Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

24th July 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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there is somewhere among my possessions a profoundly unfinished novel, with a working title so naff I dare not speak it in public. At the end of that manuscript, a wall of water bursts through, um, a wall, and flows until all the rivers join up and Aotearoa is awash with aqua pura - and we cut out on a sort of metaphysical aerial shot and a load of of not-entirely-clear significance.

Whatever was in my mind then swam back through lately, as it rained and rained and the North Island became awash with water - and I had to drive a car the length of it. How vulnerable we are and how dangerous is our terrain when it wants to be. Taupo was only a southerly storm away from spilling its shores, and, with its floodgates open, the Waikato River was fairly belting through the Huka Falls. We stopped and looked and it was awesome.

But it was all nothing against the monstrous power the sea inflicted on the coast of Papua New Guinea. Thousands of people who lived in a place that looked a bit like paradise by the sea have had their lives and families torn apart, their bodies crushed and pierced and broken by the ocean. Something about it makes it wierder and more frightening that your average international-class disaster.

It made the way we called the Auckland power failures this year a "crisis" or a "disaster" seem a bit lame, really. The one thing the two have in common is that they could both happen again. So said the public inquiry into it all, which laid the blame firmly at the door of Mercury Energy. Fix it, please.

Further massive service failures - this time telephones - in Masterton and Palmerston North have now conjured the silly spectacle of Telecom CEO Rod Deane being called into Maurice Williamson's office for a jolly good telling off. What is this, the 1950s? It's not up to Maurice Williamson to spank Telecom, that's the market's job. If Telecom doesn't make sufficient investment in its infrastructure to guarantee supply, its customers should look elsewhere. But there's nowhere else to look. If the people who lost service had a choice, do you think they'd stay with Telecom? But Telecom owns the access network, so we live with Telecom's mistakes and Telecom's planning decisions.

Hey, so Christine Fletcher is the next mayor of Auckland. Well, that's what it says on the cover of Metro. How very organised of her. Jack up your press eight weeks in advance and, no matter what happens to the government or the party you're part of, at least you've got your campaign launch off to a good start.

As it happened, the coalition was just trying to level out a bit after the New Zealand First debacle, which petered to a halt with the "tight five" Maori MPs apologising, promising to behave and looking very bitter and twisted in doing so. As well they might, given that Peter Brown, the MP who proposed the vote which cost Tau Henare his deputy leadership - and then put up his own hand for the job - is whispered to have had an agenda in that respect for longer than anyone thought.

So when might Chrissie have told her leader of her plans? After she'd jacked up the story? After the interview? After the mag went to press? In the event, the Prime Minister did not know until after the August Metro was delivered to newsagents on Thursday morning. So, was it always the intention that Chrissie would protect her safe National seat safe from a nasty by-election by keeping that job even if she wins the mayoralty? And doesn't she think that if Auckland is at such a crossroads, it could do with a full-time Mayor?

It all obviously had a telling effect on the Prime Minister, who, on the day Chrissie announced her candidacy on the newstands, gave an extraordinary press conference. She had been minded to dissolve the government over the last 10 days, she said, and its future was still a matter of day-to-day scrutiny.

Wow. With business confidence now officially at its lowest ebb since 1991, did she really have pipe up to tell the country she'd been having panic attacks? It was a calculated attempt to assert her authority, of course. But it sure didn't sound that way when I heard the news.

People are already referring to Chrissie as the 90s Marilyn Waring. I'm just hanging out to see the Ship stagger drunkenly up a Beehive corridor to declare a snap election and, by golly, we really will have come full circle.

Wake up folks, it was all a dream - Muldoon's still Prime Minister, Dire Straits' 'Brothers In Arms' has not yet been inflicted on the world, sexual contact between men is still a criminal offence, and those US nuclear submarines are still bringing in top-quality LSD to scramble the minds of young New Zealanders. Heh ... heh .... Heh ... I'm sure there are a few people involved in what happened next who would quite the like the chance to have another go at it, but they can't. We're stuck here and now and Richard Prebble says we should scrap that old anti-nuclear policy anyway.

And, according to a Massey University study released this week, we are no longer an egalitarian society. In fact, in terms of wealth distribution, we have the greatest gap between rich and poor of any developed nation. I've been a beneficiary of the new economy, and I'm hardly going to argue against that, but it really seems that for a lot of people there is no mobility any more.

Still, at least we have our holidays. Max Bradford was obliged this week to announce industrial reforms which don't reform very much at all and don't put our statutories up for grabs. He was obviously quite miffed, and pretty much blamed New Zealand First for standing in his way. The great weight of public opinion might have had something to do with it too.

New Zealand First also appears to have gotten in the way of the plans to compel all solo parent beneficiaries with school-age children into "community work" - which is quite odd, because the whole workfare charade is the pet project of New Zealand First's Peter McCardle.

But once again, public submissions, including those from the community groups the government thought would run the fake jobs, said otherwise. The government has also deleted the provision for the cutting off of the benefits of solo parents who don't comply with work-testing requirements - the "do what we say or we'll starve the kids" option.

Things got quite a bit sillier with the $300 million in government spending cuts - to help us through the Asian Crisis you understand - which looked like a panic attack five minutes after they were announced, and have now emerged as a whole lot of creative accounting spiced up with a covert tax attack on drivers and a bit of old-fashioned student-bashing. Bet Jenny Shipley wishes she'd never mentioned that now too.

But anyway, back to Chrissie. I fear her chances of becoming mayor aren't as good as they were a year ago. Bailing out as local government minister just before the Auckland asset wrangle went into crisis mode was hardly a show of fortitude, was it? Actually, it's shaping up as quite a party - what with Jools Topp, Phil the tattooist and the elegantly goateed Peter Urlich all presenting themselves as candidates.

Democracy is not only a spectator sport, and it's not just a game for Rosie Horton or Richard Holden. But my God, I do fret that after the deluge we will look to see who's running the city - and it will be Les Mills, David Hay and Phil Raffills. Forget your water, your electricity and your phones - that would really be a disaster


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

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