Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

19th December 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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and so we come to another conclusion; and the season conspires against a reasoned assessment of the year just passed by requiring us to eat and drink more than is sensible.

I have tried to be of moderate appetites, but my faculties are still too clogged to work out whether that woman Gemma Gracewood interviewed on A Girl's Own Show last Sunday was really Great White Australian Pauline Hansen, or Emma Lange doing her Pauline Hansen impression. If that really was La Hansen, then she is as mad as a whole freezing works full of meat axes. There are many people in public life I would consider to be somewhat lunatic, but she takes the cake.

Like I said, I've been picking and choosing my Christmas events this year; chiefly the fine bFM bash at the King's Arms and a Christmas lunch on Waikheke with my real employer. We shared the winery restaurant on the island with a group of social welfare consultants, who flew in and out by helicopter, believe it or not. Think about that as the government threatens another round of beneficiary bashing.

Anyway, by rotating my various media hats, I have reached the screen generation version of nirvana - that is, people send me free stuff. I have not reached the priestly elevation in this respect of, say, Havoc, but I would in my own small way like to offer a nod to the people at Sony Electronic Entertainment who've been sending me PlayStation stuff all year even though I hardly ever write about it. Thanks for the watch, and, hand on heart I can declare that Crash Bandicoot II is the business.

Thanks, too, to Internet Prolink for the excellent t-shirt, and most especially to Matua Wines for recently saving me from being a lonely guy without a sponsor. Cheers. We'll be having the Judd Estate over Christmas lunch.

But now on with the countdown. And is it millenial fever? That might be one explanation of the Madness of King Jenny. The new Prime Minister's new front bench have been right out there lately - none less than the vile Bill English, who once again demonstrated the extremely dubious wisdom of allowing a conservative Catholic anywhere near health policy.

At an anti-abortion shindig at paraliament this week, he got up and made a bunch of threats about scrapping funding for abortion consultants and the abortion supervisory committeee.

Both of those are constituted under the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act of 1977. Scrap those, you change the law. Is that his agenda? Well he can bog off. I can just recall when New Zealand women had to fly to Australia to get terminations. I regard it as part of the same era - and of the same merit - as dawn raids on Pacific Islanders.

What makes it worse is that there's more than a suspicion that English has deliberately tried to bury the scheme introduced by Jenny Shipley before she gave up the Health portfolio. She made two brands of oral contraceptive available free on prescription, in an effort to lower the abortion rate by prevention.

The Health ministry has no figures on that scheme at all, presumably because English doesn't care for contraception either - remember his tirade against "condom culture" earlier this year? Do you think we could find a condom big enough to fit over his ugly head?

Speaking of dickheads, how nice to see the C&R part of the Auckland City Council finally have to face the music over Britomart. In the wake of stories in this week's Herald, there is more than a suspicion that the council put pressure on its own engineers to take a highly optimistic - even foolhardy - attitude to the geophysics of the project.

Independent engineering reports will soon be released to show that the development as planned, involving five floors of underground car parking on reclaimed land, would probably cause land subsidence and damage to the buildings around it. It will have to be radically changed, at the least.

Les Mills has attacked and abused the people who have opposed his so-called transport centre, but just imagine what might have happened if the council had been allowed to follow its desires unhindered. Imagine the ratepayers of Auckland up for damages to all the buildings around the big hole, just because the council didn't do its homework.

If the Britomart hiccup is good news for thinking people, the confirmation this week that import tariffs on new cars will be removed in the year 2000 was simply inevitable. It's really sad that it means the end of 1500 jobs in local car assembly, but it doesn't make sense to me that the government should run a tax policy just to support private companies in an industry that wasn't otherwise viable.

The thing that gets me is, where's the retraining? Where's the transitional scheme? Where's the attempt to take up the slack in Porirua? The car assembly industry was really created and maintained by public policy - that is, by choosing to tax whole cars much harder than car parts in boxes.

To just change that policy and walk away is callous. Yet, Winston Peters was able to use the tariff announcement in his debut Budget as a kind of political flag. And this week John Luxton made the extraordinary announcement that "It's important to remember that car companies open or close car plants, not governments." Nothing to do with us, folks ...

Of course, some people will disagree with me about tariffs. Auckland University economist Tim Hazeldine, for instance, who loves 'em, and recently delivered another one of his little lectures to people about the folly of "saving a few dollars" on imported goods at the expense of local production. I don't know about you, but I find the sight of a man who drives a BMW and is "developing a winery in the South Island" telling off lesser mortals for shopping at the Warehouse pretty unedifying.

People certainly do have more access to consumer goods now than they did in the old days, but I was always with J.K. Galbratih when he maintained that Soviet communism collapsed because it couldn't deliver consumer goods to people.

Ordinary people do want consumer goods, and they have a right not to be told off for that. But they're also clever enough to know what isn't a consumer good - and they overwhelmingly regard health, education and welfare as public services.

This distinction does not even fall within the universe of another economist, Gareth Morgan, who wrote a positively gibbering column in Tuesday's Herald. If Hazeldine's out of touch, Morgan is simply spinning out of orbit.

Unfortunately, he's actually a well-paid part of the establishment and goes around making speeches to business in which he advocates things which border on fascism. Like, for instance, forcibly closing "unviable" provincial towns by refusing to pay benefits to anyone who live in them. Yes, really.

In the column, along with wholesale privatisation of health and education, Morgan proposes replacing all welfare payments with a Poor Person's Benefit, which is strictly income and asset-tested - that is, creating the perfect poverty trap. "Society," he says, "decides at what level of poverty taxpayers will provide income support". Oh really?

All this madness is so we can, he says "begin to close the 40 percent gap between our standard of living and that of the average American". Yeah, right. His lack of any concept of social cost borders on the pathological and if he thinks the maintenance of the kind of vast, sad underclass that keeps California smiling is a good thing, he's very stupid.

The point here is that we have economists of both the left and right who seem to have lost touch with ordinary people. And, folks, people is what it's all about.

As we tot up the year just gone, we tend to think of the famous names. Winston Peters - how unimportant he seems now - David Lange and Jim Bolger, who both bowed out. Michael Hutchence - who the rumors say really did go the way of Fox Mulder - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mat Rata and Eva Rickard, who passed on up.

And, of course, Diana, Princess of Wales, whose sudden death provoked an incredible and somewhat unhealthy hysteria. Well, the double CD is in the shops, but the books are already headed for the bargain bins, so there's an end in sight there. How commodified has someone become when we measure their passing by tracking retail goods?

In the end, however, it's you and me and our Mums and Dads and kids. Huge tracts of the world's population will never know the lives we enjoy, but that doesn't make the enjoyment wrong. I believe in Christmas, in a pagan sort of a way, and I've spent too much on the kids, just like my parents did before me. I can still see the Christmas morning trees of my youth, stacked deep with parcels, and I'm sure it'll make the same impression on my kids.

There's another year looming, of course - and it might be a pretty tough one, with ideologues rampant in the government, and something very rotten in the Asian economies threatening to seep over here. I seem to be hearing about a lot of redundancies lately, which makes me a little concerned.

But, El Nino notwithstanding, it is summer in New Zealand, and that counts for a lot. I commend to you the beaches and the rivers and the parks. Don't get a melanoma, don't drive drunk and I'll be back with you in 1998.


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

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