Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

23rd May 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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we all know by now quite who are the sitting ducks on the current political pond. The individuals and organisations who, according to a speech the Treasurer had written for him this week, are being systematically picked on by the media. Boo hoo. You want sympathy, go somewhere else, chum.

And yet, it must be noted that Te Mangai Paho, the misbegotten Maori broadcasting funding agency, born out of the bowels of Maurice Williamson's aversion to a public service culture, has done some good stuff. It helped fund, for instance, this week's documentary, Ta Moko, which, despite Ross Stevens' tendency to gush like a Rotorua geyser, was an absorbing look into the experience of the modern moko.

And then there's Youth Affairs minister Deborah Morris, who is convinced that ACT's Richard Prebble has been organising tour parties to view her government-funded residence. He denies all knowledge of such activity, so she's paranoid or he's not quite telling the whole truth. Probably both.

Frankly, I think once you've swallowed the fact that she's a minister of the crown, the fact that she gets a two bedroom house in Karori is not much to shout about. My only question is whether the vile, synthetic giraffe-skin thing she drapes over the back of her seat in Parliament is in any way indicative of her taste in decor. In which case, friends, we are talking about a house of horrrrorrr.

Anyway, after Morris had hurled the allegations in Parliament, Labour's Trevor Mallard leapt to his feet and demanded to know what about the hundreds of people who'd been through her house in the course of wild parties, which had been the subject of complaints from neighbours. Now, I think this is going a bit far. She's the Minister of Youth Affairs, Trev - and on that basis she *should* be having parties. But just wait till her folks get home, eh?

Some of the hundreds of people who may or may not have been to parties at the minister's pad may or may not have been drinking alcopops - the various hard "soft" drinks which are shaping up as the subject of a moral panic, especially since former judge Mick Brown came out against them, saying they were aimed at kids. Now, the breweries and distributors who sell these drinks are lying when they say their target audience is 25 year-olds, but I don't know if the drinks are actually increasing youth alcohol consumption.

I mean, we never had Sub-Zero or Vault or anything back when I was a lad, but we always found something to drink. Half the time it was sparkling Liebestraum - how bad was *that*? Not as bad, actually, as Gimlet and Screwdriver, those perennial West Auckland concoctions of God knows what.

Indignant baby-boomers should also check their back issues of Playdate, the teen pop zine of the 60s, where Westie vineyards advertised their heavily fortified plonk on yer basic bang-for-the-buck basis. Eighteen percent! And only two-and-six a bottle!

Me, I don't like any of those silly bloody drinks, but neither do I think they are ushering in a new apocalypse. I almost wonder if the real problem is that, unlike the teen tipples of yesteryear, they don't taste completely vile. Some people might actually enjoy drinking them - which is always a big no-no when it comes to kids and drugs of whatever kind. You're allowed to be a victim, or an unwitting participant or sorry after the event - but you absolutely 100 per cent are not allowed to enjoy it.

Hey! This far in and no mention of of Britomart. An indepedent commission appointed by the ARC declined consent for the Auckland City Council's vast proposal this week. And I'd just like to pass on my personal message to Mayor Les Mills as he and the council spend some more ratepayers money on an appeal ... JAM IT UP YOUR ARSE, BALDY!!

I thought the Herald editorial got it about right when it said that such a grandiose scheme deserved a more grandiose reason for failure. But it was perhaps typical of this project that the council hadn't even done its engineering homework on the largest and riskiest local body project in New Zealand's history.

The commission said that the council's evidence was "sparse in technical detail" and aspects of it were "confusing, uncertain and in some cases contradictory". The commissioners were unably to satisfy themselves that the planned 5 hectare hole in reclaimed land would not seriously destabilise neighbouring buildings. And this is after the council has spent $13 million of our money presenting the project.

The sad thing is, for around about that $13 million, we would now have a nice refurbished bus station with a couple of rail platforms - in other words, a transport centre at the bottom of Queen Street - if the council's original plan had gone ahead. It would be built now. We would be using it. It would be paid for.

Ah, but that was before December 1994, when council employees unveiled a new project they had developed in secret. This was no mere transport centre, it was a complex deal with a developer called Pacific Capital Assets, which involved up to to a billion dollars worth of property speculation up top and a huge carpark below.

The transport facility itself was shoved underground - to the horror of bus operators - and the impression that public transport was really only an afterthought was fostered when the council got within a couple of days of deadline for the project without having signed up TranzRail. The rail operator, having the council over the proverbial barrel, was able to demand money for the onerous task of running its rails a mile into the city.

The council promised that the project would cost ratepayers nothing. That turned out to be a lie. The council promised that the project would not expose ratepayers to financial risk. That was a lie too.

Meanwhile, Peter Cross was making his own sleek transit. Having sprung the project as the council's property development manager, he evangelised it as a council consultant. Then, when the council's CitRat morons - and you can take that personally, Phil Raffils - had approved it, presto-chango, Mr Cross went to work for the developers. Even by the traditionally lamentable standards of Auckland local government, it was astounding.

Now, Mills claims that opposition to the project is either a new right plot, or driven by vested interests. The Building Owners and Managers Association, he says, is just scared of competition. For God's sake, they have every right to be. BOMA members provide 60% of the council's rates take and they are understandably a little concerned at the council taking that money and using it to go into competition with them. Especially if the council is also going to cause subsidence under their buildings.

There is, of course, a veritable rainbow of opposition to Britomart - and it'd be even broader if the council had been honest with the public about the enormous disruption this project would cause. Fancy catching buses by the strip clubs and brothels in Fort Street for a year, while Customs Street is closed? Hey, that's nothing - Quay Street, which under the plan goes underground for no good reason, might be closed for two years!

I expect after that we'll be hearing from the pricey PR firm employed to steward opinion on Britomart. Oh well. At least it's not another Saatchi's gig. Yes, the Strand buildings must have been awash with Bolly this week, at the announcement that the agency has won the contract for the "educational" campaign to precede the Compulsory Superannuation referendum. Choice gig. But "education"? Schmeducation. Look, I'm all for creative excellence in the marketing of consumer products - I'm in publishing, advertising pays my bills - but I get an unpleasant feeling about this. Actually, it might just be Winston Peters himself who gives me an unpleasant feeling.

Anyway, hats off to Sir Tristram, the greatest sire our racing industry has ever seen. Amazingly, Sir Tristram's stud fame came only after a narrow escape from a stable fire and, on the same night, a severe kicking in regions most intimately related to the sowing of oats. But he overcame the damage - done by a couple of stroppy mares - and proceeded to an illustrious career of racing, rogering, and running around paddocks. And, really, I think there's something in that for all of us, chaps


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

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