Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

2nd May 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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nice to be back. Since we last shared our hopes, dreams and fears across the ether, I've been away. No, not to London, although that might've been nice, but in Wellington. Nice town, Wellington, although it's running a bit short of proper journalists right now - 20 extra MPs and 26 in cabinet means so many more cushy jobs in PR. As I plan to tell my boss the next time he has a few drinks, the only solution is to pay us more.

The citizens of the capital are, I suspect, uncharacteristically oblivious to much of this at present. They're absolutely, postively stupefied with happiness now that for the first time in history - well, for quite a long time anyway - they have a good rugby team. I had a brilliant afternoon watching Christian Cullen run rings around Orange Free State, but I must say I'm not sure which is scarier - sitting in the Millard Stand or sitting underneath it looking at the rust. It's almost the basis of its own sport - extreme spectating, if you will.

Athletic Park is actually heading for great recreation ground in the sky, now that the new railyards stadium has staggered through the consent procedures, but I rather wonder if it would be possible to save the Millard Stand as a testament to architectural recklessness, but we'll probably have to settle for the retention of that other great Wellington edifice, the Parliament buildings.

I'd not seen the inside of the refurbished Parliament buildings before, so I was delighted to get an after-hours tour and a chance to break wind in the corridors of power. It was beautiful - the building, that is, not any flatulence rendered therein - a place worthy to carry the memories and aspirations of our still-young democracy.

It's important to have such a place - and instructive to remember that Richard Prebble, defender of the culture and would-be saviour of Broadcasting House, campaigned to have the building demolished rather than refurbished, and replaced with God knows what sort of prefab.

Keep that in mind as Prebble clocks up the easy populist points, campaigning against the planned Cabinet palace out the back of the present buildings.

The problem, really, is the Beehive, a ghastly 70s mistake on the level of platforms, ponchos and colour schemes with burnt orange in them. It's the seat of power, and possibly the only building ever to be credited with bringing down a government. Some people now hold that the fourth Labour government failed to communicate its way through crisis because the Beehive offered no corridors in which like-minded souls could gather. Instead there are only weird, octagonal nexii which look like something out of a drug scene from the Man from Uncle.

One could quite easily achieve perceptual dissonance in such a place, and that's why the senior members of the government want out. Add to that the fact that cabinet ministers' officers are scattered around a couple of other buildings and it's possible to recognise a case for bringing the cabinet together into its own building and busting up the inside of the Beehive to try and make it fit for habitiation by humans - or at least minor party MPs.

What I can't accept is the cost - as good as $100m by the time you've tipped everybody. This is insane. This year there will be a large, international four-star hotel built in downtown Auckland - for $30 million.

What's going on here? Is the problem an insistence on a building fit for kings and cabinet? If so, that's particularly stupid. The proposed building would not communicate anything to passing plebs, because they wouldn't be able to see it - it's behind the Beehive, for God's sake. And I am not at all impressed that this particular cabinet has sought both to bury an unfavourable report from Treasury and to avoid the kind of scrutiny to which all other public spending is subjected. It was still, the last time I looked, a democracy and I'd appreciate it if everybody behaved as such untiul advised otherwise.

Frankly, we only need one taonga building, and it's already there. If Cabinet wants plusher surroundings, it should redraw the pecking order and move into the old Parliament - as New Zealand First did, of course, when it claimed all the front offices and booted poor old ACT over to the deeply unfashionable, but very serviceable, Bowen House.

Of course, getting what you can when you can now appears to be virtually written into the constitution of New Zealand First. And there's no one better at getting the snout in the trough than your friend and mine Tuku Morgan.

Things are beginning to look very bad indeed for the member for large fees and unfeasible junkets. The Dominion newspaper appears to have not so much a leak as a tap it can turn on and off at will. The week began with revelations of a $12,000 trip to London taken in October by Morgan, at the expense of Aotearoa Television, long after he had apparently ceased to work for the station and four days after he was elected as an MP.

It wound up the week with the revelation that in September, October and November last year Morgan received payments of more than $18,000 - each month. The sums were exactly equivalent to what ATN director Derek Burns was paid over the same time in directors' fees. So was Morgan still then a director? He better not have been - or his glorious leader has misled the House.

Winston Peters was adamant this week that Morgan was, in fact, pulling $4500 a week to help run Aotearoa's sports coverage. Unfortunately, cameraman John Miller, who worked there and took 10 months to earn what Morgan pocketed in three weeks, says he just can't recall Papa Tuku being there, apart from coming in for two interviews which copped Aotearoa a lawsuit from Sir Bob Mahuta. Y'know, the lawsuit that Morgan himself wriggled out of in his maiden speech.

That speech - in which he declared himself "fiercely Tainui" - might have offended the country's redneck tendemcy, but it was an astute act of ingratiation with his iwi. Even now, Tainui people are reluctant to criticise Morgan, although I have no more ability to read the undercurrents of iwi politics than most New Zealanders. It's bizarre that tribal identity should be such a significant political factor, yet be so opaque to the media. We should learn this stuff in school.

Anyway, Tukugate is once again costing Winston Peters credibility - and that's not something he has a lot of anyway. Peters is, ironically, running the same line as those he accused over the Winebox affair. That is that, whatever the moral tone of proceedings, nothing illegal was actually done.

This, of course, remains to be seen, as it does in the case of the Winebox inquiry itself. Now, can I just saw how appalled I am that the Inland Revenue Department and the Serious Fraud Office Office have joined Fay Richwhite's pre-emptive strike on the Winebox Commissioner, Sir Ronald Davison?

What the bloody hell is going on here? And why is my money being spent on this sort of dodge - which is aimed solely at delaying and hopefully discrediting what the parties involved believe will be some unhappy findings? I am waiting for a tax refund, as it happens, and I'm not at all amused that this should be happening. I can't stop corporate slimies like Fay and Richwhite doing this, but is there not a minister responsible who can make government agencies behave with some decency?

Winston's other big problem is almost entirely of his own making. The proposed compulsory superannuation scheme, or, as the economists know it, "that bunch of arse we're going to waste time and money voting on", is such a dead duck that it could fundamentally alter the shape of the government by the time it's done.

A sizeable power bloc in the National Party is lining up against the scheme - and in particular against Winston's interesting tricks, including the attempt to delete the word "compulsory" from the voting paper, and, staggeringly, to give a positive referendum result the status of constitutional legislation, no matter what the turnout. So if, say, only 30 percent of registered voters vote, and just over half of those say yes to compulsory super, then any amendment to the scheme will require a 75 percent majority in Parliament.

And what are we voting for? Well, it's nothing like what New Zealand First campaigned on. Nothing at all. What it is very like, to the point of larceny, is ACT New Zealand's superannuation policy. And what's interesting is quite how duff it's looking now that everyone is getting up close for a sniff. And when I say everybody, take note that voices as disparate as the Council of Trade Unions and the National Business Review have described it as, basically, crap.

I suspect that most of ACT's more exotic policies - education vouchers, for example - would start to smell just as funny should they spend any time in the heat of the spotlight. It's pretty amsuing, actually.

Anyway, it's time to go, it's the end of the week, and as you sup a celebratory ale tonight, remember to feel sorry for those unsung heroes of the culture, the beer barons. They've been having a hard time this week.

First it was Doug Myers, who blamed the decline in the consumption consumption of Lion beers - and Lion profits - on anti-drink-drive ad campaigns. He declared that the ads weren't fair, because they didn't focus enough on other drugs which might case road accidents. Indeed, he hinted, those ads might even be driving our young people to illicit drugs. I don't think I've ever heard anything so irresponsible - but then this is the man who lords over the ongoing Lion Red campaign, which takes stupidity and sexism as its keynotes.

Then there was Brian Blake from DB, who complained that the Auckland Warriors' crap form was affecting the sales of DB Bitter. Oh, really? What kind of loser drinks bad beer because it's attached to a sports team? I mean, I support both flavours of the Auckland rugby team to an occasionally obsessive degree, but do I go forth and purchase slabs of DB Export Gold? I do not And has the incredible recent record of the Steinlager All Blacks saved that beer from getting a serious niche nudge from locally-brewed Heineken? No, it has not. If the beer bastards want us to keep coming, they'll have to brew better beer. Am I right? You know I am


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

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