Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

18th July 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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There I am, having a work-related over coffee at Auckland's "trendy" Atomic Cafe (Note: all Auckland cafes - especially those in Ponsonby - are "trendy"; this is NZ Herald policy) after broadcasting Hard News on Friday morning. Anyway, who should sit down at the next table but chief Alliance fixer Matt McCarten plus offsider - and Peter Williams, QC, flying lawyer to the NZ First party with his own assistant (who didn't look like a lawyer).

They negotiate, McCarten has photocopies of newspaper articles about Alliance candidate selection on the table and both sides take notes. After about 20 mins, they wind up, McCarten and Williams shake hands and Williams leaves. Despite desperate attempts to eavesdrop, the only sentence I hear comes from Williams, early on. He says something like "things are more fragile now than they've ever been ..." What can this mean? How long have they been meeting like this? And bugger it, I've probably blown my Herald tip fee now ... Cheers, RB.

Righto, on with the show ... I don't know whether to be disgusted, amused or depressed. I always suspected things would get a bit strange as we settled in to a new electoral system - but I frankly didn't expect the problem to be a granny from Opotiki intent on slashing the seats in the theatre of our democracy.

Alamein Kopu, 12th of the Alliance's 13 list MPs, had been making it known she was unhappy in Parliament - or unhappy in the Alliance - for several weeks. The Alliance wasn't too delighted with her either, given that she hadn't been turning up for work very often.

This week, she left the party to become an independent MP. I trust most of you can grasp the constitutional enormity of what she did. Alamein Kopu was elected off the list by Alliance party votes and although, as she has demonstrated, she can freely desert the party, morally, she has no right to be in Parliament.

In her Te Tai Rahwiti electorate, the vote which could be regarded as a personal endorsement, she picked up only 1200 votes. My good friend Paul Rose points out that he picked up more than that in the last Auckland local body elections and could he please have a job in Parliament too? He has a point. More distressing, however, is the way this has all unfolded.

What it goes back to is a power struggle in one of the Alliance's constituent parties, Mana Motuhake. When asked to produce a list of condidates for incorporation into the Alliance's own party list last year, a faction of the Maori party's membership responded, essentially, by excluding the candidates favoured by the Alliance leadership. Broadcaster and unionist Willie Jackson actually changed parties after he was put right at the bottom of Mana Motuhake's list. Kopu, a social-working granny on a benefit, was propelled to near the top of the list, just below Sandra Lee, who had, ironicallt, bucked the rest of the leadership in pushing her case.

As an Alliance candidate, Kopu signed a pledge saying she'd leave Parliament if she left the Alliance. Then, in June, she admitted she was considered leaving. Just last Saturday, as Alliance leader Jim Anderton tried to persuade her to stay, she signed another pledge, in which Anderton and Lee agreed that she'd be given special help to settle in to Parliament, and she made a "solemn commitment" to stay with the party.

Trouble is, it now looks like on the same Saturday she was also out gathering signatures for a petition supporting her decision to clear out of the party. And by the time she turned up for what were supposed to be final negotiations about her future in Wellington, she'd already told the media - but not Anderton and Lee - she was going. It was disgraceful. Derek Fox reckons the reading of her as a victim was always a mistake, that she's a hard, calculating woman - and after watching her shaft the people she was supposed to be negotiating with, I'm inclined to agree. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise - after all, that latterday saint, Dame Whina Cooper, could be ruthless when it suited her, or her chums in the National Party.

If nothing else, MMP has exposed all of us to the complications of Maori politics - and its curious way of inflating personal differences, such as those which developed between Kopu and Lee, into political factions. The Evening Post even ventured that the split came down to Lee's non-tribal stance over Maori fisheries allocation. That looks to me less like fact than the result of an unhelpful contribution from Sir Tipene O'Regan, who has long feuded with Lee over her support for the dissident Ngai Tahu hapu from which she hails, and plainly figured he'd get a low blow in while he could.

Kopu says now she'll be an independent Maori MP and she'll only speak in Parliament in Maori. Now, I'm all for te reo in The House, it's an oratorical language, after all - but the granny from Hell is using it most selectively. On the day after her departure, she declared she would only speak to the media in Maori - and then went and spoke at length in English to the Maori news service Mana News.

Shabbiest of all, however, has been the role played in this by some New Zealand First MPs. Until John Delamere told his deputy leader to shut up, Tau Henare had been loudly braying that he'd always thought the Alliance's commitment to Maori was "corrupt" - and that Kopu was most welcome to join New Zealand First. It did not occur to him that to do so would be to steal the rights of more than 20,000 Alliance voters. Ethics don't come easily to some people.

Now, Kopu is "independent", but New Zealand First threw a party for her on the night shafted the Alliance, and it seems likely that at the least her proxy vote, which is used when she's not in Parliament - ie, a lot - will go to NZ First. Did all those Alliance voters cast their votes in order that she could vote with a National Party coaltion? I really don't think so.

So, where to now? As Anderton pointed out, it's a bit rich saying honour the signatures on a 150-year-old Treaty when you can't even honour the pledge you signed last weekend. Goodwill, a vital element in the settlement of Treaty grievances, is being eaten away; and so is the credibility of Maori political representation, and so is MMP itself - which offers so much for Maori.

Unfortunately, the Maori MPs who are taking the process seriously - Georgina Te Heuheu on the National benches, Donna Awatere with Act, Dover Samuels, Nanaia Mahuta and Tariana Turia with Labour and even Delamere with NZ First, stand in the shadow of the less able, and considerably less attractive Maori members.

Kopu, who complained about the House being a "lion's den", has buddied up with Winston Peters, who gets drunk and assaults people in the lobby, Tau Henare, who manhandles reporters and threatens to cut off their broadcast funding, Tuku - well, we all know about Tuku - and Rana Watai, the fat, lazy ex-cop who rants on about "woofters" and abolishing the bills of rights in his Sunday newspaper column and has fights with his duvet in Australian hotel rooms.

The saddest and strangest thing of all is that as Mana Motuhake itself struggles for leadership, Matiu Rata lies critically ill in hospital after a freak road smash. Rata arguably began the new Maori politics by resigning from the Labour Party, founding Mana Motuhake and mounting a credible challenge to Labour's mortgage on the Maori seats in the ensuing by-election. Kopu's grab for money and power - which will effectively destroy the party Rata created - looks pretty shabby in the circumstances.

I'm personally disappointed in what has happened because I thought it was a demonstration of the beauty of MMP that someone could come off a benefit and into the Parliament. Now, it's a bloody debacle.

A big enough debacle, staggeringly enough, to obscure the complete and utter shambles that is Auckland City's shonky Local Authority Trading Enterprise, Metrowater. Remember how the council moved the goalposts so that the councillors in line for plum spots on this company could vote for its establishment? The proposal was passed by two votes. It has no mandate whatsoever, because the public never had a hint it was even being considered at the last election.

Regardless, $100 million of public assets have been passed to this LATE, which is really no more than a waystation to privatisation. The company's first job was not to fix pipes or anything tawdry like that, but to unleash an advertising campaign, in which Metrowater made the preposterous claim that it was "entering a competitive environment" in water supply.

Right. Actually, I've been thinking I'm a bit flash now for tap water. After all, we've got Sky TV. I think I'll start using Perrier in the toilet cistern, or brush my teeth with Stoli. That'll keep Metrowater on its toes, won't it?

The environment is so competitive that Metrowater has invented a pricing model which nobody understands. For instance, we're to be charged for water out as well as water in with the new waste water charge. There's no way of measuring wasterwater, of course, so the company will just assume that you pee in your own home. And if you don't, what are you, some kind of pervert?

And don't think about complaining, because Metrowater has shielded itself with a supply contract - yeah, I know, you thought you had a deal with the council - which gives it the right to do anything it wants. It can cut off water supplies without notice if a bill is unpaid. The company does not indicate if it will cover the cost to the health system when poor families can't flush their toilets and get typhoid. What manner of morons are these?

Yet all is not lost. Consumer Affairs Minister Robyn McDonald cut through the froth to dump on Metrowater's contract, the Herald has been up to its recent best in challenging the incredible venture and councillor Bill Christian is seeking another vote to try and erase the whole sorry episode. Call your councillor, fax your councillor, do what you can. This, folks, is a bigger shambles than Britomart and Waterfront 2000 put together, if you can imagine that.

Finally, a quick bit of TV. Anybody else been watching Flatmates on TV4? I think it's outstanding. I saw the nice art-student guy in the street yesterday. He'd cut his hair and was looking a but furtive, so maybe he's getting recognised. And how many of you out there - in Auckland anyway - are saying of an evening, "hmm, I wonder what's on MTV?" and then very soon after saying, "hmm, I wonder what's on Max?" You too? Interesting isn't it?


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

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