Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

28th August 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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a few weeks back, at a party in Wellington, I was yarning to an old mate of mine. He couldn't stay, he said, because he was deep into some R&D that had to be done before his boss jumped on a plane to the States to pitch for a bloody big job. He couldn't say more than that.

So anyway, his boss is Peter Jackson, the marvellous movie-making mogul of Miramar, and the job really was as big as it gets. Peter Jackson's Wingnut Films is to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a single cinematic project; one film after another, shooting for 12 months solid on a budget of more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

The money is coming from New Line cinema, a pretty hip, cutting edge former indie house now owned by Time Warner, and most of it will stay in this country. Effectively, Jackson has made a single export sale of more than $200 million - and it makes the $5 million or so the New Zealand Film Commission put into his first four movies look like the investment of a lifetime.

Actually, if you want to look at it that way, Jackson paid back that five million years ago, not least by nurturing bright people like my Unix-using mate. He might not let them see much in the way of daylight, but he pays them well and lets them learn to be the best in the world.

So, where's Act's Rodney Hide, who only last week issued a press release decrying any sort of venture funding or industry development money as stone-age Muldoonism? And where is the lunatic economist Gareth Morgan, who recently inflicted a column on the Herald in which he accused artists, writers and film-makers who got any public money of theft from the taxpayer? Hello?

Of course the prospect of juicy financial returns is not why we fund artists - we do it so we can have a culture. By the way, if you happen to run into Lindsay Perigo at a bar and he whinges about New Zealand On Air, be sure ask him about all those taxpayers in Europe who support his precious bloody opera industry whether they want to or not.

In Ireland, they throw money at artists and writers, and get it back in spades. They've also been doing something similar with their high-tech industries, and now enjoy an astonishing, and very real, boom in that sector too.

It's not that far from film, really. Peter Jackson had about as much chance of borrowing a million dollars to make 'Meet the Feebles' from a bank as Joe Bloggs who goes to his bank manager for a couple of mill to make the next big thing in software. When the banks have made so much out of no-brainer home lending at generous margins, are they going to even look at anything risky? No.

Peter Jackson got noticed by wealthy American film companies because he made several good movies on shoestring budgets. Had there not been funding, he'd quite possibly have given up and gone and done something easier. He has made this point himself repeatedly as the screws have gone on the Film Commission.

Which is why I'm delighted that the Labour Party is promising to follow the Irish model and actively facilitate and, in a modest way, provide venture capital and high-risk finance for local businesses. In a world where success comes to those who, like Jackson, develop intellectual assets, you don't need too many hits to feel like you're doing well.

To be fair, New Zealand First had some similar initiatives written into the coalition agreement, but we all know how effective New Zealand First has been.

In an initiative clearly tinged with some spite, National has made it clear that measures in the coalition agreement - repeal of income and asset testing for longstay geriatric patients, for example - and stuff settled during the coalition - like keeping Max Bradford's clammy hands off our holidays - are all up for grabs.

NZ First deserters Ann Batten and Deborah Morris have subsequently made it clear that they won't support any attempt by National to revisit either of those issues . As independents, they have every right to do so. So why is Richard Prebble accusing them of "blackmailing" the government only a week after he made great public play of warning Jenny Shipley that if she didn't do what Act said she'd better be calling a snap election?

And why is Richard Prebble whingeing about Brierley's falling into foreign hands - those of a pissed-off Malaysian company called Camerlin which owns 20 per cent of Brierley's shares - when it's already two third overseas-owned? And, really, Richard Prebble wringing his hands over foreign investment? Gimme a break.

Prebble's sudden attack of economic nationalism is of course, quite a lot to do with the fact that his party's beloved founder, Roger Douglas, is being threatened with the boot by the Malaysians after only six months in the job. They desperately need a $55 million dividend he doesn't want to pay and they're pitching for control of the group. But hey, that's business. And it does seem to be something Sir Roger doesn't have a lot of luck with.

Furthermore, why is Prebble suddenly demanding that considerable extra time be spent on the Ngai Tahu settlement bill when his chum Derek Quigley is promoting a private members' bill that aims to close all Treaty claims by the year 2000?

Prebble, like quite a number of folks, is suddenly a good friend to the Waitaha people of the South Island, who maintain they predate Ngai Tahu by about 1200 years and want nothing to do with the settlement.

There's enough disquiet about the deal that the Labour Party could have tried to spike it by voting against it in Parliament. But - over the protests of Dover Samuels, Jim Sutton and its prospective partner the Alliance, whose Sandra Lee has family ties to Waitaha - Labour decided to let the bill through.

Did they have one eye on the votes and the economic clout of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu? Probably. But, maybe, after a Waitangi Tribunal decision, seven years work and negotiation ever since the heads of agreement were signed in 1996, they decided it was time for this one to go through.

Surprisingly, it turns out that the government, with its unpredictable array of independents, maybe doesn't need Labour's support anyway. A minor amendment to the interpretation section backed by Labour, the Alliance, Act and two independents still fell on Neil Kirton's abstension.

Treaty Negotiations minister Doug Graham obviously thinks the deal is safe. He announced he'd be resigning at the next election, making it clear he felt his work was done. He can be pompous at times, but Graham's work on the largest, most complex and significant Treaty settlements will ensure him a place in history above many of his colleagues.

His blind spot has long been as Justice minister, on marriage and matrimonial property, which he insists only apply to couples who are not of the same sex. Even as he departs, a select committee is going through a new bill which extends joint property rights to de facto couples - but not gay ones. What is the sense in that?

Okay, if you believe that marriage is a sacred institution only available to qualified heterosexuals, so be it - but why deliberately leave same-sex couples out of a secular bill which is just about people living together? Are we in denial about gay people actually having relationships or what?

Speaking of camp, we mark the first anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales this week. How will it be for you? Same as any other Monday? Thought so. The world which briefly seemed so different without Di has filled the gap. The Woman's Weekly has done a few first anniversary pages, but there might be only a picture, if that, the next. We will hopefully not have to suffer again anything like Julie Burchill's embarrassing biography of the princess, as serialised in the nothing-new $1.50 Star-Times.

The British it seems, are only now starting to come to terms with the mob grieving which followed her death in Paris. A guilty press fanned a hysteria not seen in our generation. Flowers, money, grief, anger everything piled on.

But now, as any number of chancers print up their first anniversary t-shirts, and the Earl Spencer keeps on taking 30 bucks a head off visitors to his so-called "museum" at Althorp, the sheen is fading. At least the British mob has ceased vilifying the royal family and concentrated on others - notably the hapless footballer David Beckham; who also triggered England's emotional panic button and, from a certain angle, actually looked a bit like Di anyway.

Anyway, the world is only ephemerally different without her. We've got more to worry about. Like a global economic crisis sparked by the collapse of the rouble, and a really bloody scary vacuum of power now if Yeltsin really has resigned. It still seems odd that a half-mad alcoholic with a heart condition has been Eastern Europe's best hope for stability, but such is the case.

Weirder still is the news that the US Federal Reserve intervened overnight to prop up the Aussie dollar. Not ours, but theirs. Does this augur well for the All Blacks' last chance to drag a bit of credibility out of the season this weekend? One hopes so.

In the meantime, speaking of credibility - artist and all that, it's all on the line for the inaugural Male Fox award for the 95BFM New Zealand Music Awards this weekend. Toogood or Carter? Yetton or Booga? Just remember, folks, these men are artists too, not mere objects of desire. When they have earned your respect for who they are, for their bodies of work and not just their bodies, then maybe we will have turned the corner and created a new society. Brothers, I'm with you


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

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