pissed one night and calls a snap election!

There was a run on the currency - and Deane's story of recommending devaluation, being told to get lost, then getting on the phone and borrowing $600m over the weekend, so we'd still have a currency on the Monday, was priceless. All in all, in the month between the announcement and the election, we borrowed $1.7 billion at top interest rates so we could piss it into the pockets of currency speculators. Disgusting.

And disgust was the feeling that I had at the gutlessness of the feeble National caucus which stood by - and even lent a hand - while a mad little alcoholic wrecked the country. I'm talking about Don McKinnon, Jim Bolger and Bill Birch, among others. How dare they even show their faces now, let alone claim credit for any health in the economy?

It was compelling stuff, and my only criticism of the Marcia Russell-produced series is the surplus of the same of faces and the lack of ordinary folks. You don't need Alan Gibbs to tell you you couldn't buy stuff, or Doug Myers to tell you that filling in a declaration to the Reserve Bank every time you needed to fart was stupid.

Next week, 'Revolution' proceeds to the the post-Muldoon era, where things were really no madder; just a different flavour of crazy. We have a clearer collective map of the Lange era, a better personal idea of heroes and villains. But even if you do regard Roger Douglas as the devil himself - and I'd say he knew nothing about democracy - things might have been different had Muldoon not so devalued the currency of government itself.

Oh, and by the way, the Alliance's camapign to raise the minimum wage to a princely $7.50 an hour - under the slogan "all I want for Christmas is $300 a week" - is a good one. It might not succeed that soon, but it's as well to build up momentum, given that such a rise is both Labour and NZ First policy too.

It is not, of course, Employers' Federation policy, and that group made the bizarre contention this week that if people needed a living wage then the government should continue to subsidise it. Yes, they said that - that the Department of Income Support should subsidise the payrolls, and by extension, the profits - of companies which didn't want to pay their workers a viable wage. Gee, it's just like 1981, isn't it?

Finally, a sharp smack on the top of the head for Simon Dallow, who seemed to think that he could act as legal counsel in a very dicey murder case in which the judge has suppressed all details - and continue to present TV1's late news at the same time. He couldn't, of course, and Ally looks really pissed off about having to do the news herself while he's carrying someone's papers in court.

And commiserations to the folks who live around Eden Park, who lost out on the lights battle and probably don't think the pllaning safeguards - including portaloos on streetcorners - are enough. Er, sorry. But hey! Book me a ticket for the first night match of anything, whatever it is, I'm excited. Hell, I might even be able to get there by train or something. Hang on, what am I saying? This is the Auckland City Council. They don't do public transport, remember?


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

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