Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

6th June 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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and thankyou for your expressions of concern at my absence last week. I'm back - and as for material, well, a little part of me will be sorry when Tukoroirangi Morgan finally packs up his mana and gets out of public life.

This week's staggering installment began when Tuku's lawyer, Chris Reid, began calling the two main TV networks offering an exclusive interview with his client, an elected representative of the people - to which the response of any sane journalist must surely be "Can you just hold on a minute while I get my tape recorder?" While TVNZ - which has been prepared to whip out the chequebook twice recently - hummed and haaed, TV3's John Campbell decided the real story was the MP for sale, and recorded a conversation where Reid pretty quickly established that $20,000 was the minimum sum for which his client would open his mouth.

This course of action will have come as little suprise to anyone who heard the self-righteous barbs about chequebook journalism dished out by TV3 staff at the Qantas Media Awards last Friday. Yet Morgan and his lawyers days later went and offered 3 National News a chance to not so much take the moral high ground as go up and pitch a bloody great big tent there.

Yet Peter Williams, QC, who represents Morgan and retained Reid, maintained the day after the story broke that young Mr Campell had lacked maturity, and had dragged down the standards of his profession by breaking a confidence. I don't think so. It is Peter Williams who risks collateral damage if he keeps on keeping such company.

We all heard the tape, and Reid was most of the way through his wheeling and dealing before he thought to say it was off the record. But more importantly, I don't believe being a journalist means being obliged to play along with greedy little games of this sort. Why should Campbell have heard out this extraordinary plan and then ignored it as news, simply because the protagonists desired it that way?

So what was so bad about Tuku asking to see the money? This: He is an elected representative of the people and as such is the subject of quite a few privileges. He is also accountable to the public - that's one of the hard things about the job. And an MP is especially accountable when he or she has a bit of a whoopsie. Yet Morgan has spent months refusing to explain himself on the basis that his actions at Aotearoa Television and since are "sub judice" because he has taken a million dollar defamation action against Labour's Trevor Mallard.

Most legal opinion tended to the view that this was preposterous, and now, Morgan himself seems prepared to ignore it - for a large fee. It now appears that Reid even sought to flog off the Tuku story to Woman's Day - on an exclusive basis, of course. Can we look forward then, to more politicians taking bids for their time?

Morgan, eventually, did turn up for an interview - on the Holmes show, where he was dragged kicking and screaming into the most grudging, qualified apology imaginable to the young people he let down at ATN. He palpably did not believe he had anything to apologise for. Not the huge directors' fees, not the trips to Europe, not the spending sprees, not the financial waste dump he helped to create and not the bloody boxer shorts. And of course, there was never a hint of contrition over the attempt to sell himself off. As David Lange pronounced on the other channel minutes before, Mr Morgan is "a liar, terminally greedy and suicidally arrogant".

But Morgan believes he is being pursued not for his words and deeds, but for the colour of his skin. The press, he believes, is picking on him because he's Maori. Well I'm sorry pal, but I won't be called a racist just so you can go on deluding yourself. And, I might add, lying to your leader.

No amount of fudging gets around the fact that Morgan lied to Winston Peters over his cash for questions project, causing Peters in turn to lie to the press. He also lied to his caucus - and at the time of writing, only John Delamere and the awful Rana Watai had indicated they were happy to forgive. That may have left Morgan very vulnerable when the Serious Fraud Office delivers its report on ATN.

Anyway, enough of that, it's time for some comedy. And comedy most surreal at that. Yes, it's the Britomart - and Auckland City Council's patented reality distortion field. City Scene arrived over the weekend - and the council's jolly little puff sheet had great news for all of us. Under the heading 'Thumbs up for Britomart!' it was revealed that 92% of public transport users "rated the planned transport centre as better than current facilities". Gee, what what a choice, eh? On that basis, I expect that 97% of Aucklanders would prefer Britomart to having alligator clips applied to their nipples and a whacking 100% per cent would rather have the Britomart than be ritually disembowelled with a butter knife.

I've actually been been flicking through the council's own archives on the Internet, which has been interesting. Most of it, of course, is PR bumf like this: "Auckland City Council will not need to borrow any money to fund the redevelopment of the Britomart project. Nor will the project have any impact on rates."

Of course not. The $13 million spent so far has, of course, come from a bag of magical gold coins that a fairy left on Les Mills' doorstep. OF COURSE Britomart is being funded out of rates. That is, rates money being swiped from libraries and from turning council tenants out of their homes so they can be sold.

The council actually needs to watch these overruns and charges, because even by its own sums, its assets will increase in value by only $29 million by the time the merry-go-round stops. This, at a net cost of over $70 million and the risk of underwiting the whole deal. If NatWest Markets can't sell all the 11 "development units" designed into the project, the council has to buy them back.

Oh, and one more thing. Y'know how the whole underground edifice is being justfied by the fact that the council doesn't own the former railways land across which the tracks would travel? Well, apart from the fact that I can't ever recall Ngati-Whatua ruling out rail across its land, do you know what the tunnel budget is? $1 million. That's all. So, because we need to build a $1m tunnel, we'll just knock up a vast $124m property development which will see water pumped into the harbour 24 hours a day for the next 30 years, shall we?

Anyway - sit down Mike Moore. And shut up. Moore decided this week that his caucus colleague, Tariana Turia, was in danger of becoming New Zealand's own Pauline Hanson. Her crime? She agreed with Doug Graham, the minister of treaty settlements when he said that we'd just have to get used to the quirks in the law caused by Maori customary rights. Jesus, if as part of a land settlement, members of Ngai Tahu get special fishing rights in some rivers on some days of the year - which is, in short, what's happened - it doesn't really worry me. Even if it worries Mike Moore, it does not give him the right to call someone with whom he disagrees a racist. He needs a boot up the bum.

Yet so serene a pond is the Labour Party at present, that Moore has created barely a ripple. A stonking poll result - which put Labour an unlikely 15 points ahead of National and not far short of an absolute majority - was complemented this week by overtures from the Alliance. Jim Anderton made a speech indicating that his party would modify some policies as part of working towards a potential coalition with Labour, upon which the relevance of his party depended.

This has horrified some people in the Alliance, but the reality is that the public rejected the party on the basis of its more exotic policies and now Alliance people are not only thinking about Labour, they're joining the party. Labour's recruitment ads are, for whatever reason, working, and for the Alliance to write itself out of the story now would be suicidal.

Anyway, speaking of death, I feel sorry for Anton Matenga. Yes, it was murder. But he's a 19-year-old kid, he walks out of one prison stretch and is literally picked off the street by some Mongrel Mob associates and told he's going to do a bank robbery. He has the gun. But the police are there, he's letting hostages go and he wants to see his girlfriend. But a middle-aged teller, for some reason, decides to play the hero, rushes up and tries to rugby tackle Matenga and gets shot in the head. What the hell was in his mind? Surely not loyalty to the bank? Banks are not for being loyal to.

And neither are National Radio or TV3, given the news that Mike Hosking's ambitious escalation of the ranks of talent has proceeded further with the hatching of plans for a breakfast TV show. Frankly, unless there's something more exciting to look at than Hosking's shiny little face, I shan't be bothering with the television in the morning, thankyou.

I suppose there'd be some promising elements to it, though - the horrifying prospect of not only hearing Winston Peters struggling through a hangover but seeing him in the grey, tired flesh for one.

And perhaps Hosking's proposed partner, Susan Wood, could contrive a few more match-ups like the wonderful discussion between the Alliance's Pam Corkery and ACT's Muriel Newman this week. Newman and her husband make a living out of quickie "how to" books, including the "oily rag" series, the latest of which is "How to Feast on the Smell of an Oily Rag". This worthless book contains such valuable advice as the groundbreaking suggestion that marmite on toast is one option for breakfast.

Poor people, of course, are so stupid that they can't work that out for themselves. Actually, Muriel Newman continues to prove that even though she has a PhD, a black belt and a CV which includes a top job with Michael Hill, she is herself unutterably stupid and should not be allowed off the farm.

Still, whatever the quality of our elected MPs, rest assured that we are better led than Australia. While they struggle with Pauline Hanson, and with the revelations that aboriginal children were for decades just stolen from their parents, Australians must contemplate pathetic specimen that is John Howard. A nothing man. At a time where the nation needs leadership, he fudges an apology for genocide. I look at him and and I just want to say a big kia ora to Jim Bolger. But not for long.

Anyway, time to go, and thanks to the Auckland Blues for another tremendous season of thrills, spills and people getting concussion. In the pouring ran and against a bucn of Aussies who make an art form of offside play, there wasn't that much scope for dashing play, but, hey, me and 30 or 40,000 Aucklanders have had it too good this season to worry about that. So ... ta! And, finally, a word for Mark taylor and his plucky band of Aussie cricketers in England - AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!


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

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