Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

10th October 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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13 days ago I was on an inbound flight to Auckland International Airport. I knew that the morning paper would contain two results - that of the rugby league test against Australia, and that of the Superannuation referendum.

One was a complete surprise. The other, the referendum result, wasn't - except perhaps in its sheer magnitude. Ninety two per cent said no. Metaphorically speaking, Winston Peters had been flattened by Joe Vagana and Matthew Ridge had kicked all the goals.

Was he surprised? In retrospect, the referendum looks crushingly stupid. You are the New Zealand First founder and leader. You campaign on a platform of getting rid of the incumbent centre-right government and then after the election you keep them in by going into coalition with them. You piss people off by taking months to make even that decision. You and your MPs stumble from one calamity to other.

And then, after all that, you give the public another shot at voting. How dumb is that?

Anyway, all bets are off now. The Prime Minister, having masqueraded as Peters' chum for nine months, is rushing around beating his chest, promising to privatise the air and staging public displays of disrespect for the coaltition agreement. After all, what are the New Zealand First MPs going do to do now they're polling somewhat under the margin of error? Force an election and get thrown off the gravy train? Not likely.

It has also become obvious what a dork Winston Peters has been all along. While he was styling himself Treasurer and making the Budget speech, Bill Birch was conducting business as usual in the back room.

Most notably this week, Michael Laws has pressed the "release" button on Neil Kirton's back, causing the former associate health minister to drop a highly embarassing report which recommneded that a bunch of North Island hospitals should react to funding shortfalls by cutting or just plain getting out of surgical, emergency, geriatric or mental services.

Kirton's replacement, Tuariki Delamere, has responded by promising to save his local hospital. Winston Peters has done the same, and Tau Henare of course broke ranks with cabinet to demand that Northland man Rau Williams should get renal dialysis, even though he doesn't qualify for the programme. They just don't get it, do they? It's not about pork-barrelling to keep your local voters happy - although Winston appears to have blown that anyway - it's about all of us.

Meanwhile, Health is being run by Bill English, who gives me the creeps - and not just because he looks like the top of his head is sewed on. English has said he may charge the mental health workers in Palmerston North, who turned away Jacko Paki before he went and committed a brutal rape - even though a report has already blamed the system, rather than individuals. Does anybody remember ministerial responsibility?

Mental health staff are on a knife-edge. They have to take risks because they don't have the funding to be safe, and now Bill English is going to scapegoat them. Do you know how long it takes to admit an emergency psychiatric case in Auckland now? Ten hours, on average - and much of that time will be spend calling hospitals all over the North Island in search of a bed.

It is not unknown for people who present in Auckland to be flown to Christchurch for admission. These, remember, are people who aren't considered safe in public.

Against this backdrop, the Fire Service shambles doesn't look so bad - in fact it looks like comedy. A new Fire Services Commission - appointed by God knows whom - comes in, trashes a reform plan who has been worked on for two years by the Internal Affairs select committee, prompts the angry resignations of three of the four top managers of the service and then can't tell anybody what its Plan B is. Except that it has one. Right.

Anyway, summer is coming upon us and it is the time for street theatre. Maybe. There are plans to do, y'know, outdoor things in Freyberg Place, but the human dynamos on the Auckland City Council might not be able to decide in time for this summer. Maybe next summer, right? What's the problem? Are there homosexuals involved or something?

Yes, the council committee which declined the Hero Foundation a poxy $15,000 - that's 0.15 cents per ratepayer according to the Listener -to clean up after the most popular street event this side of the Farmers' Christmas parade has plumbed new lows of behaviour.

The likes of councillors David Hay and Phil Raffils, sad bigots who should be under house arrest, are lower, indeed, than the bottom of the latest huge hole in Grey Lynn Park. Yes, another one. Only this one is different than the one it hastaken the council a year to fix. This one is Metrowater's responsibility. It's their old pipes that are rotten.

Of course, the last time anybody had a vote, Metrowater was the council. It had not even been conceived in some sweaty act of conservative coitus by Citizens and Ratepayers. And now, hey!, the guy who runs it earns more than the prime Minister.

So I have but two words for the Auckland City Council. Waterfront 2000. As of now, all the council leaseholders have been thrown out and Quay Street is a desert.

If the council can begin the Britomart project by mid next year, that'll should leave just long enough to render the entire area a bomb site for the wonderful America's Cup experience. Customs Street will be closed, Quay Street will be a big hole in the ground and pumps will be spewing million of litres of dirty water into the harbour just next to the Cup village, 24 hours a day. The Australians will laugh at us and they will have every right to do so.

Farewell, then, to Zinzan Brooke, who will soon retire from proper rugby and head for England to play some easy stuff for big money. He will be hard to replace - indeed, I'd venture we will never again have an All Black forward who would even try to kick a drop goal from halfway in a World Cup test match.

Thanks for the skills and thrills, Zinny - but no thanks for joining the Auckland coach and everyone else in the damn country for bashing the Auckland rugby fans. There were 20,000 Aucklanders at the thrilling shield match last Saturday, but this wasn't enough. Bizarrely, everyone from the Herald's Hamilton correspondent on up seemed to think that the fact that the Waikato supporters booed the Auckland team onto the field was wonderful. Perhaps we should stop applauding the opposition in a sporting manner. Perhaps we should stop forking out the money to go every week if we don't even get a work of thanks from our own side.

Anyway, I remain almost alone among my peers in not yet having my own TV show - the way things are going, I'm thinking of holding out for my own channel. So I'll leave you, like me, waiting eagerly for the Women's Weekly's fashion spread featuring the Ingham twins - yes, really. I bet Pavement are kicking themselves they didn't think of that one - although, to be fair, the Inghams are 18, which is probably a bit too old for a Pavement spread


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

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