Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

24th April 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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and so farewell then, Neil. The man who would have us eat Great New Zealand Television has departed the kitchen, his great dish yet uncooked, the plateful of hors d'oevres he'd whipped up for TV2 something of an embarassment and the tasty corn chips and salsa over at MTVNZ not yet certain of a refill.

Meanwhile, the diners ponder who shot the chef, and why. Was it a response to the undeniable upsurge of indignation at the mostly daft nature of new local programming? Was it a response to Neil Roberts' relentlessly colourful personal life? In which case, why hire him in the first place? Or was it simply, as seems likely, that Roberts' face didn't fit in the new organisation being put together by TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis?

Ellis, who seems to be a very scary little android indeed, may well have been briefed to prepare the corporation - or certain parts of it - for sale. He and TVNZ board chairman Rosanne Meo have already met with Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan, presumably to discuss such things.

But the one far fewer people know about is Crown Castle, the group part-owned by Michael Fay and David Richwhite which - via its subsidiary CTI - really, really wants to buy TVNZ's transmission arm, BCL. Senior CTI officials are in Australia right now looking to buy the Australian equivalent, and Fay and Richwhite are helping out. They've talked to the government here already. Doesn't this all seem horribly familiar?

Anyway, Neil Roberts' departure also seems to have been related to a personal grievance case he was taking against his employer. It may be that the settlement to this nasty argument involved him leaving with something over half a million dollars in his back pocket.

And fair play to him, too. Would that the unemployed people soon to be shoved into Peter McCardle's new work-for-the-dole scheme - at about one thirtieth of Roberts' salary - would have the same rights.

But they won't be covered by even the relatively meagre provisions of the Employment Contracts Act while they do these fake jobs. So if somebody - who, it isn't specified - decides the work they're performing is "unsatisfactory", they can have their pay, which is already less than the minimum wage, cut by 40%. No other worker in the country is is subject to that kind of arbitrary punishment, and there seems to be no protection or appeal process whatsoever. Just lots of punishment.

Such a scenario may become more prevalent than you'd think, because management in these "jobs" is likely to be of very poor quality. In the real world, human resources management skills are valued and rewarded - anyone who has ever worked somewhere we're they're lacking will know what a problem that can be. In Peter McCardle's world, there will be no money to train or retain managers, and God knows what sort of assessment of their work will be conducted.

We are invited to believe that McCardle has been beavering away on this great work - which was part of New Zealand First's requirement for the coalition agreement - for the last 18 months. How bizarre is it, then, that the organisations he is expecting to provide and manage all these jobs - voluntary organisations and local councils - have not been consulted and have no idea what, if anything, they're expected to do.

They also aren't clear what kind of work the workfarers will be put to. Will they be, say, building community facilities? In which case, do the words "Cave Creek" strike a chord with anyone?

I'm not knocking schemes which divert unemployment benefit money into job opportunities. When I came back to this country in the early 90s, I benefited for some time from short-term schemes launched by the National government - Taskforce Green and Job Plus, specifically.

Although they amounted to marginally more than the dole, these schemes helped me gain experience and a professional profile which have transformed me into the successful property-owning citizen I am today.

But those schemes were attractive also because they allowed me to keep other money I was able to earn, rather than see it abated away at 97 cents in the dollar on the dole. McCardle's scheme, so far as I can see, does not do that. In fact, with its built-in punishments for mobility, it seems likely to trap people in dumb, low-value work.

Those schemes also focus on people who want to work - which, in an economy where employment is relatively scarce, is the right thing to do. Worry about the 1000-odd people who've been lounging around on the benefit for the past 10 years when you've found jobs for the tens of thousands who do want to get up early and improve themselves.

Finally, of course, it will be almost impossible to prevent these made-up jobs from swamping real jobs and taking work away from real small businesses. The frankly immoral scheme in Wisconson only "worked", after a fashion, because the local factory owners were desperate for very cheap, unskilled labour. Here, even Treasury is officially estimating that every four 20-hour-a week workfare jobs will kill off one real-full-time job.

Undaunted, New Zealand First has also been demanding that the government walk away from the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. It looks like the government will be backpedalling on the MAI, in part because of NZ First, and in part because so many other countries have so many objections and exceptions that the thing isn't a goer anyway. I'm relieved - not so much because I think the MAI was the work of the devils of international capital, but because I've still had no luck in forming an opinion on it.

I could hardly be opposed to foreign investment when I work for a company which is literally 99% owned by a man in America; and until we start saving more and borrowing less money as a nation, we will need foreign capital to create jobs. Fact.

If, as its proponents claim, the MAI will simply establish a level playing field, and assure investors that they'll get to play by the same rules as the home team, rather than have the local ref change the rules at will, then it seems only fair and sensible. If it's a charter for multinational exploitation and asset-stripping, I'm against it. Right?

Whatever, it's on the shelf now, as the 70 Maori who have been marching down from Northland to protest it could have seen if they'd bothered to read the bloody paper on Wednesday. Having assured police that they would not attempt to walk across the Auckland Harbour bridge, they went ahead and did just that. The ones who didn't walk deliberately drove their cars at walking pace.

The result was a huge traffic jam which made the lives of thousands of ordinary people that much harder that day. And then the protesters all burst into tears because some of them got arrested.

I'm dumbstruck by the stupidity and arrogance of people who think they can do that in support of a cause which was basically over, and which they didn't appear to fully understand anyway. Ironically, provision for the Treaty of Waitangi was the only exception our government had actually seen fit to put forward.

We have a right to get angry when the government messes us around because it thinks it knows what's good for us, and so do we when the other side does the same thing.

Speaking of which, once again, the Auckland City Council has shown that it believes its role is to morally police us all. Laugh 98 comedy festival lead sponsor the ASB declared on Wednesday that it didn't want to have its "brand" associated with the New Jim Rose Circus, after getting a wee look during the gala opening night at the Town Hall. The content of the show, which has been touring the world for more than a decade, apparently came as a surprise to them. What a pack of bankers, eh?

This can not and does not explain why the organisers of Laugh 98 were told on Wednesday that unless they could guarantee that the Circus act would not be "controversial" the council would withdraw its venues for the festival.

"Controversial", huh? Well, I think it's pretty "controversial" when it rains and the beach near my house gets flooded with raw shit. I think it's "controversial" that a Peter Cross, a city employee should have sold the council on the highly unusual Britomart proposal - and then, after closing the deal, taken up a job with the developer. I think it's pretty "controversial" that the council which promised that Britomart would cost ratepayers nothing has already spent millions paying building owners to withdraw their objections. I think it's very "controversial" that the whole thing - the size of seven rugby fields - is going to look like a bomb site throughout the America's Cup and all our other millenium events.

I think all these things are more controversial than a man lifting weights with his nipples, or some female sumo wrestlers. And what happens next? Will next year's list of comedians be vetted to make sure they won't be telling any "controversial" jokes?

Typically, as has been the case with Britomart, the council also made sure its own silliness cost us all money. Jim Rose and his company were, probably quite rightly, paid $10,000 to cover the costs of finding a new venue. Is this at all sensible?

Thank goodness, then, for the Weekend Herald, which will surely save us. Or something. The Herald's much-hyped new weekend edition - which arrived last Saturday with a 20 cent price rise - actually looks pretty good. The design is brisk and contemporary, the various sections, if of very standard nature, are reasonably substantial, and I'm sure it will continue to develop.

But whose idea was that desperate lead story? Under the headline 'Happy pills pack a disguised downer' we were delivered the shocking news that taking Ecstasy on on a Saturday night can make you feel a bit morose on a Tuesday and that "the small pills change hands for big money".

A professor at Otago University testified that it would take "large-scale and difficult research to establish a clear link between escstasy use and youth suicide". Let me save the health budget and declare that there isn't one. The kids dishing out $100 a pop for Es and going partying are not the kids who are taking their own lives.

We were also treated to the rather extraordinary views of Auckland drug squad boss Detective Inspector Craig Duncan, who spoke wistfully of the powers enjoyed by drug-suppression police in Bangkok, who can raid nightclubs and test teenagers' urine for drugs like ecstasy. My goodness.

My advice, kids, is to avoid looking at all morose, depressed, or even a bit hacked off, especially if it's a Tuesday. Mr Duncan and his team might pick you as having an "Eeeky Tuesday", pull you over and test your urine for drugs. Apart from being messy, this would also constitute a major embarassment. So whistle while you work, stay on the sunny side, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. Your dignity may depend on it.


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

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