Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

24th January 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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and greetings from a week in the wake of the Big Day Out. Thirty-odd thousand of us have plodded dutifully back to reality and away from Ericsson, where a rock concert contrived to become something more. So was it Our Woodstock, Opera in the Park for people on drugs or just the Generation X Trade Fair?

Some observations: it's not just hype, there really are plenty of tattoos and piercings out there. In the next few decades another generation of kids will grow up with the sight of mummy's tribal bicep tattoo imprinted on their little psyches. Interesting.

The one thing that really united the dozens of different tribes of Auckland, however, was the sunglasses. With the exception of the odd freak in Blu-Blockers, everybody was wearing some variation on the "snake-eyes" style of sunglasses. The advantage being that you can't tell a cheap pair of snake-eyes from the designer item - thus making it the ideal 90s accessory.

What staggered me was that so many people could turn up to a 12-hour subcultural shindig on a sunny day and not bring any sunglasses. Or a hat. Or sunscreen. Or any clothing which might have stopped them frying.

There could have been a reverse search at the gate, I suppose - "Sorry, you're too stupid to live. Go home and try again."

Music? Shihad, Supergrass, the Prodigy, Tall Dwarfs, Gideon and Chelsea's trance set - and the Snitches. Gee, the Snitches are a cool band.

What else? Well, it's good the way girls have changed. No, really. There's precious little traipsing around after the boyfriend these days. Ericsson was ruled by girl gangs; topped-up teenies with tanned tummies going out and getting their own fun. That was cool.

The ugly lust for beer was back again this year - resulting in a long, low comedy as about 200 morons tried to rush into the bar all at the same time every time it was reopened, resulting in it being shut again. Over and over. But that was minor - less a factor than ever before, in fact.

From the revolting Guarana cola on up, most of us were on some kind of drugs, and thus embarked on an urban holiday which had a hell of a lot more redeeming value than the usual week at Pauanui, if not a whole lot cheaper in the end. Tens of thousands of people got very much confronted with each other and not only coped, but revelled in it. Gang dudes and grungers, ravers, skinheads and hippies. People were co-operative, considerate and, godammit, friendly. And a bunch of other people made a pile of money for a long, hard day's work. I think we have a metaphor for the 90s, ladies and gentlemen.

The 90s, let's be clear, is a cool decade. I personally wouldn't swap it for any other one I've lived in. TV, of course, has just realised that it actually is the 90s and started foaming at the bung - hitting us with more reality than we know what to do with. Not reality which might change or confront us, but the voyeuristic kind.

Now, I'm all for a bit of weather porn or nature porn to pass the time on TV. But in the wake of Australian shows based around sick and injured people - and sick and injured pets - we now find our two main broadcasters have each picked a CHE - any CHE will do - in order to trot out accident and emergency porn. Peter Brock and his Stop Police Action Wham Bang Crash Bonk shows have a lot to answer for.

Still, I don't mind daft 90s TV when it's as pumped-up as TVs' 'Blood Sweat and Fears', in which top sports folks are made to do horrible things with cameras strapped to their armpits. There were enough mics and cameras to make for quite a dazzling product, assuming you could cope with being hit with branding for Powerade, Compaq and Nissan Pathfinder in the space of 10 seconds.

I was all set to dislike 'Out of this World', which launched directly after it, but Jon Bridges and Nathan Rarere sort of spoiled that by being genuinely pretty funny. And then there was the professional dog food taster ...

That's entertainment - but what I don't dig is that both main news shows now seem intent on being the Great Kiwi Video Show too; pitching for citizens' camerawork and using whatever novelty reality footage comes over the wire.

I'd swear, TV3 showed three or four calamity voyeur items in a row last night, before briefly acknowledging that the Reserve Bank governor wasn't going to take any action to bring down the high, high exchange rate, thus leaving the export sector teetering on the brink.

This is serious. And there's a lobby that gets a lot of airtime which says the only thing to do is slash government spending. Then inflationary pressures will ease, the Reserve Bank will cut interest rates, foreign investors will get out of the dollar and exporters will have an easier life.

There are two problems with this. One is that government spending is not out of control. It just bloody isn't. We've been running strong surpluses for several years and no part of the public sector is showing anything like a blowout. The second is that new cabinet briefing papers show that we are running up an ever larger social deficit.

Crisis is almost too weak a word for what's happening in the Children and Young Person's Service, which simply can't cope with the workload flowing out of our underclass. Laurie O'Reilly, the Commissioner for Children, has delivered a frightening report on the service. For his trouble, he was criticised by the new Minister of Social Welfare, the ambitious Roger Sowry, who thought his report might be bad for staff morale. It would be funny if it wasn't so ugly.

I don't want to hear any smug right-wing crap about there being too many social workers. And I don't want to hear about damned restructuring. CYPS was being restructured five years ago. This is a vital social service which can't operate because it's so severly underfunded. You can argue over the causal links of the huge rise in youth suicide rates in the past decade - but you can ignore it. You can try and reduce benefit dependency rates over the long term - and 21 per cent of working-age people are benefit-dependent - but right now, you act to prevent social carnage, especially among young people.

Either that, or you walk away - which is what you're doing if you cut government expenditure by a billion dollars, as the Manufacturer's Federation is urging.

Can we cut to the chase here? What we want to do is get a few foreign investors to stop buying up and driving up our dollar. How do we do that? We make it a bit less sexy - either by cutting our interest rates, which has a whole slew of internal implications - or by giving the market a a little nudge ourselves. We go out and sell some Kiwi dollars, at a reasonable rate. Not a lot - just enough to show that we're not a one-way bet. At the moment, the big buyers of currency can bet that we'll prop up our dollar, whatever - so they'll keep buying it.

Since Michael Cullen suggested this, there has been a scandalised response. But every other sensible economy does this - ever hear of the US Federal Reserve? - and we've got the easy one. We only want to stop our dollar rising - not try and prop it up. But, of course, you'll hear people say you can't intervene in the markets. If a central bank setting interest rates for the whole economy isn't intervention, what is it?

But, hey, this is a complex business. Perhaps we should ask the Treasurer. He should know, right? But, having spent a year making speeches to the effect that he had all the answers to this particular problem, Winston Peters was oddly reticent this week. In fact he said - and this is a quote - that he "hasn't been in the job long enough to have an opinion." What a wanker.

More than that, he's an Acting Prime Minister Wanker. Yep, while Bolger is on ice in the Antarctic, Peters is running the country. So frightening is this prospect that Bolger was asked to speculate on his own death before he left. So, if Bolger dies in the frozen wastes, or receives a fatal shock from an electric toilet, Winston Peters will not become Prime Minister. Instead, someone will be shuffled forward from National's ranks. Y'know what? I wouldn't bet on that


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

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