Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

13th November 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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I'd like to officially declare summer. Okay, I know I'm a little early on it, but isn't La Nina being remarkably kind to Auckland so far? None of the biblical flooding visited on Kapiti or Wanganui, none of that terrifying weather they get in Wellington.

It's just as well, I suppose. We're supposed to have a lower tolerance for extreme weather here in Auckland. We're bloody soft, apparently.

The farmers who went to Parliament this week are not bloody soft. They're hard. In its eagerness to thrust the abolition of producer boards on the rural sector, the government has created a dissident lobby, Rural United, in what used to be its heartland. The group seems to have plenty of money and its members aren't too fussy about what they say to their politicians.

One after another, the angry agrarians stood up to tell John Luxton, the absurdly-titled minister of Food, Fibre and Biosecurity, that he was an idiot who should butt out of their business. Quite embarassing, really.

Students on the other hand have pretty much always hated the government anyway, but the announcement of changes to the student loans scheme this week demonstrates a pretty amazing political ineptitude.

Students will now only be able to get their loan money on the drip rather than in lump sums, they'll need parental approval if they're under 18 - and, in a move that has the same vindictive air as last week's killing of funding to the Council of Christian Social Services - they won't be able to get loan money to cover student union fees. Don't cross us, or we'll get you appears to be the message here.

The system did need some changes. But wouldn't it have been sensible to wait until a lower interest rate - one more in tune with the market, that is - could be announced along with the crackdown? This isn't a very sensible government. Chuck in the terrible diplomatic cock-up with the Chinese over diplomatic recognition for Taiwan, the disastrous attempt to sell Solid Energy and the shambles over what government MPs will do with their 2.5% pay rises and it starts to look really clumsy.

But never mind that, because 'tis the season for awards. All over the country, people have been getting glammed up and giving each gongs. I enjoyed watching Sports Cafe's Rocky Awards and passed up the official rugby ones - which may be a telling precedent.

Jenny Shipley told off the people at the Newspaper Publishers' Awards for dwelling on her appearance - thus ensuring a rash of stories about, you guessed it, her appearance.

The first bash I actually got along to was the Magazine Publishers' Association Awards. It's a curious little affair this one, and one that brings out the bitch in me, frankly.

I have to say it: the success of Pavement, again, and Grace, suggests that the way to win is to avoid at all costs featuring New Zealanders on your cover. I couldn't believe it when Pavement celebrated its fifth anniversary recently by becoming the millionth magazine in the world to put Naomi Campbell on its cover. They obviously know their market, but it seemed startlingly unimaginative to me.

The best bit of MPA night really was going drinking with the opposition, managing directors included. I left their big cheese and ours discussing the meaning of life in a bar at 2am. Freaky.

This left me flying on one wing, so to speak, for the next day's social engagement - Tim Wood's 30th birthday party. But such was the hospitality flowing from the young Internet mogul that I soon came right. It was really quite a party, and I'd like to reserve a special word for all the ladies.

Only thing is, young Tim, in a bid for working-class credibility, claimed on his invites to live in Kingsland. It sure looked like Mt Eden to me, Tim.

Monday night was the APRA Silver Scroll Awards, and it was amazing - and not just because Paul Holmes sang everyone a wee song. (It was 'For My Emily, Wherever I May Find Her' by Simon and Garfunkel and he was pretty good, really.)

APRA boss Mike Chunn has worked up the awards into a kind of conscious party; a gathering of the local musical hapu and their fellow travellers.

Chunn's own speech was a stirring call for local music quotas - and a hammering for certain broadcasters, such as Dr Brian Edwards, who have gone on record claiming that playing New Zealand music would mean a compromise on quality.

Bollocks it would. It would mean that certain radio programmers would have to learn to see past their pre-digested format sheets. As he whinges about the prospect of legislation, Mai FM's Manu Taylor might to well to ponder on the fact that his American R&B-addled iwi station only exists as a result of government statute.

The response to Chunn speech's suggested that the government isn't going to get too many votes out of the creative community next time. The list of politicians who did front up - Helen Clark, Judith Tizard, Christine Fletcher and Phil Warren - suggests that some people will happily step in.

Anyway, congratulations to Dave Dobbyn, and a big, warm , radio hug to Mr Chunn. I can't play guitar for nuts, but more than once that evening, I looked at the throng around me and thought, these are my people. I felt sanctified - which is actually quite a bit better than I felt the next morning.

Speaking of rock stars, Noam Chomsky. Wednesday night was the Peace Foundation's Media Peace Awards, and out in the foyer they were flogging Chomsky New Zealand Tour 98 t-shirts. Yes, really. The MIT professor is a most unlikely star, but he sold out the Michael Fowler Centre and then some in Wellington and could apparently have filled his Auckland venue several times over.

The funny thing is, he's no great orator - he doesn't so much speak as open his mind for 45 minutes. And quite a mind it is - broad-ranging, acute, analytical. He seems like a nice bloke, too. But - and I know this is heresy in some quarters - I wonder if it's healthy to dwell too much on his trademark media meta-analysis.

He wears it well, but in the hands of others it can start turning into the dreaded conspiracy theories. Take the AIT lecturer who had his students hand out fliers outside the awards for his talk on "how consent is being manufactured in the context of the upcoming election" and "how the new right parties - National and ACT - are using the media to undermine public support for an Alliance-Labour coalition."

Well, duh. Of course they are. This isn't news. And the polls suggest they're not doing a very good job of it.

Chomsky's not pretending to be anything other than he is - an academic, and, as a linguist by trade, a fairly pedantic one. Almost the only individuals he mentioned in his awards speech were other academics, and he stuck pretty much to his core competencies of corporate coercion, the fake peace process in the Middle East and US state terrorism in general.

But he didn't mention New Zealand much, or suggest what people should actually do to improve things - or say much about the fact that thrashing around beneath his meta-analysis are complex little humans just trying to do their best.

Still, he's infinitely more credible than the fake "experts" the Business Roundtable likes to bring out here. And well done to all the Peace Awards winners - especially James Belich, and Peter McLennan for his story about a graffitti course out West in - yes! - Pavement.

So ... that's a rock 'n' roll party with aspirations to be a political party, a political academic being raised into a rock star and a birthday party that proved the new economy can groove like billy-o.

And speaking of parties, RIP Neil Roberts. Although if there was any way to do other than rest in peace whilst deceased, I'm sure he'd find it.


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

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