Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

30th October 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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Okay. Whales up north: shame. Kid who killed his brute of a father and got manslaughter: bad business all round. Mysterious sex industry couple who may have faked their own deaths up north: weird. Australia getting a towelling from Sachin Tendulkar and losing their composure: excellent. G'bye!

But seriously, you want depth? Well, that was about as much depth as Tau Henare displayed this week on occasion of the launch of his new political party, Mauri Pacific. It's a lovely word, mauri, and it means a lovely thing, but it's a hopeless party name in this context. When you're launching a party you insist isn't a Maori one, you're going to struggle for brand identity when half the country thinks that's what your party's called.

Henare did get himself live on Holmes to announce the venture - and then immediately got stuck in a hole talking about making Maori "compulsory" in schools.

Now, I happen to think the inclusion of Maori language and culture in the curriculum up to Form 2 is a good idea. I wish we'd had it when I was a lad. But such is Henare's utter lack of political skill that he made it sound like it was going to be some sort of ethnic cleansing. It's lucky for him Holmes actually likes him.

And, as he'd just done in his speech at the launch do, he compared himself to Jim Anderton and Winston Peters. Not professionally, but as a father. He might not be as hard a worker as those two, but they didn't have families any more and he did, right? Poor taste or what?

Although Mauri Pacific has inherited five coalition government MPs, with all the resources you could wish for, its platform, such as it is, doesn't appear to have been laboured over for long. In fact, you and I could have come up with it given half an hour and a cup of beer. Maori in schools, less "cuddly kiwiana" (is that an actual policy?), bilingual signs and billboards and a new Maori-oriented national identity in line with "the fundamental truth that we are all Pacific peoples".

As we are - although there was precious little in the launch for the Pacific Island community Henare thinks he's going to lead into Parliament. He also managed to offend many Maori by offering the half-baked idea that all New Zealanders should now be called "tangata whenua". Jeez, Tau, is there a residency qualification?

Little details like policy, a constitution, a deputy leader and registration as a political party have yet to be nailed down. Indeed the only nails Tau Henare seemed to have to hand were the ones he was banging into his own political coffin.

Speaking of which, the Code of Social and Family Responsibility has finally come back from the place where the government was pretending to study it. Having spent nearly two million dollars on its preposterous household questionnaire, the government had to come up with something.

They couldn't disown it, because although it was first announced by Winston Peters, both Shipley and her social welfare minister Roger Sowry - who'd predicted it would lead to "the most radical social reform of the century" - had repeatedly endorsed it. So they were stuck with it.

Shipley declared it some manner of victory that "the majority" of the 94,000 respondents to the survey had agreed with major propositions in the survey; which effectively amounted to "parents should look after their kids and send them to school". A moral code won't - surprise, surprise - be put into law.

Few of the respondents, not even in response to the most heavily-loaded questions you could imagine, supported the Code's original idea of docking the benefits of parents who didn't meet the prescribed standards.

On the other hand, some people proposed, get this: taxation of citizens based on body weight; mandatory national bedtimes for children; genetically altering men and lowering their testosterone levels; compulsory adoption of children of poor parents; forbidding mothers from working; compulsory adoption of children born out of wedlock; and that old favourite of the barking mad, sterilisation of unmarried mothers. Just over a third of the geniuses who participated in this "great brainstorm" declared themselves to be of "both genders". Who was it who said this wasn't research, it was bad talkback radio? I think it was me, actually.

It's hard not to think that the money might have been better spent helping the management of Housing New Zealand find out who's living in its housing and in what conditions. Mind you, given that Housing New Zealand recently announced a $122 million annual profit, it's tempting to conclude they don't want to know.

Not surprisingly, eight of 10 of the government's "10 key initiatives" are woolly nothings. The two that seem to add up to something are mandatory referral to budget advice for beneficiaries who often need emergency income and the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility, which is currently 14.

You might be surprised at the idea that we can make this a better place by prosecuting 10 year-olds, but I'm sure the idea has gone down well with some elements at the New Zealand Herald. Because it is increasingly clear that, if you're young, the Herald does not like you.

Remember that appalling editorial during the first week of the Commonwealth Games? The one that declared the reason we weren't winning enough medals was that we weren't being hard enough on the little bastards at school?

Then, last week, an editorial on Labour's music quotas policy waded into artists - who it said should "embrace competition and self-reliance". It said that the New Zealand music programming on National Radio on Saturday afternoons had "more to with cultural crassness than cultural content". So if you're in a band, now you know. The paper of record says you're shit. Bring on Celine Dion.

Who else saw the episode of Frontline where Mike got worried that the current affairs show wasn't reaching out to the youth audience? But Mike, the others said, we do lots of stories about kids. Kids on drugs, kids doing crime, kids failing at school, kids on the dole ...

Does this remind you even a tiny bit of the Herald's special Qantas award-winning 'Our Children' series? And does the week of tenuous, dishonest stories about the so-called Auckland Ecstasy death remind you of the kids-and-Ecstasy story the Frontline team concocted?

What a horrible, horrible affair this has been. It's terribly sad that a young woman died on her Saturday night out. But, after prominently canvassing the idea of homicide - a spiked drink, no less - the paper, days into its story, buried right at the end of one story, the emergency doctor's opinion of what killed her. She drank too much water. The salts in her body fluids got too dilute, her brain swelled up and she lost consciousness and died. Whatever was in her bloodstream, she died, more than anything else, of ignorance.

But hell, she sold a few papers. Days after saying they didn't want to talk to the press, her parents were dragged onto the front page of the Weekend Herald - which, you might recall, actually launched with a shock-horror Ecstasy story. More than a quarter of the page was taken up with a picture of the young woman and her sister, with the tasteful caption "One of these sisters will not appear in any more family snaps."

Look, like I said last week, there are very, very rare but unfortunately unpredictable life-threatening reactions from E - rare enough that one death in 10 years of Ecstasy use in New Zealand is probably ahead of the curve - and long-term use ain't a good idea either. The Herald could have told us that, but it was too busy seeing how many days it could get out of its shock-horror-tragedy story. What I want to know is, does Tony Wall look like Martin D'Astasio?

Now we've got the police campaigning to raise Ecstasy and amphetamines to Class A status in order to meet the crisis. How much difference will this make? None. Do you know what the second most popular illicit recreational drug in New Zealand is - after pot? LSD. Acid. A Class A drug.

Now a police officer who socialised with the young woman earlier on the evening she died is being investigated. Guilt by association. Funny thing is, the moral panic has had a spin-off for club culture. Policemen having been making rather obvious block-bookings at dance events, and streaming into trendy boutiques beforehand to get their "rave gear", light-sticks 'n' all.

But apart from anything else, the Herald devoted a great deal of effort into depicting the young woman as a bright, clean young citizen. Now it has to live with the horrible truth that nice, decent people sometimes take recreational drugs.

The funny thing is, on the very day it ran its first front-page story, the very same newspaper got someone in from a major ad agency to give it some ideas on reaching the youth market, which it is miserably failing to do. Well, stop running hypocritical beat-up stories like that one, said the ad man. And you know what? They didn't want to know. Fuck 'em


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

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