Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

1st May 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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and what about that Monday, eh? Lion Breweries sold up to the Japanese, Sean Fitzpatrick announced his retirement from all rugby and that poor person in their car got squashed like a bug by the truck that crossed the median barrier on the southern motorway.

Enough excitement for anyone, I'd have though - and especially for the two lucky, lucky drivers who passed under the truck as it flew through the air on its way to totally snot the car in the middle lane. The moral here may be: always drive in the fast lane, just in case.

Another sort of juggernaut is even now flying through the air on its way to squash the roof of the Labour Party - and who knows who'll have to be cut out of the wreckage. After living a charmed life last year, when the flakey folk who answer opinion polls were giving them nearly 50% of the vote just for not being the government, Labour is finding it hard to get a break right now.

Yes, it's the Taranaki-King Country by-election, made necessary by the retirement from Parliament of one James Brendan Bolger. If Labour could have picked a spot to contest a by-election, it would have been nowhere near this electorate, where National has a bloody huge majority and where it picked up only 13% of the vote and came third at the general election.

As it happens, one poll has Labour running at 17% and coming third, which you could see as an improvement. Nobody does see it that way, of course, because the party in second place is Act, which has been campaigning for ever, bending the rules on spending and dishing up dodgy populism by the truckload.

It seems Act is picking up protest votes from true-blue farmers, and also - bizarrely - those of many of the people who voted New Zealand First into second place at the last election. What mental process leads these people to go from Winston Peters to Richard Prebble, I really don't know. They are not my people.

But what they think is shaping politics on the national stage, which is a real problem for Labour. Loath as I am to recommend anything remotely Blairite, I think there's a job for a good spin doctor here. The press is still in love with Jenny Shipley, even though workfare, electricity reform the Auckland asset shambles and the banal and deceitful Code of Social and Family Responsibility have troubled even the most rightward-leaning papers.

Foremost among the Shipley boosters must be the Listener's Jane Clifton. If I have to read another column which concludes with an approving passage about wise, clever Jenny, I think I'm gonna hurl. Clifton has in the past delivered witty and perceptive commentary on Parliamentary life. She still does, probably. I just hope that her backdoor relationship with National Cabinet minister Murray McCully isn't beginning to have an undue influence on what she writes.

One man who can afford all the spin-doctoring half a billion bucks can buy is Douglas Myers, who this week announced he had sold his stake in the family business, Lion Nathan, to the Japanese brewer Kirin, but would stay on as chairman.

Kirin bought up more stock, to take its ownership of Lion to 45 per cent, and it must be said the way it was done - which ensured that small investors didn't get stampeded in the rush, was a credit to Lion's board and to Myers.

I'm afraid it stops there for me and Doug Myers, however. I'm surprised there hasn't been more attention paid to the thinkpiece on local government that he wrote for the Herald last week. Amid a lot of the usual Business Roundtable mumbo-jumbo - some of it really quite contradictory - he declared that libraries are not a public good.

While local government's building of sewers benefited him personally, it enriched him not a bit if his brother man read a book, said Myers. Yes folks, he was actually calling for an end to public libraries as we know them. What an arsehole.

I do tend to think, too, that Myers has been lucky that his family business was in brewing, and not in that other popular recreational drug, cannabis - or there'd have been no knighthood for him, would there? But we learned this week that, like Myers' brews, the dope industry is getting into sports sponsorship.

A policeman in the far North told this week of his belief that dope was so rife in the local sports scene that bags of it are raffled off at after-match functions, and even awarded to the player of the day. Whatever happened to the good old meat raffle?

If it's true, it doesn't surprise me. And it doesn't surprise me that the local drug and alcohol counsellor said this week that a lot of people in the North are in denial about their cannabis problems. It doubly doesn't surprise me that he said you couldn't get anyone to talk about it because they feared the long hand of the law.

Jenny Shipley, who was told the same things by public health officials when she was Minister of Health, still isn't listening, judging by her gung-ho commitment to prohibition this week. As ever, denial is as popular with the politicians as it is with the pot smokers.

It might have to be asked what the editors of the Sunday News had been smoking last weekend, too. As an addendum to a particularly pious Anzac weekend editorial about remembering old soldiers, they declared that:

"There is one event we will all soon forget and that is the Kiwi showing in the Anzac Test. The New Zealand league side (glorified Warriors) was unlikely to repeat last September's miracle and win against the Aussies. And so it was."

Except it wasn't, was it, sports fans? The Kiwis, in a remarkable show of courage and endeavour, came from two tries down to beat the Australians. It was a great win, much better than last year's and, as a mate of mine noted, the Kiwis, so-long the poor cousins, went out there and played with the kind of mana we usually only see in All Black rugby union teams

Sure, most of us were writing off their chance before the game, just like the paper did. But we didn't do it in quite such a nasty manner, and we didn't do it in print, did we? God knows what went wrong - after all, the game was on Friday night and the paper didn't come out till Sunday - but the apology had better be a grovelling one.

And so, to Sean.

Fitzpatrick, that is. The outstanding rugby player of his generation announced his retirement from the game this week, his bung knee having failed to heal. And it could only be a player of his generation who would be open enough to speak the way he did this week about his career in the national game. Somewhere in the midst of an extraordinary schedule of media interviews, he told the Herald, "I love the sheer satisfaction it gave to people; how much it lifted their lives ... it meant so much to be part of that."

Those of you who don't follow the game might struggle to understand it all, but the rest of us know what he meant. I count myself lucky to have been able to thank him personally a little while ago. I still derive enormous satisfaction from following rugby football - especially when there are matches like the Auckland Blues virtuoso effort at Eden Park on Sunday. It lifts my mood, it makes me nervous and it gives me something to shout about. It'll go on, but the game won't be quite the same without Fitzy.

So thanks again, mate.


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

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