Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

16th January 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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way back when Rob Muldoon was Prime Minister and the pubs in Wellington all shut at 10pm, even on Saturdays, there was a group Nocturnal Projections, who were without doubt the finest band ever to emerge from Stratford, Taranaki.

The Nocturnals, as they were called, were desirous of collecting their three singles, 'Understanding', 'Another Year' and 'Darkness' onto one 12-inch EP - which they called, cleverly, 'Understanding Another Year in Darkness'. In colliding the three titles they somehow wound up with a phrase which was more resonant that the sum of its parts. It's a phrase, I think, which peculiarly fits our current station as a nation.

The blazing sun notwithstanding, there has been an edge of the mysterious and occult about this year's festive season. Consistently, all is not what it seems. If it wasn't the weather - and the unnatural, out-of-balance attentions of El Nino - it was the news.

We had morons jumping off waterfalls, replacing the customary morons driving across level crossings in front of trains - which just goes to show that if country people don't die on country roads they'll find some other way of killing themselves.

We had the born-again Christian security guard who at first appeared to have been kidnapped as he carried $67,000 away from a South Auckland supermarket. He had, instead, done a runner, and claimed to have spent or given away the money in the course of a lost weekend which spanned the North Island. Or did he?

We still, more than two weeks later, can only speculate over what happened to the two young Blenheimers, Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, as they boarded a strange boat in the early hours of New Year's Day.

We all knew pretty early on that whatever happened wasn't good, but, to look on the bright side, at least the whole country now knows the difference between a ketch, which has two masts, and a sloop, which has one. The question which nags at me is why a couple of the most prominent witnesses, boaties the both, couldn't tell the difference, and how they gave such detailed, matching descriptions of the ketch which is now thought not to exist. But, hey, that's for the police, and I don't very much envy them.

Still further out on the far side was the New Zealand Herald "summer of polls", a series of front-page surveys which kicked off with the news that rather too close to half the adult population believes we're being visited by space aliens - with Alliance voters batting somewhat above the national average on that one.

Perhaps they were all mistaken and had only seen the Chinese swimming team, which just looked a bit like aliens. Having now been busted with enough human growth hormone to make a horse grow big as a house, the Chinese may for their next trick, grow gills. Which would, of course, be cheating.

Anyway, the Herald "summer of polls" got weirder from there. From capital punishment to cannabis, the 650 New Zealanders polled came across as, frankly, a bunch of rednecks. Perhaps the ones with more than a shred of warmth or liberalism in them were out enjoying themselves at Christmas parties when the pollsters called.

There has also been a big, wide vein of out-thereness running through the issue currently doing most to upset rednecks - Maori customary fishing rights and the abuse thereof. A loose organisation called the Confederation of the Chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand has, it seems, been issuing its own fishing permits for the past two years.

The story broke when it emerged that a confederation boat called the James O'Brien had, just before Christmas, gone out and caught some snapper under customary right. Under the fisheries settlement of 1992, Maori are allowed to catch fish outside quota to for use at customary gatherings such as hui and tangi.

Trouble was, the boat seems to have taken about seven tonnes of snapper and, although it was supposed to have distributed this catch among marae throughout Northland, the largest tribe in the region, Ngapuhi, can't recall seeing any of it. On the other hand, we know that some of that snapper made its way to a commercial processing plant in Auckland, but we don't know where it went from there.

The newspaper editorials have thundered and the rednecks have muttered knowingly, but I actually don't think the whole thing is quite as cynical as it seems. It's pretty strange up north these days, and I think many of the Maori up there don't feel like they're even in the same country as the rest of us.

While the pakeha folks of Whangarei elect the likes of John Banks, other people are living in shacks and caravans, without electricity. While Ngai Tahu and its beneficiaries now form the most influential corporate force in the South Island, once-powerful Northern iwi have yet got very little, and ordinary brown folks have seen even less, even six years after the Sealord deal.

Indeed, it is bad blood over Sealord which prevents the Muriwhenua tribes from uniting to press their own Treaty claims to the crown. Mat Rata, who never resiled from his part in the Sealord deal, suffered greatly from the infighting the settlement provoked.

In a way, the confederation reminds me of the occupiers at Takahue, who moved in on the local Maori on a dubious historical basis, burned down the town's school and community hall when they had to go, and then quite seriously told the nation that the police had done it. They were really quite potty.

The confederation consitutes itself on a declaration of independence which predates the Treaty of Waitangi, it uses customary right to justify ignoring both official quotas and the tribal governance of other iwi - and its fisheries spokesman, John Ututaonga, is really quite potty. In a fascinating interview with Kim Hill, Ututaonga rambled on about how his people were the Israelites and generally appeared to regard himself as answerable only to Tangaroa.

Now, I have walked our wild beaches and wondered what sort of god Tangaroa might be, and listened for his name in the crash of the surf - I even feel that I know him a little. But I have never conceived of him as endorsing what is, frankly, a black-market trade in illegally caught fish. Those quotas are set so that the resource will be there for our grandchildren. The contention that only fishing by the moon counts as viable management is absurd in the day of modern vessels. And the whole thing is, sadly, bullshit.

But it's bullshit which is partly of the National government's making, and it's the government which will have to sort it out. As usual when there's a tricky issue in the offing, Northern Maori MP and Maori Affairs minister Tau Henare has disappeared, and it's all up to Fisheries minister John Luxton, who is a very dry bastard indeed.

But the all-new Shipley-led government is going to have to deal with this one, however icky it seems. It may hail a difficult year, what with the International Monetary Fund already having a bitch at us for daring to maintain extravagances like a welfare system. Christ - Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand ran crony economies, subsidised corporations, built extravagant edifices and hid debt, and never got the hard word until their economies collapsed, but the IMF is telling us off because we'd rather not have people starve in the streets.

If you think that's scary, you must have been at the beach when Captain Shipley wrote up her predictions for the Herald, under the heading, 'A year to build on strengths'.

In translation, she promised the introduction of universal road user charges and, later, compulsory satellite tracking devices in all cars, to fatten the road network up for privatisation. Turning ACC funding upside down and cutting employer payments, to fatten it up for privatisation too. Selling off more , unspecified assets. Passing laws enshrining the budgetary interests of business in any future rules or regulations - and this in the midst of a rash of workplace deaths. And going ahead with the tax cuts.

If that's the public slate, then I don't think I'm quite up to thinking about the hidden agenda. Maybe there isn't one - but I wouldn't count on it. We'll just have to suck it and see. Speaking of suck, I trust karma is already catching up with the scum who stole our family car, with two weeks worth of groceries and a kid's bike in the boot, the night before we went on holiday.

On the other hand, I'd like to thank Tangaroa for the excellent swell over the holidays, bFM for being available on the Internet, NZ Flying Discs of Waiheke Island for making the world's best frisbee and Matua Wines for making Mautau Dry in the big 2-litre bottle, for when the budget had almost run out. Cheers for all that, and best of luck everybody in understanding another year in darkness


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

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