Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

10th July 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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how nice it is to be back with you, and please do pardon my absence last week. It's just that the government made me sick.

Well how else is any sensible observer supposed to react to the shambles from Max Bradford, who demanded urgency on the consideration of his Electricity Reform Bill? Now, if ever there was legislation that deserved to be coolly, calmly and thoroughly examined, this is it. Because it concerns the use of our most precious resources, it reaches to the very heart of us.

It got worse, much worse, when Bradford allowed the debate to begin before had admitted that his people hadn't actually finished writing the bill yet. In an almost unprecedented episode, Parliament had to be suspended so he could go away and get his act together.

This comes on top of another extraordinary episode where the government called urgency and then didn't turn up - well, not one National MP anyway. What is this? Some sort of drive to be the worst government New Zealand has ever endured?

That's the bad news, I guess. The good news - and I've established that some of you out there do love to get the good news - is that people are noticing. The Herald even stirred itself editorially to rip into the shambles around the electricity bill, and the people spoke in a CM Research Poll this week.

In a remarkable result, Jenny Shipley's coalition appeared to have lost public confidence on almost every front. Fully 75% of those polled thought the Ship and her deputy were paddling different canoes when it came to economic policy. Only New Zealand First escaped poll punishment, largely because you can't really compress a margin-of-error rating.

Labour, which is presumably still working up its "third way" pitch for next year's general election, finds itself back in front with the kind of vote you'd fancy as a mandate for minority government. And Act, for all the money it's spent, taxpayer funds included, is only just shading 5% - only half the support enjoyed by those lefty nutters in the Alliance.

The Alliance has no doubt gained a boost from the profile of MP Grant Gillan, the former fireman who has been keenly pursuing the strange goings-on in the Fire Service Commission. He's not alone, and Labour's Trevor Mallard has also been well in his element at the Internal Affairs Select Committee investigation into the commission.

They're having a wonderful time, and no more so than this week, when commission chairman Roger Estall begged not to be required to answer a question about his shareholding in insurance brokers Marshall and McLennan. He did have to answer, and he did own shares. Not a good look.

Marshall and McLennan, among other things, has been devising avoidance schemes, which allow big businesses to minimise their fire levies by under-insuring properties. So they're shorting the Fire Service, which nonetheless turns up to fight their fires. Who makes up the difference? You and me, folks.

The Auditor General presented a report to the select committee this week highlighting the use of such schemes, and recommending urgent action to tighten the system. Now the clever ones amongst you will recall that the Fire Service Commission was in fact conducting its own audit of such dodges when Estall came to power last year. Estall cancelled that audit.

It's clear, is it not, that the most pressing issue for the Fire Service is to stop large companies ripping it off at our expense - and not cutting the number of firefighters by a quarter in the name of "modernisation".

The bad news is that two of the firemen who ambushed Estall in Dunedin and harangued him as he left his hotel were summarily dismissed. Okay, they overstepped the mark, but to fire without even a hearing two men with more than a quarter century of service each is just plain thuggish.

The good news is that the two Auckland firemen apparently chosen at random for the chop after protest meetings were held at stations here, won't even be disciplined. Somebody's got the wind up, I think - and that's also why the commission has suddenly agreed to go to mediation with its firefighters.

So that's some sort of endorsement of the right to protest - and a bunch of students got an even bigger one this week when a Wellington District Court judge decided that as New Zealand citizens they did have the right to protest in the grounds of Parliament without being arrested en masse.

A little more good news too, in the shape of some more balanced coverage of the Tainui Maori Trust Board, which was pretty much assasinated recently in the NBR. It amazes me that the same people who airily declare welfare to be "poor-quality spending" are so keen for Tainui to spend its entire $170 million Treaty settlement bailing out the State's obligations.

I'm not entirely happy with Bob Mahuta driving a $150,000 Lexus, but then I think it's stupid for anybody to drive a car that expensive. Mahuta got a $100,000-odd payment from the Trust Board, too. But for goodness sake, the man has spent most of his adult life pursuing Tainui's Treaty claim and developing its economic sovereignty. I fondly await NBR's "expose" of what sort of car Rod Deane and Peter Shirtcliffe drive.

On a similar tip, Tau Henare got bagged for flying first class to Britain and back, and made it worse by making excuses. Take it from me, MPs travelling first class is a waste of money. It's just a big wank that they shouldn't be allowed to get away with - but they all do. Business Class, on the other hand, is a minimum requirement if you want anybody to actually function on arrival. On any decent airline, it's very nice.

Tau also brought back some moko mokai - smoked heads. It was a worthy action which he rather spoiled with too much glory-hunting. The heads, having been uplifted from British museums, are now sitting in a vault at Te Papa, where nobody really knows what to do with them. Oh well.

Oh, and those of you who read Paul Holmes column in the Herald will no doubt be pretty freaked out by your regular insights into the wee man's mind. Yes, he writes and apparently thinks, just like he talks. But you might also have wondered at the identity of the "private sector figure" mentioned by Holmes in his why-I'm-not-running-for-mayor-my-God-is-that-really-the-time column.

Holmes said this man, whilst in the course of slurping a few free ones at an Eden Park corporate box, bragged that whatever happened with Britomart, it'd cost the council $100 million to get out of it. You might as well know that the man was Peter Cross, the council property officer who drive Briotmart through, then picked up a plum job with the developers. How do you feel about that?

The stuff about getting out of Britomart appears to be true, and I wish someone would explain that to the wild-eyed young men from Auckland Now, who seem to think the council can just walk away. Incidentally, who else has found themselves on the highly scientific Auckland Now mailing list? Any guesses on where they got their database?

Auckland Now also claim they'll freeze rates and spending for three years - which would actually be a disaster for Auckland. Those Citizens and Ratepayer idiots have deferred so much maintenance over the years that the sad fact is, it's going to cost us money to avoid the city's infrastructure collapsing. Or maybe you like shit in the harbour every time it rains.

Just briefly, kia ora to Donna Awatere Huata, who has announced herself as Act's candidate for my patch, Auckland Central. Now, I've always had some respect for her, but her explanation that Maori people just don't understand Act's policies so there's no point standing in a Maori seat is preposterous. I think Maori understand very well indeed that her party has wilfully and cynically played the race card when it suited.

And finally, congratulations to Shayne Carter, who was this week declared "the godfather of New Zealand indie" by the Evening Post. Well done, Shayne! Our thoughts, of course, should also be with Chris Knox, who will no doubt be devastated at the loss of his title. Chin up, Chris. I'm down in Wellington next week, so I'll see what I can do for you then. How would "grandfather of New Zealand indie" do? Or even "governor general of New Zealand indie"? I'm working on it


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

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