Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

4th July 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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had a good week? I know somebody who hasn't. Yeah, you guessed it - Winston Peters, for whom the chickens didn't so much come home to roost, as turn up at the door, backpack in one hand, duty-free in the other, demanding a place to sleep.

Peters' past has been coming back to bite him a bit of late, what with the courts requiring him to pay up, pending appeal, for defaming Selwyn Cushing. After much whining, Peters suddenly produced the $125,000 and paid his bill. Did you know he had that much cash sitting around? Neither did I.

He may not so easily extract himself from the consequences of another set of allegations made under parliamentary privilege - to wit, that senior officials at Inland Revenue and the Serious Fraud Office were part of a conspiracy to defraud the New Zealand taxpayer. These claims were of such enormity and Peters so forcefully made them that eventually a commission of inquiry was established.

And so, after two and a half years of the Winebox Inquiry, Peters' lawyer Brian Henry repeated these allegations in his 800-page summing-up. But this week, commissioner Sir Ronald Davison called him out. Was there, he demanded of Henry, any actual evidence of such corruption? After much squirming, Henry admitted that no, there was not. Not as such. Bummer.

The $16 million spent on the Winebox Inquiry hasn't been a total loss - it aired tax dealings by major companies which should offend the sense of propriety of every New Zealander. And as for David Richwhite - who has taken so wholeheartedly to the role of victim that I half expect him to be pleading battered chief executive syndrome - well, I feel about as sorry for him as I do for Jacques Chirac.

But the inquiry's raison d'etre, alleged corruption by senior civil servants, has begun to look like yet another thoughtless, self-aggrandising Winston Peters fantasy.

The Man Who Is Treasurer himself has been in Hong Kong for the hangover - sorry, handover - where I think he's been a bit of an embarassment.

Apparently, the British didn't clap in all the right places at the handover ceremony. Or so Winston says. Frankly it is hardly for the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand to publicly pass judgement on one of the parties to this intriguing and historic event. Especially one who flirted with racism when it suited him.

I've got a lot of respect for Hong Kong's last governor, Chris Patten. And I think his resolute pursuit of democratic structure leaves Hong Kong in a far better position than it would have been had it all been done politely, diplomatically and quietly. Furthermore, I think I'd have been flagging a bit in the midst of a ceremony as hypnotically boring as that one.

As for Peters, well, all he had to do was turn up, stand around for a couple of hours under an umbrella and then the drinks were on in old Hong Kong! He really only had to shut up, smile and behave himself - and he couldn't even do that.

Then again, his MPs can't seem to manage it either. Tuku Morgan has reported the disappearance of his personal diary, which contains, he says, sensitive information. Two words come to mind - "accident" and "prone".

And Rana Watai, NZ First's dozy old ex-cop, is being pursued by an Australian hotel for compensation for a busted TV remote and a ruined duvet - or "doona" as our friends over the Tasman would have it. Rana maintains the remote just fell on the bathroom floor. And as for the duvet, he says he just "woke up one morning surrounded by feathers". Wow ... freaky, man. By the way, four-star hotels very rarely pursue compensation in this way and they usually don't buy bedclothes which spontaneously destruct.

What with all these slings and arrows, a bloke could feel sorry for Winston Peters. I don't. Why not? The Social Responsibility Code. The more I think about this piece of tosh, Peters' chjief contribution to his own first Budget, the angrier I get.

I am angry, firstly, that in classic New Zealand First style, a soundbite is being masqueraded as a policy. What does it say that the Prime Minister stood up in Parliament this week and was unable to give a single sensible answer to reasonable questions about what his Treasurer regards as a flagship for the coalition government? It says that this is rubbish - and dangerous rubbish at that.

The most unpleasant comedy, however, took place the day after the Budget, when Social Welfare Minister Roger Sowry got in on the act. Reminded, perhaps, that people who draw benefits do not actually have a monopoly on deficient parenting, Sowry floated the idea that perhaps all parents would have to sign the Social Responsibility Code. I don't think so. They can come and arrest me before I consent to be morally contracted by a faithless shit like Winston Peters, or by a greasy, overly ambitious little twerp like Sowry.

It was Sowry, you may remember, who covered the Kapiti electorate with hoardings of his own design, reading "Roger Sowry - you'll be hearing more of him!" He was subsequently trounced by Judy Keall and crept into Parliament on the party list.

Now Jenny Shipley has entered the fray, declaring that benficiaries should be forced to submit their children for immunisation or lose their benefits. Enforced medication of the poor, then, is it Jenny?

What a great country we would be, eh? You want to make an informed choice? Get a job or shut the fuck up. Like Peters and like Sowry, Jenny Shipley desperately wants to be Prime Minister. The troubling thing is, she might get there. I trust there are people in the National caucus with a little more moral sense, who are cringing at this current behaviour.

And if we are all to sign up to this code, who will set these standards? What punishment awaits those who deviate from the norm decreed by Parliament? I mean, beneficiaries are over a barrel, but how do they get the rest of us in line? Most importantly, though, where is the other side of the contract?

If the State is to contract a solo mother in Auckland to make sure her kids get to school - under pain of some yet unspecified penalty - will it then promise to ensure good teachers, sound buildings and computers in classrooms? And if it is to require that mother to provide her children with a nutritionally adequate diet, will the State then undertake to make sure she can afford to buy good food? Or that the family has a decent place to live?

There is a grim irony in the fact that Winston Peters, among whose multitude of conceits was that he was the champion of the little man, should be behind this.

But enough of that. We've got really important things to consider. The select committee's response to public outrage at the projected $94 million cost of the "cabinet palace" has been to propose something really wacky, and twice as expensive - moving the Beehive. If the capital's architectural butthole could be tucked away out the back, the original Parliament buildings could be completed. Bob Jones suggests throwing the whole thing in the harbour. I'd incline towards torching it and collecting the insurance, myself.

Hey, anyway, the first Metro of the Ralston era hit hit the shops on Wednesday - and I understand the man himself spent the day dashing into shops begging to know if it was selling. Quite sweet, really.

I must say, I found it ironic that Tim Wilson's story on North Shore rich kids rendering themselves insensible with a variety of substances - which contained quite a bit of tut-tutting - should be followed by the Neil Roberts feature, which takes the form of a string of jolly anecdotes about very heavy drinking, drinking and driving and drinking and violence.

Some of these are related by ace hypocrite Tom Scott, who cheerily tells of the time Roberts was so intoxicated he threw a chair through Scott's hotel window and used a fire extinguisher to put out a fire he thought was alight in the room. Oddly enough, this story has not turned up in Scott's campaign to keep our kids off drugs.

I might add, however, that I enjoyed reading both these stories - and, indeed, that the most of the mag feels solid and well-directed. Having been in a clique or two himself, Ralston has a feel for the old town, and for a first editorial outing, the July Metro is a really good show. And no Deborah Coddington! Hoorah!

As for Roberts, the new boss of TVNZ is having what looks like a press honeymoon. But that does not give him license to beat his chest and repeatedly talk down Max TV, as he's done all week. Max has made itself a grassroots niche, and really hope it can survive in the suddenly crowded youth TV scene.

Roberts has bought somebody else's brand - satellite feeds of MTV in the UK, a brand-new spin-off itself, and without the question the coolest flavour of MTV in existence. It could certainly have been worse. Mike Lattin would probably have licensed MTV Australia, which would have been ghastly beyond description.

It's sort of funny that when Brent Hansen, who is now president and CEO of MTV Networks Europe, left New Zealand in 1987, he was a Radio With Pictures producer who could barely get a budget for music TV. Now, he rides back in to save TVNZ's youth-cultural bacon with, you guessed it, music TV. I caught up with Hansen this week, and he's still basically the same guy - which is stunning, in the circumstances.

The most ironic spectacle of the week, however, had to be TVNZ going to court to defend its right to screen Beavis and Butthead, when it had rights to the same show for more than three years and flat-out refused to use it. Now, we get it on two different channels. Is it any wonder they're doing drugs on the North Shore?


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

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