Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

31st July 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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well, another week, another crazy deluge, another wanton failure of public utilities - this time in Northland and the East Coast respectively. Christ almighty. But we'll get over it.

Indeed, "get over it" should probably be the title of the new national anthem. It should be sung loudly in the ears of everyone who whinged about 'The New Zealand Wars' - as opposed, of course, to merely debating it. Some people have a little trouble swallowing the idea that the cowboys didn't usually wear white hats in this particular movie.

Basically, the side with the big guns and the imperial wanderlust generally doesn't come out too well in revisionist histories, which is what James Belich's book is. Yes, book. It came out eight years ago, and was received as a significant work. But in 1998, Belich turns it into a fascinating, if mildly eccentric, TV series and suddenly everyone's an expert. Can't you people read?

Anyway, as historical embarassments go, it could be a lot worse. The Australians in their darker moments have to own up to an early colonial history much more cruel and degraded than ours.

The Australians have also had the incredible cheek to win a rugby test against us. And then the Springboks did the same thing. Cue major outbreak of national whingeing - spiced up with long blasts of parochial flatulence from various provinces. Let's have a another rousing chorus of 'Get Over it', shall we?

The team goes out with three of the greatest players in our rugby history absent owning to retirement, and another on his last legs, and loses twice, fairly narrowly, to the other best two teams in the world. Shit happens. IT'S JUST A GAME.

That doesn't mean I won't be nervous right down to my viscera when the lads take the field tomorrow, to try and defend the Bledisloe Cup against Australia. I so desperately want that them to win that I can barely express it. But hey ...

Speaking of rugby, a progress prize for best political metaphor of the year goes to the New Zealand Herald leader writer who, in considering the likely political leverage of New Zealand First's "tight five" noted drily that Act had a full pack of eight. Very good.

As it turns out political leverage was the flavour of the week, after Neil Kirton decided not to risk failing to be expelled from the New Zealand First caucus and expelled himself. Like Christine Fletcher's public spitting of the National dummy, this was not unconnected with a strong desire to be mayor somewhere - in his case, Napier.

Winston Peters, in the face of pure mathematics, continued to insist he was part of a majority government. Jenny Shipley, for the second time this month, had a brain fart and said something she would be encouraged to regret.

There would have been far less talk about the government falling if she hadn't blathered on about snap elections two weeks ago. She began this week by saying she'd like to have a more formal relationship with that nice Mr Dunne from the United Party. There was talk of doing a deal, of not standing a candidate against him next time, perhaps even a ministerial post in the wind. Face it, if you were Prime Minister and you could replace Jack Elder with Peter Dunne, you'd do it, wouldn't you?

But she wasn't allowed to. And the very thing which had made her mutter darkly of going to the polls - a minority government - is already with us. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It might be a little more MMP-ish. And if happens to slow down the sort of disreputable lawmaking that's been practiced this year, all the better.

Yet another bill got shoved through on urgency this week - this time it was the ARST legislation Jenny Shipley concocted with the Auckland Mayoral Forum, a body notable mainly for its utter lack of constitutional credibility. It's a better deal than Maurice Williamson's mad idea of a share giveaway; but it's legislation born out of damage control.

The most interesting thing abut the Local Government Amendment Bill (No6) is the provision that if Infrastructure Auckland wants to sell more than 24.9% of Ports of Auckland, it will have to hold a referendum. The worst thing is that not so much as a crumb from the tables of transport and drainage falls to the arts, or to the Auckland City's stricken museums. Christine Fletcher voted against the bill as every step, but the government, with the help of Dunne, Act and the inscrutable Alamein Kopu, showed it could pass a bill anyway. It didn't really much matter what Fletcher did.

On reflection, I'm a little less forgiving of Metro for that 'Meet the next mayor of Auckland' cover. It just seems a little too cosy, a little bit too much like those doing-lunch stories Ralston was so fond of early in his editorial tenure. Sort of kissy-kissy Chrissie.

They know that Chrissie isn't actually the most capable contender, but they also know that she has a profile and therefore a good chance of winning. It's no great act of editorial bravery to hitch one';s wagon to the glamour candidate, really. Imagine if they'd put someone who wasn't well-known - say, Victoria Carter - on the cover.

I don't know that much about Carter, but I she does appear to have emerged unbowed from membership of the Mercury Energy Consumer Trust and leadership of the Auckland Kindergarten Association. One got shafted by Mercury Energy and the other got shafted by the government, so anyone still standing after that must have some fortitude.

Picking the favourite is of course a popular pastime in the press; it makes you look good when the votes are all cast. For a while last year, National Business Review apparently actually decided it would support Labour in a general election as a matter of editorial policy. It may yet do so again.

Metro was of course swiftly joined by Auckland NOW, who are quite daft but not so daft that they don't know a bandwagon when they see one and have declared her their mayoral candidate. Like Chrissie, Auckland NOW have promised that they'll sort out this old Britomart nonsense.

Beware of anyone who says that. Truth is, we're in so deep in Britomart that saving, by the grace of almighty God, some environmental obstacle to resource consent, it'll cost us $124 million or so to get out. I really don't know where we actually should proceed from here, beyond inflicting the most savage democracy possible on those who did this deal.

Back in Welly, the exciting saga of Roger Estall, fearless chairman of the Fire Service Commission continued this week. On advice from the Crown Law Office, Estall will now be banned from moonlighting for the creative insurance brokers Marsh and McLennan, and won't be allowed to go straight back there at the end of his tenure. He'll also have to put his shares in a "blind trust, which doesn't seem very blind if he knows what shares are in it. But how many shares? Estall, most reluctantly, told a select committee he owned fewer than 100 shares in Marsh and McLennan. Turns out he has 300 shares and and 750 options. The Alliance has already made a Parliamentary privileges committee complaint over the discrepancy. Shows no sign of going away, this one.

The stupidest saga of the week is the Ministry of Youth Affairs' contortions over a planned youth suicide awareness concert in Christchurch. Like previous events in Auckland and Wellington, this one is organised by enterprising teenagers. And what's the ministry done? Sent out letters warning other agencies off the whole thing.

Can't these people work it out? Well, no. Not if Youth Affairs CEO Annette Dixon is anything to go by. Even if she and her officials really do know best, it wouldn't hurt for them to reach out and to stop behaving in such an arrogant and patronising manner.

What has the Minister of Youth Affairs, Deborah Morris, been doing lately anyway, besides slowly morphing into a double for Jenny Shipley? It might be a measure of her commitment that her special young person's Website, 'Youth Works' [] hasn't been updated for five months. In fact, she only ever bothered with it for one month.

It'll be a shame when it eventually comes down, though, because some it's really priceless. There's a wonderful bit about landmines, with a picture of Morris - are no fewer than three pictures of her on the page, just in case we forget what she looks like - making a speech in Ottawa last year. Just like Lady Di, right?

Anyway, landmines."They explode without warning when you step on one," she writes. I think that's the idea, actually. If they issued a warning, you'd run away, wouldn't you?

There's also a bit about drugs. "There are lots of different types of drugs out there," writes the Minister of the Bleeding Obvious, before sharing the insight that "It's a really confusing business because all drugs are different, have different effects, different purposes and have differing legal status."

This is not really the way to reach the hearts and minds of today's teenagers, is it? On the other hand, if I'd been a kid at that youth suicide awareness concert in Wellington, I'd remember it for the rest of my life. 13,000 kids in one place in pursuit of something other than the sponsor's product! That's amazing! Sure, messages about suicide need to be delivered carefully when they're given from a stage. But isn't that precisely where the ministry could have helped?

Dixon declared on Holmes that Youth Affairs wouldn't want to associate itself with a "rock concert", especially after the Welllington gig, because although the council and the police had no complaints, young people there "weren't safe". Maybe they weren't and maybe they didn't want to be. But as risks go, it was a pretty good one really, wasn't it?


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

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