Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

4th September 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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not so long ago, most of us thought that the weirdest thing about the coming millenium would be wacky religious cults assembling on hilltops and waiting to be uplifted by God or aliens or whomever. But the cults aren't getting a look in frankly, because the real world is just so much stranger.

It's certainly been a funny old century for Russia, what with feudalism, communism, mob capitalism and, now, a kind of post-capitalist vacuum that has everyone a little freaked out. And then, in the middle of it all, The President of the United States flies all the way to Moscow so he can answer questions about having his dick sucked.

Our stock market took a sharp drop this week, in response to a near-record slide on Wall Street, which was allegedly in response to Russia's increasing lack of any sort of economy at all, and the Duma's refusal to approve Victor Chyernomerdyn as Prime Minister, leaving Russia without an actual government.

Boris Yeltsin and his troublesome assembly copped the blame, but the heart of Wall Street's fall was with computers. It was computers which orchestrated the Street's startling slide late in the day, as automatic trading programs sensed a slump and started unloading. And it was computer companies that took a caning. We worried about our stock market shedding $1.6 billion in one day - but Bill Gates dipped the equivalent of $10 billion of our peso-like dolleros in one afternoon on the NASDAQ.

Funny thing is, nobody was jumping out windows anywhere near me. We might have taken a bigger hit than, say Australia, but economic confidence surveys seem to be a tale of how we've stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb. Interest rates are the lowest they've been in years, we've got a dollar we can trade with - I think there are quite a few New Zealanders who are thinking recession isn't too bad a vibe.

But all the fuss did rather overshadow the announcement of Jenny Shipley's new Cabinet, which is more interesting than it might first appear. The first thing of note is the rise and rise of Max Bradford, who was always treated by Jim Bolger as some sort of alien being, and John Luxton, who has picked up the stupid-sounding new super-portfolio of Minister for Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control. Bill English rounds out the trio of annointed freakazoids. Hello, middle New Zealand, we've lost you on the radar ...

Just about right down the gurgler are Simon Upton and Lockwood Smith, who drop to 15 and 16, Smith losing the Agriculture portfolio to Luxton's super-ministry. Lockwood is supposed to have done something so stupid that the Ship nearly nearly sacked him. Indeed. I've heard the rumours, but you're not getting it from me.

New in Cabinet are Georgina Te Heu Heu, who, in only her first term, looks to be embarking on a career of significance. It's interesting that mainstream politics has shaped itself around Maori society to the extent that we have a Henare and a Te Heu Heu in Cabinet and a Mahuta in waiting in Opposition.

Yes, Tau's still there, ranked number eight, but, well, don't expect too much. He and Delamere now seem likely to end up in the same Maori-oriented party - to which end, Delamere has been granted to Pacific Island Affairs portfolio. Unfortunately, that means Pacific Island Affairs falling out of Cabinet - which I'd take as a big bloody insult if I were a PI.

I'm also struggling to see what appeal this Poly party might have for Pacific Islanders, given that the New Zealand First escapees have made it clear that Maori will be running the show and will have, as Delamere put it, minimum 51% control. At least if you're Taito Philip Field or Mark Gosche, you have the possibility that you might one day lead the Labour Party. Not with Tau and Tuariki. And who'll organise this party? Who'll do the huge job of establishing a national organisation in however many months till we go to the polls? Not lazy Tau.

But hey, step on up Clem Simich. The man who took over Tamaki from Rob Muldoon has been hiding his light under a bushel. He surprised everyone with week by getting the Police portfolio - from the hapless Jack Elder - and making it clear he was arriving with a fully-formed agenda. He emphatically favours decriminalising cannabis, wants to legalise defensive sprays and thinks criminal convictions should be erased from the record after a set period of time. All this, he announced before he'd even been sworn in. He could actually be the best police minister in years, although that's not saying much.

Just in case you thought culture was important, it's not. Cultural Affairs has not only fallen out of cabinet, it's been handed to the vile Marie Hasler. She and Labour's culture diva Judith Tizard lock horns on Backch@t this Sunday, apparently. Should be interesting.

The presenter of that show is of course the editor of Metro, the official magazine of freebies and junkets. Amid all the thanking of the sponsors, Metro does find time to for a bit of journalism too, of course - witness the excellent story on the Stables, where the C&R thugs on the Auckland City council showed exactly what they think of arts and crafts by ignoring all advice and selling everything to a developer.

Is it any wonder, then, that Citizens and Ratepayers won't be standing any candidates in the Western Bays ward - because it can't find anyone to stand? No one. Not a sausage. C&R has also, bizarrely, lost sitting community board members across the divide to City Vision.

Oh, and you'll notice that one-time-would-be Victoria Carter has been subsumed by the clownish atmosphere of Auckland Now. In only a month or two, she has gone from declaring that the public should be consulted on the privatisation of Mercury Energy services, to saying that the public won't be consulted if she has anything to do with it. Amazing.

Actually, given the way Max Bradford has required everyone to split up their power businesses, some selling-off is inevitable. But why that precludes consulting with the public is beyond me.

Still, it could be worse. You could live in Wellington, where geologists have discovered a whole bunch of new fault lines under the city and now believe it's only a matter of time before the capital cops the big one - as in 10 times the magnitude of Kobe. Infrastructure will collapse, transport will be down, but it won't matter, because the fantastic thing about Wellington is that you can walk everywhere.

It's all a bit millenial, innit?. But I don't think anywhere is as much that way as our close neighbour Australia, frankly. They're facing an election, which they believe to be about, hold onto your hats, GST. They're haggling about a 10% GST and seem to have ignored the crazy 12 to 22% sales tax regime they already have.

I was over there recently and put it to some Aussies that it was a bit weird, surely, that the sales tax on fresh food is currently zero, but the moment you freeze them beans, bang, on goes the big old sales tax. They conceded it probably was but they didn't really understand it. The Australian Labour Party's electoral platform appears to be to so thoroughly complicate the tax system that no one at all understands any of it.

Meanwhile, as this week's excellent Assignment doco made plain, the party which will likely hold the balance of power has been captured by right-wing nutcases - serious Nazi ones. That's One Nation, of course, and this could well become Australia's version of the 1981 Springbok tour, as fighting breaks out in the streets. Pauline Hanson herself seems increasingly less coherent and I wouldn't be surprised to find she's addicted to some sort of prescription drugs. And if she's not, she probably should be. So just remember - as strange as things get, they'll never be as strange as they are in Australia


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

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