Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

6th December 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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And welcome to the Hard News that almost never was. It was only resourcefulness, dedication and some desperately tense minutes that got me through. So what lay in my way? A team of fat, bald Christian hitmen dispatched by Les Mills? A suicide squad of elderly ladies from Tauranga, their minds set only on avenging the name of Winston Peters or bloody death in the attempt? Or a solo attack from Sandra, with a knife in her teeth and a shotgun in her hair?

None of the above, punters. I was nearly the first political correspondent to be silenced because a two year old urinated directly into his computer keyboard. Yes folks, it's a hard road, the Hard News road is, and you'd better pack quite a few cotton buds if you wanna walk it with me.

I've been over the Tasman for part of the past week and, as ever, Australia amazes me. Apart from the usual conundrums - like what did I do to make those waiters and shop assistants be so rude to me, and just what geographical knowledge do you need to become a cab driver - there was the politics.

Now the Australians have been rolling around laughing at our first fling with MMP - but, however daft things get here, we'll never mine the seam of sheer nastiness that runs through Australian politics. This week, for example, Rod Dent, the son of the first man to die under the Northern Territories euthanasia law - and a hitherto vocal supporter of that law - publicly changed his mind.

He appeared a press conference with Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, the sponsor of a Federal bill aimed at overturning the NT state law. Andrews declared himself shocked and surprised that Dent had changed sides, but welcomed his support. Trouble was that Dent had already given an interview to a Sydney Morning Herald reporter which revealed the real reason for the reversal of his beliefs on the right to die bill.

Dent, a budding member of the New South Wales Liberal party, had been approached by Andrews and Australia's Finance Minister and told - with PM John Howard's approval - that unless he publicly recanted everything he had said he could forget his plans for future party office. They did so only two months after the death of Dent's father. Whatever you think of such laws, the government MPs' ultimatum to Dent was an act of monumental psychological vileness. He suffered a nervous breakdown the day after the press conference.

Our own attempt at a euthanasia bill was, of course, on the large and complex agenda of one Michael Laws MP - which was one of the reasons it was defeated. One thing which unites almost all our MPs is the fact that they despise Michael Laws; who continues to operate from beyond the political grave. As large chunks of New Zealand First's party structure continue to fall off, Laws snipes at his enemies - including the hapless Terry Heffernan, who Laws revealed as having had "a failed office romance" at NZ First's parliamentary base. Even from such a dedicated poisoner of the waters as Laws, this is pretty nasty - and given the notorious predilections of the party leader, very bloody ironic indeed.

Nonetheless, New Zealand First, joke party that it is, does hold all our fates in its collective hands. We are, apparently, very near a coalition deal. Labour, whose vital policies started out nearer NZ First's has moved far less than National, and done so in unity - hence, it already has a final deal to be done. The polls consistently show the public - and more particularly NZ First voters - to support a coalition with Labour.

National on the other hand hasn't been able to present a deal to caucus and even when it does won't get unanimous approval of major policy shifts like deferring the second round of tax cuts. So it will seek to go into coalition on a platform which many of its MPs support grudgingly and some not at all. A recipe for success? I think not.

Add to this Winston Peters' behaviour on the campaign trail, where he consistently described his party as the only one which could get rid of National. Where he promised one meeting after another that the coalition choice would be made by the people, and not behind closed doors by politicians. And I'm still bloody sure that as late as the final week he urged Labour and the Alliance to stand down their candidates where New Zealand First had a chance of winning.

The clincher is, however, the Maori seats - whose five MPs are, apart from Peters, the only members of ther party caucus to have been directly elected. A big chunk of the vote swung away from Labour towards those candidates - but by no mathematical contortion can that be made to look like support for National. National came last of the major parties in every Maori seat - it didn't even get into four figures. With Labour's Maori wing fuelling the flames, there is likely to be utter rage if NZ First goes with National.

And yet, still, that could happen. Even if it doesn't, life will be that much harder for a Labour-led government because of the interminable delay provoked by Peters. Had either flavour of coalition gone to the governor general within a couple of weeks of the election, the markets, still a bit giddy about it all, would have coped. But now, with monetary controls frozen tight, the dollar soaring, Treasury forecasts revising down and exporters hurting, things are bent out of shape. If Peters thought delaying his decision might make it easier to go with National, the result may really have been to make life harder should he go with Labour.

If most exporters want the dollar to ease - and the least painful way to do that is to widen the Reserve Bank inflation target to something more like those in the rest of the western world - there are still some dissenting voices. Notably, the managing director of Palliser Estate winery. This, however, will not be unconnected with the fact that government minister Wyatt Creech owns a big chunk of said winery.

Now, that has always been a mitigating influence on my view of Creech - a man from a winery that makes that kind of Sauvignon Blanc can't be all bad. But - and here is a long overdue Hard News wine report - I reckon it's not the Sauvignons which are the stars of the 1996 vintage after all. Top tipple in these parts has been the drink-now chardonnays - notably the clean, clear and vivid Babich Unwooded, only $10.95 at Glengarrys. The proper, grown-up chardonnays will, presumably, be legendary - as is already being hinted as regards the 96 Kumeu River. Truly we are blessed to live in such a country.

We make the odd good beer, too, but you wouldn't want to trust Gordon MacLachlan to find it for you. Truly, that man, the beer columnist in Metro, wouldn't know a good beer it if bit him on the arse. In the current issue, he utterly misses the point of the Chimay range of Belgian trappist beers - one of the treasures of the brewing world. Still, it should be noted that Metro is otherwise pretty bloody good - and the parody of The Independent is screamingly funnny, as is Steve Braunias's unhinged essay about cigarettes. Jolly good.

Other funny things include Dylan Tait - whatever Willy de Wit appears to have said about the dark Mr D at the Film and TV Awards. Sorry Willy, but Dylan is a lot funnier - not to mention thinner - than you are. So shut up.

And speaking of thinner, farewell then - soon, anyway - Anita McNaught. The level at which many New Zealanders perceive the TV news might be indicated by the fact that more letters to TVNZ management were generated by one McNaught haircut than anything else she did, but she has really been an asset. Apart from being highly technically competent as a presenter, she has, notoriously, been a bit saucy. We need that.

Imagine if TV people were only like Jim Hickey or Genevieve Westcott or Richard Long. Actually, I have wondered whether Richard Long himself is in fact the anti-Anita. If, in some personality centrifuge in the dead of night, the constituent personalities of the two were separated out, with Anita emerging with all the cool, sharp and sexy traits and Richard Long coming out as, well, Richard Long.

Titter ye not - it's true! Anita is in fact leaving to escape a Mike Lattin hit squad which wants to fetch her back from TV3, stick her back in the personality centrifuge and impart some essence of Anita back into the deadly dull Long. Fearing that such an experiment will go horribly wrong - ie, she'll grow a crap moustache and he will have an affair with the wife of Richard Hadlee - Anita is fleeing to the land of her birth. Godspeed, Anita - and keep on running.


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

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