Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

10th January 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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and greetings from the drowsy, crazy stirrings of a New Year. We have, all of us, been in the grip of tradition - the traditional Christmas retail rush, the new tradition of Boxing Day sales; the traditional New Year stoush involving sad-arsed youths with nothing better to do - and the traditionally appalling seasonal television. Truly, eight hour stretches of other countries playing cricket are a televisual balm at times like these.

It's been particularly good this time as the Australian commentators, who traditionally dwell in a zone far beyond jingoism, struggle for something to say about their players. There are only so many times you can call a completely muffed sitter of a catch a "sharp half-chance" and only so long you can wax eloquent about the athletic qualities of batsmen whose chief exercise is trudging to and from the dressing rooms.

Yes, I know one shouldn't be depending on TV for anything at this time of year, but outdoor activities have been curtailed somewhat by traditional festive cyclones, which may or may not be downgraded to mere festive depressions - which, when you think about it, is a world-class non-sequitir. Wait ... I'm sorry ... that non-sequitir has just been downgraded to a contradiction in terms.

The best thing about the tropical storms is that they gave Anita McNaught a chance to practice her war correspondent bit. There she was; wet, willing and upright in the middle of a Coromandel bush road. A nation was compelled.

Some folks, of course, have moaned about cyclone predictions coming to less than what was originally billed, but good weather forecasters learn very young that when you underestimate big weather is when people really get ticked off. About the only thing I can't forgive chief forecaster Orgy Hour for is his contention that big sissy Aucklanders would be hit harder by any given storm than our more rugged country cousins. Listen Org, I've yet to see highways washed out between me and Ponsonby Road; and that being the case I think I can make it through. If not, Anita can always come around and be wet, willing and upright in my driveway.

Now, we usually blame big weather for relatively straightforward things - like washouts, toppled trees and disastrous rock festivals. But Cyclone Fergus somehow took the rap for the New Year's Eve scrummages in Whangamata, on the basis that the young people who allegedly rioted had been shut indoors for the preceding days and become frustrated - especially when they failed to receive a visit from Anita McNaught.

I say allegedly rioted, because for all the silly-season moral outrage, this did look to be one of those riots which didn't exist until the police got involved. You could say that of most riots, actually, but it seems to me that if you are going to allow a pointless gathering of hundreds of bored, drink youths, you allow and encourage it to disperse gradually.

You don't suddenly decide to clear the area - unless, of course, you actually want people to throw bottles at you. And if you have half a clue you don't disperse a drunken crowd via the main shopping street of the beach hamlet in question. And, if only for the sake of PR, you should try not to practice random violence on people who have committed the grievous offence of not running away as fast as their little legs will take them.

This is not to suggest that pointless waterside drinking parties are a great thing. If parents really did drop their 15-year-olds off at the beach with a pat on the head and a 40-ounce of Coruba, they need a boot up the bum. But New Zealanders have been acting like drunken morons on New Year's Eve for decades. And there have been far worse occasions than what happened this year in Whangamata, Taupo or Auckland.

The trouble is that the rest of the world sees it. My Australian-domiciled sister was under the firm impression that the entire country was one big, drunken running battle with the police, having seen a wrap-up of "New Year's Eve around the world" on telly there. Sydney left an entirely different impression, of course - the city spent a million dollars on fireworks and it looked magnificent. The city was still, no doubt, full of pissed idiots - but at least they were idiots with something to do.

We couldn't expect Auckland City Council to put on the teeniest of celebrations, of course. They're far too busy siphoning money into Britomart to spend it on something frivolous like that. Actually, I'd give up the fireworks if the council would please, please fill the vast hole in Grey Lynn Park, which has sat sadly subsided for months and is now disgorging sewer rats literally the size of cats. I mean, forgive me, but isn't this exactly what city councils are meant to do?

The latest joke in the dark and continuing comedy that is Auckland local government is the new regional tax, which has been snuck in during the holidays. Now, instead of the city council paying its dues to the regional council, Aucklanders will be paying both bodies directly. This will cost nearly a million dollars to bring in and an extra $2.6 million every year just to collect, all, according to the city council, so the two bodies' "branding" can be kept separate. Look, branding is me taking the kids to 'Space Jam' - it's not a group of dull middle-aged men failing to fix the drains.

Oh, while we're on the local government tip, I'd just like to say a few words about Keith Hay, who passed away over the holidays. But he was a homophobic old bigot, so why bother?

Speaking of old, hands up whose New Year hangover was redoubled at the revelation that the 1966 Holyoake government went and begged a $50m loan from the Australians so it could dupe the voters in that year's elections? Basically, we were living beyond our means even then - and even then, National Party leaders were sending the country down the drain for their own electoral ends. The flipside of the pact with the Australians was, of course, getting tied into whatever loopy so-called defence strategies Australia and the Americans wanted - including committing ourselves to a potential war with China. Sovereignty was not a word in Kiwi Keith's vocabulary.

So has the record of deceit improved any in the ensuing 30 years? Hard to say - but you do certainly get a much faster turnover of deception in these modern times. Mere weeks after being invited by New Zealand First to forget everything they'd said in the past year and just gaze in wonder at the policy concessions they'd won, we find that those weren't necessarily policies at all.

National's Bill English and Max Bradford have both taken time off from their holidays to laugh at anyone who thought the the fact that something was in the coalition agreement meant it would be done. The biggest casualty so far looks like being the reconsolidation of health funding to a single agency instead of four burgeoning bureaucracies in the RHAs. There's no costing, no plan and no will for fixing what National broke in the first place.

I suspect we'll find this with much of the coalition policy - it wasn't National's policy, so they haven't done any homework on it, and New Zealand First only proposed it because it looked good. It's fake, essentially. But could somebody wake me up when there's something said that we can actually take to be the truth?

It's going to be a crap government; one whose character was determined when, instead of our first woman Prime Minister, we got a cabinet of 19 men and one woman. Where Katherine O'Regan got shafted and Peter Revell got what he wanted. It's a nasty old Tory gang, without even the old-school Tory saving grace of being relatively honest.

I do expect Labour, the Alliance and Act to be a fantastic, thrilling Opposition, however - especially given that Act has now employed Rex Widerstrom, one of those shafted by Michael Laws, as a researcher to gather intelligence on individual New Zealand First MPs. These people are not going to have a very good time and their leader won't help them.

In conclusion, perhaps we could all turn our thoughts to Lima, Peru, where one of our greatest adopted sons is even now talking the terrorist freedom fighters out of the Japanese embassy, succeeding where others have failed and creating a new dawn for all of us.

Yes, Chris Harder has arrived in Lima - unable to speak either Spanish or Japanese, but convinced in his own strange mind that he will be able to bring Fidel Castro over to sort things out. Now, some people would call him a raving nutter - here in Auckland, of course, we call him a barrister. Fortunately, his Canadian accent means nobody will asociate him with New Zealand unless he tells them. Which he might, I suppose.

If Harder can't be retrieved before causing himself and us major embarassment, I think the only option is to make a virtue of it and send Anita McNaught over to cover the drama. If she gets wet, well, so much the better


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

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