Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

19th June 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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and how are we bearing up? Sleep fitfully people, because things are happening in the night that deserve our attention. No, not World Cup football matches. Big things which will shape our social and economic lives for the next few years.

Take Wednesday night. What madness was that? For two weeks our dollar spirals dizzily down, past 50 American cents, to 49 and counting. Much consternation, interest rates up again, belts tightening, exporters happy.

And then, while we snoozed and our markets sat in a blessed darkness, the Americans did what they swore they wouldn't do. They waded in and bought billions of yen, bolstering Japan's wobbly currency - and sending our dollar rocketing back up to 52 US cents. By the next morning, the goalposts had shifted the length of the field, all because of something which didn't really concern us.

It won't last, apparently. Japan's government, a sad case of democratic atrophy, can't be trusted to implement measures to re-stimulate its recessionary economy, and the yen will sink again, taking the Kiwi with it.

But the Americans might just intervene another time, and buy some more yen, because if the Japanese really start to spin out and decide to cash in their billions of dollars in US bonds, the American economic marvel might start to unravel.

Who knows? Who bloody knows? It strikes me that the sheer unpredictability of it all is keeping us from panicking. But it would help if the government could put in a more convincing display. We've got a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister reading from different scripts at the moment.

Winston Peters hasn't tried to sell us compulsory superannuation this week, which is a mercy - but what the hell happened to his speech notes? Somehow, his office released the text of a speech for a Malaysian audience in which he said the top tax rate was about to be cut from 33 to 30 cents in the dollar. Except he didn't. We were invited to believe that the whole thing was a "typographical error" and never really happened at all. Fantastic. I'm feeling really confident about the government. Aren't you?

And I wish Jenny Shipley would display some of that composure she's alleged to have. After being hectored for a week or three about not saving enough, we were more or less instructed to go out and spend our tax cuts and - for the lucky ones - the proceeds of out AMP share windfalls because didn't we know there was a recession threatening?

Three days later, the Ship was on the rocks. Gone was the optimism, replaced by a strikingly ominous warning about public belt-tightening. The axe was hovering over the entire Budget, she said, and nothing was ruled in or out. When reporters asked exactly what spending might be cut, she accused them of being unpatriotic. Fantastic.

Here's a hint: if you want to save money, start with the quarter of a billion dollar bribe to schools to induce them to adopt bulk funding, with the expensive and punitive work for the dole scheme and with the third Anzac frigate.

And could somebody please have a word with Max Bradford about the electricity industry restructuring? This heavy-handed caper was, as recently as April, going to cost the taxpayer nothing. It actually looks like now it's going to cost you and me more than $1 billion to split up ECNZ. And, no, there isn't any guarantee we'll see cheaper electricity.

Hang on! Hold the front page! Latest word from our glorious leaders is that there's no need to panic now that the dollar's back up. Forget what the Prime Minister said yesterday, it's all on, we're in the money and could everyone please quietly return to work until the next time the government panics.

It should have been the ideal environment for the Labour Party to launch what is being touted as a major economic rebranding, bringing Clinton's post-monetarist advisor Robert Reich into the country, in the hope that some of America's magic fairy dust might rub off.

Labour, which got a gratifying boost in the polls this week, needs to differentiate itself from the government - and dissociate itself from what's going on. It's obviously serious - Helen Clark has a new hairdo and Michael Cullen's in overdrive - but, ironically, it was simply too daft a week for the story to get any traction.

It was that kind of week. The police charged a man in the Ben and Oliva Case and didn't even make the front page in Auckland. And Fire Service Commissioner Roger Estall can count himself very bloody lucky more hasn't been made of a bizarre incident over the weekend where he somehow got separated from two other commissioners after a fire alarm mysteriously went off in an apartment block.

The other commissioners harangued firefighters and demanded that they recite the evacuation plan for the building. No one has yet been able to explain the alarm, or Estall's bizarre behaviour. If this was some sort of freelance test by these overpaid insurance industry stooges, then they should be prosecuted. But, of course, it's not being investigated.

Then there was Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party scooping a quarter of the vote in the Queensland state elections, prompting a wet-rag response from Australia's hopeless Prime Minister John Howard, who makes Winston Peters look like Winston Churchill.

Here, of course, there was occasion for New Zealand First and Act to argue about which one of them had taken up the One Nation mantle on this side of the Tasman. Tau Henare and Richard Prebble had an unedifying argument over it. Turns out that NZ First hadn't resorted to cheap racial populism since the last time it faced a general election, and Act hadn't done so since, oh, that by-election in April. What a horrible pair.

Speaking of horrible, the Auckland City Council. The council has decided to keep Metrowater the Local Authority Trading Enterprise it set up to deliver water, take it away and bill us for both. I actually don't think Metrowater's the worst thing that ever happened. Wastewater is at crisis point in Auckland, and it's as well that people who create more of it pay more.

But the crisis is there because of years of inaction by Citizens and Ratepayers-dominated councils. They've cocked it up, just like they cocked up the launch of Metrowater, and just like they've cocked up over Britomart. Speaking of which, if we really are facing five years of tough economic times, then it's not a good time to be committing a huge and speculative downtown prorpety development, is it? Idiots. Do not vote for Citizens and Ratepayers. They do not deserve your vote.

Still, if downtown does fall to bits, it might become a sort of thematic match for the America's Cup effort. Almost unbelievably, the event organisers are facing the loss of up to half the challenger field and haven't yet signed up the lead sponsor, Louis Vuitton. I must say, I'm quite taken with the name of Louis Vuitton's spokesman, though. Step onto the boat, Mr Bruno Trouble!

Anyway, that's it for now. A very big shout to Massive Attack, who really went off at the godforsaken Logan Campbell Centre. They'll no doubt be out buying up large with their big, fat English pounds. Good luck to them. You and I, listeners, should just make sure our affairs are in order as our heads hit the pillows, because it might be a whole new world in the morning


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

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