Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

20th February 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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y'know, I've sometimes been inclined to cut Jenny Shipley a little slack. She's intelligent, she's consistently supported sexual and repductive health policies which some in her party would love to smother, and she has overcome some natural disadvantages - not least among them hailing from Ashburton. But no more.

First it was the Iraq thing - although she wasn't the only offender on that count. Richard Prebble leapt at the media yelling that seeing as we'd contributed to the UN Force in the Gulf War, it was logical and inevitable that we should now help the Americans bomb Iraq again. Oddly enough, that logic has escaped France, Saudi Arabia and all the other other countries who had a lot more to do with the Gulf War than we did.

But Prebble has an excuse. He's a fuckwit. Jenny Shipley isn't. She's too smart to really believe it when she declares, as she did repeatedly in interviews this week that Saddam Hussein is "the greatest threat to world peace since Hitler". What bright spark came up with that one, then? Presumably someone who'd never heard of Stalin or Pol Pot.

Saddam Hussein is a bad man. A very bad man. He does have, it seems, stocks left of chemical and biological weapons - courtesy, in the first place, of the USA. But he doesn't have any missiles. By the testimony of the UNSCOM inspection force, he doesn't have the means to threaten his neighbours let alone us.

And the countries to which he might deliver biological agents - by jeep, perhaps, or carried in relay by Iraq's unfortunate soccer team - seem pretty emphatic that they do not want any more of their fellow Muslims killed by American bombers.

Saddam has breached UN resolutions by refusing to co-operate with further inspections. But if bombing raids were the automatic penalty for flouting UN resolutions, Washington would be rubble, wouldn't it? Whatever you thought about the Gulf War, this is not it.

There is no sovereign country under occupation, there is no security council consensus, there is no mandate. There's just us, Australia, Britain and Canada, undermining the authority of the United Nations. And it's wrong.

While we were still reeling from the rank dishonesty of the military announcements - truth is the first casualty of war and all that - the government announced phase one of its jihad on beneficiaries - the Code of Social and Family Responsibility []. Something is rotten in the welfare state, declared Shipley. To emphasise the point, she quoted social services budgets now and in 1980 - without correcting for inflation. Small lie.

The big lie is the claim that the booklet 'Towards a Code of Social and Family Responsibility', which will be mailed out to every household in the country next week, represents research or discussion or consultation with the community.

Accompanying details of the Code are a bundle of heavily loaded yes-no questions designed to construct a mandate for a policy which has probably already been devised. It will be answered by a self-selected group and it's about as valid as "research" as talkback radio is. It's a political stunt, and you and I are paying for it. A million dollars for the booklets and several million more to collate the results, assuming they actually bother.

The Code, which includes many stipulations of the way we should behave - it may become a point of law that we should love our children - applies to all of us. We're also expected to keep ourselves healthy and drink only in moderation. Coming from an institution where people drink like fish and shag their secretaries, speechwriters and any nearby journalists, that's hilarious.

But it is only beneficiaries who face public sanctions if they don't measure up. The Code raises the idea of withdrawing benefits from parents who don't make sure their children stay in school, don't have them immunised or otherwise neglect them.

The outraged response when Labour leader Helen Clark turned the Code back on Cabinet was bizarre. If beneficiaries wereto be made accountable for the actions of their offspring then perhaps so could some other people on the public payroll.

Say Doug Graham, whose boy crashed a ministerial car and ran off, or Tuariki John Delamere's pothead son. Oh! The horror! Jean-Paul Delamere even held a press conference to say that whatever mistakes he might have made, they weren't a reflection on his father. Which is the whole point, really, isn't it?

It's only the poor who will be presumed guilty of neglect. A generation which had every possible advantage - wall-to-wall Plunket, free health care, subsidised everything and cheap home loans from the Housing Corporation, who were *paid* to go to university, is telling poor parents to jolly well pull their socks up.

There is little in the Code to do with public responsibility. We demand that people be good parents, but we slash funding for Plunket care so they can't learn how. And there's nothing, of course, about corporate responsibility. Nary a suggestion that big business should be anything other than amoral, that it should feel a responsibility to anyone other than the shareholders.

Anyway, more of that next week when we get the booklets. Perhaps we could burn some on air, or make them into papier mache or something.

What about the power cuts, eh? I was yesterday but seconds away from stepping into, and presumably getting stuck in, a lift. What on earth is going on here? We've had profiteering, hidden agendas, big cables failing in unision, and they can't even keep the electricity flowing. It makes you want to renationalise the bastards, frankly.

Didn't everybody behave like typical Aucklanders, though? Nobody could wait; chill out somewhere - they all had to jump in their cars and drive home without the benefit of traffic lights. It was chaos.

The big event in the media this week was the no-show of John Hawkesby on 3 News.

He walked out on 3's new dual format at the 11th hour, leaving John Campbell to stand in with Carol Hirschfeld. Whatever my thoughts about double-presenter news, or about the frankly fruity new art-direction, I have to say Hawkesby is a prat. You don't do the promos the interviews and the ads and then have a hissy fit over whether or not the new format is a "trial" or not.

On top of that, Neil Waka has resigned, telling the press that he didn't think the country or the network was ready for a Maori double-act, he and Hirschfeld, reading the news. He's right unfortunately, but I have another idea. John Campbell can go back to a project where he's freer to emote on screen and Melanie Reid can call her mate Anita McNaughty and offer her Hawkesby's salary. It could be the chick news. The News With Girl Power! They could even take turns being the guy if they wanted, I suppose.

Anyway, nice to see Havoc back. Loved the "beautiful Auckland" scene-setter, and Fun With Meat was extremely funny, and Karl Stefanovic's a good sport, isn't he?

Cheers to the cricketers, who are winning through over the almost psychopathically nasty people who have been writing letters to the paper about how terrible they all are. What kind of twisted freaks write letters to the paper abusing the cricket team? The kind of people who will fill out and send in the Code of Social and Family Responsibility forms, actually.

And, finally and fabulously - it's Hero Parade [] weekend! Yay! The clumsy dark oafs on the council may be missing out, but this is a local event for me, and the people where I live see it as their celebration too.

We'll be doing dinner for two at Mutiara, stepping outside to catch the parade then hurrying off to a party. Big night out. And that's what Auckland's all about


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

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