Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

15th May 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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Winston Peters got himself back into Parliament - and, eventually, into government - on the basis that he was the champion of the little folk - a man not afraid to stalk the corridors of power giving the corporate bully-boys what-for. How ironic, then, that he has spent most of his time as Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister kicking the poorest and least powerful in society.

His second Budget this week signalled pretty much a total about-face on his once-were posturing. The Budget principally heeds the advice of business - and there's not anything wrong with that. Business is good, and it is only businesses which will get us out of the trough we're in. Some of the tinkering to make life easier for business is sensible.

Indeed, while I'd be inclined to place moves to divest both the producer boards and ACC of their respective monopolies on the growing list of things which could eventually go horribly, horribly wrong, both of those make sense in the context of a conservative government. It's a considerably more coherent budget than the one Peters delivered last year.

But all these things could have been delivered without persecuting the people who have the hardest road to travel. Along with a lot of cant about getting people back into the workforce, the government extended its bogus workfare plans to solo mothers, sickness and invalid beneficiaries. The Budget holds out the ridiculous pretence that the government can create fake jobs for 350,000 people even as unemployment rises. An extra $122 million for fake jobs this year was announced, but guess what? They're gutting a training budget to pay for it. Gee, that's really thinking in the long term, ain't it?

Sickness and invalid beneficiaries will be work-tested, and all new sickness beneficiaries will receive significantly less. Interesting, that. You got sick yesterday, you get one amount. Get sick today, live on less. Don't both looking for justice in it, there is none. The government simply wished to avoid the bad press involved in taking money away from sick people. Much easier to dribble people into the system at the new, lower rate.

Okay, there are clearly some shirkers on the sickness benefit. But there are a hell of a lot of sick people too. Is it morally sound to inflict suffering on people in genuine need in order to weed out a less deserving minority? I don't think so.

On one point - and one only - I agree with Richard Prebble. Even if the "unsubsidised jobs" promised by Peters do somehow rise up out of the ground before the eyes of startled solo mothers, they're not much good to the poorest people until the tax and abatement regime is fixed to make it viable to take the jobs. It just isn't at the moment.

It'll also be the least capable of resistance who cop it in changes to the Employment Contracts Act, which, according to Peters "will improve the prospects of New Zealanders seeking work". Translation: they will improve the prospects of New Zealanders getting the flick at the whim of their employers.

For a man so keen to hold his head high, Peters, or whoever wrote the Budget for him, indulged in an amazing amount of euphemism. Thus, the Asian Crisis became the "Asian downturn"; all benefits became the "community wage"; benefit cuts became "realignments" or "opportunities"; bulk funding became "the fully-funded option"; and, of course, CHEs became hospitals again.

There are, it should be noted, a couple of plain psychotic touches to the budget. The abolition of the emergency dole for students came out of the blue, with no apparent rationale. Watch the students who can't get holiday jobs drop out.

But the really lunatic announcement is the legalisation of parallel importing of copyright goods. After wittering on about providing certainty to people in business, the government has unilterally removed the basis of most of the businesses in the recording, book publishing and computer software industries.

Yes, bFMers it may mean slightly cheaper CDs, as some chancer jumps in and ships in a few boxes of the Massive Attack album from wherever they're cheap. But why - and actually, how - should record companies promote and develop artists, when they'll just be undercut and won't get their investment back?

Say goodbye to the ad budgets which help support bFM and Rip It Up. Say goodbye to the promotional money the record companies chip in into touring artists. Say goodbye to all those PlayStation-sponsored club nights. Say goodbye especially to any thought you had of getting yourself a deal with a big record company, because they won't be in that business any more. If writing's your game, ponder on whether there'll actually be a local Penguin Books to publish your masterpiece.

No one else in the world is doing this. Except Singapore - which happens to be the world's copyright piracy capital - and the Australians - who, having a somewhat more robust democratic process than ours, are actually bogged down in the Senate, where people are explaining what's wrong with the idea.

This appears to be a sop to the Australian government, because it certainly comes out of nothing that has been going on in this country. It runs absolutely perpendicular to the ideas hammered out over the months of select committee discussion that led to the 1994 Copyright Act.

This major alteration to that act is based almost entirely on a report by a private think tank, the Institute of Economic Research, which hardly anyone impacted by it has seen - including the Parliamentary Opposition.

Just to make sure the Opposition didn't have time to find a copy of the report, and see what it actually says, the government shuffled its bill forward two days so it could sleaze it through on the morning after the budget, using its majority to prevent it going to a select committee. It's disgusting and it will backfire - as it did in Norway, where a similar law was reversed after two years in which prices actually went up.

Anyway, enough of that - and onto the really important things - like beer. So who else reckons the local Heineken's off at the moment? What do you think, city slickers? Does the beer which once said so much to you about your own life taste quite as sweet - or, rather, as dry? - as it used to?

After consultation with a number of beer experts - and aren't we all? - I have concluded that they're probably getting it out the brewery door a bit too quick. And that's why you're finding the odd Heine that is, to put it bluntly, flat, sour and metallic. Take note, Dominion Brewereies.

Still, it's nothing on the scale of the Great Lion Brewery Workers Strike of 1984. We were bloody sure back then that Doug Myers was getting Lion Red, or even Leopard Continental, from one plant, adding caramel and calling it Steinlager. It was horrible. But on the other hand, we were drinking Steinlage Blue, so what would we know?

Anyway, if the Heinies are off, does that mean Stella Artois is set to become the premium lager du jour? No. Most of us will steer clear of the Stella on the very good grounds that only wankers drink it. If you're asking, I'll have an Oranjeboom - crap Dutch name, but right tasty and only $10.95 at discerning liquor outlets.

I certainly won't be drinking the beer that sponsors my rugby team, the Auckland Blues. I don't think anybody in Auckland actually drinks DB Export Gold - although I hear it's very popular in Hokitika. Still, best of luck to the Blues as they shoot for the top-of-the-table finish in Wellington.

And an extra loud shout out to the Gal Blacks - or, as they're known in more rustic circles, the All Cracks - as they prepare for the final of the Woman's World Cup. Given that they were expected to crush the competition, you'd think TV coverage would have been thought of beforehand, wouldn't you?

And, finally, I'd like to get my hands on a bottle or two of that Cooper's Creek export Sauvignon Blanc which was actually full of common old muller thurgau. Firstly, just to see what it actually tastes like, but mainly because it seems like a suitably shonky tipple with which to toast the hapless Mercury Energy. Two hour-long outages in a week, and a touch-and-go situation for months yet. They really aren't in control of their shit, are they?


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

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