Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

13th March 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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and greetings from the Great Crushing Weight at the top of New Zealand. We have all your money, and we're spending it on imports. We have your policemen, too. They pick us up off the street when we've had so many imports that we just pass out. We're pretty vacant up here in Auckland, and we don't care.

Christ, Michael Cullen certainly picked the wrong time to play Southern Man for the benefit of a bunch of King Country farmers, didn't he?

The government's dozy handling of the power crisis has seen it shunned by its own natural voters, and then the deputy leader of the Opposition brings things back to level pegging by kicking Auckland when the electricity's down.

Cullen might simply have meant that unbalanced economic development was bending both Auckland and the rest of the country out of shape - but he went the wrong way about saying it.

With Jenny Shipley, it wasn't what she said so much as what she did. After playing hands-off-the-crisis for two weeks, she flew up to Auckland with her pet advisors, spent the Friday morning telling off Mercury Energy - and then went sailing on an America's Cup yacht with her family. Bzzzt! Wrong! And pardon me, but did we pay for Burton and the kids to fly up for this lovely harbour adventure? If so, why?

The advice dispensed by the government's gurus was pretty derisory too. The "scientific" plan dictated by Transpower and the government's electricity gurus roughly amounted to: everybody will have to turn off their air conditioning and try and save electricity! Brilliant! Why didn't we think of that? Gosh we're *so* stupid up here in Auckland, aren't we?

As it turned out, with private generators throbbing away all through the city and the Union Rotorua moored at the port, the CBD's electricity has held up, more or less, this week. But watch out next week, when everybody comes back into town, especially if the weather's hot. I have a feeling it could all go on the fritz again.

The government has announced an inquiry, to be headed by Hugh Rennie, QC, and while I never for a minute thought it would actually risk putting its electricity reform strategy up for inspection, we may get sopme sort of answer to the wider question of why the lights went out.

Finally, a big pat on the back to the city's retailers - and especially to the K' Road Business Association - for taking matters into their own hands and making things happen themselves.

Oh, and guess what Les Mills and his councillors were doing this week, while people were trying to save their businesses? Jacking up an agreement - yes, another one - to get the bloody Britomart on track again.

In the case, the city council has agreed with the ARC to put up a $20 million "good behaviour" bond. So it's going ahead.

Although Britomart wasn't supposed to cost ratepayers a bean, the council has already frittered away tens of millions on it - much of the money having gone into paying off objectors. You can now get ready for the enormous disruption involved in digging a massive hole in the ground.

No Quay Street for about a year; no Customs Street for quite a while, and buses diverted through Fort Street for months - won't that be a nice look for our America's Cup tourists? You can't get workable public transport to most places in Auckland - but the buses run will right past all the strip clubs. Lovely. And then of course, there's the megalitres of muddy water which will be pumped out of the hole and into the harbour for the next decade or three.

And what do we get when it's all over? A forest of privately-owned tower blocks and a repeat of the QE2 Square wind tunnel. Cheers, Les.

Still, at least we'll have a proper hospital. It might be the only one in the country, but that's what you get when you're a Great Crushing Weight. Yes, this week an email leaked to Labour's health spokesperson Annette King gave a startling glimpse into the government's health strategy.

On the plus side, at least they're planning. The idea of contestability and competition under the now-deceased Regional Health Authorities - which ranks alongside Mercury and the Britomart as an Olympic-class ball-up - has been flushed away. Hospitals will now, amazingly enough, work together.

But Bill English's department is working on a plan which would see all but two hospitals in the country downgraded. These two would retain their ability to perform major surgery and would thus, under the regime's Newspeak, be designated "super hospitals". And Wellington won't get one.

So that'll be enough of the cracks about our third world infrastructure, Wellingtonians. How many capital cities in the world don't have a proper hospital? I mean, you haven't had a proper airport for years, but this is different. You won't be getting surgery at Te bloody Papa, will you?

Actually, getting it as arts funding might to be capital's best hope, going on past form: "Te Surgery - a meticulously recreated model of the golden era of New Zealand health care. A unique, hands-on, interactive exhibit where, for a small extra fee, visitors can actually choose be operated on. Any organs removed will be disposed of in a culturally safe manner."

Seriously, though, this is pretty unpleasant stuff. You're talking about provincial centres losing maternity services. And it's all being planned on the quiet. This was not in the Coalition Agreement, it was not in Jenny Shipley's speech. How long do you reckon we'd have waited for the government to actually announce it?

While we're dwelling on other metropolises - should that be metropolii? - I see there's a lobby to change the name of Hamilton to Waikato City. I'll resist the obvious line - whatever else you call it, it'll still be Hamilton - to offer my support for the idea. Waikato is a better word, and a more exciting and fitting name for the nexus of the national breadbasket. Good luck with that one, guys.

And here, of course, we're searching for a mayor to replace the one we've got, because he's crap. This week, Paul Holmes wasn't commenting on his plans, but Labour's Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard confirmed that she had urged the gnomish one to offer himself to the people of Auckland. Well, I'd vote for that.

Mind you, I also voted for Pam Corkery, and it was only last week, I think, that I proposed Bill Ralston for the role. Are we perceiving a trend here? We might be. In which case, I'd just like to throw my not inconsiderable weight behind the Petra Bagust for Mayor campaign.

In conclusion, can I just recommend to you all the Workers day Out at Western Springs tomorrow. It's about a bottom line for workers. As even the NBR polls showed this week, New Zealanders overwhelmingly believe in something a bit more decent than what Max Bradford and his soulless employer chums are proposing, and this is a chnace to show that. Your holidays do matter. See you there.


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

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