Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

17th October 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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How Bizarre. How Bizarre.

Yes, we all know the tune, most of us know the success story, but how many of us know that the man who co-wrote and produced said global smasheroonie was once in a group called the Body Electric? And who can recall the name of their album. Think hard! Truly, you are pulsing to meta-music if you said 'Presentation and Reality'.

It was originally something, I think, that Bogart declared in a movie, about how everything in the world was either "presentation", that is, a front or pretence; or "reality". And it just happens to apply most handsomely to our current situation. We have a Prime Minister who is suddenly rushing around the country burbling about policy concepts not as policy, as such, but as a positioning exercise within his own party. Bring on the remix album.

Bolger, feeling the hot breath of Jenny Shipley down his neck - and dwell on that one for a moment, punters - is trying to dig himself out of the coalition cesspit by lurching to the right. In the last two weeks he has proposed, essentially, the cancellation of the New Zealand social contract. No more universal provision of health education and welfare services.

Instead, according to the PM, we should look to "the community" to play a greater role in the social arena, with third parties working with government to address social needs. Oh, lovely. But when you look at the treatment dished out in recent years to Plunket and Women's Refuge, when you think back to Shipley attacking food banks for encouraging dependency, who the hell can believe that?

Bolger also gave a speech urging those in the business community to, quote "look after their neighbours" in welfare. Oh, so this would be the same business community which spent most of the 1980s desperately avoiding its obligations to the national revenue, would it? Perhaps if Mr Fay and Mr Richwhite's firm pretended to look after some single-parent families in the Cook Islands they could get a note relieving them of similar obligations here. Brilliant scheme. I look forward to someone trying it.

Also, without actually using the phrase, Bolger suggested throwing our schooling policy over to a voucher system. Trouble with education voucher systems is that since that whacky chap Milton Freidman proposed them 55 years ago, they haven't worked on any meaningful scale, anywhere.

Bolger, frankly struggling to give the impression that he believed this stuff, couldn't even summon any ACT-style bilge about choice and how buying education is just like buying a shirt, only more expensive. All he could suggest is that it would be cheaper. Probably.

Hell, maybe Bolger did have a conversion on the road from Te Kuiti to Damascus. Maybe he does believe this stuff. In which case, he should dissolve Parliament and fight a new election on it, because it's certainly nothing like what he campaigned the last one on. I'd actually enjoy seeing the likes of National's Maungakiekie MP Belinda Vernon - who claimed on TV this week that government had no place in running a welfare system - getting their stupid Tory arses kicked.

National's lurch to the right has, of course, made some space on the centre ground for its coalition partner. And New Zealand First has, of course, taken the lazy path. Winston Peters jumped up to say his party would not support the buying of a new Anzac frigate, or the "Beehive on wheels" plan. And I'm sure he's strongly opposed to cheap populism, too.

Peters' deputy, Tau Henare, seems to be concerning himself largely with the idea of selling TVNZ. It won't happen, he says. Ironically, he had to wait half an hour to say that to Ian Fraser on Wednesday night because the state broadcaster had to screen the second half of that crucial public service programme, Telebingo.

It's the Telebingo factor which makes me less than fervent about holding onto TVNZ in its present form. And if new technology is going to mean that the means and diversity of broadcast will proliferate in the next decade, thuslowering the value of an asset developed under a monolithic model of broadcasting, then we should examine what a useful public role is in the new era. We should, in other words, have a vision for what we're going to do. The government doesn't. It just doesn't, and nothing should be flicked off until it does.

Henare, who appeared on Fraser disguised as a prison warder from Mt Eden, was always on the back foot intellectually to Fraser. Although I'm sure he hadn't, his debating style is reminscent of a man who's had a few drinks and can't quite get his arument together. He did manage to describe the Prime Minister as "a wily old so-and-so" yet insisted he was not going to, quote, "dob him in". That went down very well, I'm sure.

And arise, Sir Les, great leader of our Commonwealth and Olympic Games teams. Whoops, that's not for a few years, though, is it? Les Mills surely had the scent of knighthood in his nostrils when he accepted the job of chef de mission for the games in Kuala Lumpur and Sydney this week. I'm not saying he won't do a good job - he probably will - but he's bailing out, isn't he?

Although Mills insists he's still in the Auckland mayoral race next year, he'll be in Malaysia during the local body election campaign. And I'm sure he won't be too unhappy to be voted out. After all, he is leading an administration on a road to nowhere.

Consider how the council has failed to deliver any civic capital under Mills' tenure. Think of the International Rugby Museum, the Britomart, the council housing sell-off, the Metrowater debacle. Think of the slogan that never, ever happened: "Auckland, City of Lovers". Think, I challenge you, of one single feel-good factor in the life of this council. Frightening, isn't it?

No, here in Auckland we have to make our own feelgood, and 20,000 of us did just that at Eden Park, where Zinzan Brooke was carried shoulder high off the ground after what was - probably - his last game on Eden Park. He's off next year to play some soft rugby for top money in England; and will we ever again see his like? The daft, dizzy try-fest against Wellington was a pretty good send-off - and could really only have been improved by Zinny clinching the victory with a drop-goal from halfway.

Of course, the seamless continuum which is modern rugby in New Zealand stretches on now, with the NPC semi-finals and the naming of the All Black squad to tour the UK. I'm picking Auckland to get up and do it against Canterbury, and Waikato to have too much cow-power for Counties.

After that, it's only one more week before we can forget our provincial differences and unite behind Saint John Hart as he leads a generation of players to victory over the Poms and encourages them to talk about their feelings while they do it. It is all very, to use Hart's favourite word, "special". Did not Zinzan Brooke speak the words, "I love you all," after Saturday's game? Zinzan, love is all you need.


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

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