Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

20th November 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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bloody hell, that was close. If there was anything guaranteed to ruin the looming festive season it would've been a general election before Christmas - and we very nearly got one. Once again, the government demonstrated its shortcomings in the basic craft of running things.

The occasion was the debate over the tax rates for this year and next. It was one of those supply and confidence votes our curious bunch of "independents" decide whether or not they'll support the government on. As such you'd think the government would have its act together - but it was Act that was the problem.

Labour ,having quickly done its numbers and deduced that the government was all over the place, collapsed the debate and went for a vote. The sole Act MP supposed to be in the chamber, Rodney Hide, whose irritating presence constituted the government's majority, had gone missing, and for long minutes the government faced oblivion.

The vote, eventually, was won, but it was yet another day when Jenny Shipley's government managed to argue pretty comprehensively against its own existence. There will probably be an election early next year, once we've all become more relaxed and satisfied through the summer - and it'll be a relief when it finally happens.

The government has been preparing to face the country by furiously backing down on just about all the spinny-eyed ideas it has generated since Jenny Shipley smugly announced that she was Prime Minister and Jim Bolger wasn't.

Roading reforms that could eventually have seen us all tracked by satellite and billed for motoring down to the dairy for an energy drink and a packet of chips have been buried in consultation. The breaking up of producer boards - which only weeks ago John Luxton was staking his political future on - has been comprehensively abandoned.

I don't think it'll help, because it's really about competence.

When she won her coup, Shipley set about sidelining a generation of National Party statesmen and I figured that'd cause some trouble down the line. As it has. Shipley's been off at her first really big diplomatic test - the APEC conference in Malaysia - and failed pretty horribly.

It began with a speech by the US vice-president Al Gore in which he declared that economic recovery in Asia must go hand in hand with democracy. And in case his Malaysian hosts hadn't got the point, he saluted the "brave people" supporting the jailed opposition leader, and former Malaysian finance minister, Dr Anwar Ibrahim.

It was out of left field. Gore was presumably playing to his own electorate - after all, he wants to be the next president - and it outraged the Malaysians. Had it been Bolger there on our behalf, he'd probably have muttered something about us approaching these matters in our own way. Indeed, that is what Australia's John Howard, a man who isn't exactly hamstrung by principle, did do.

Even if the Ship had left it at her original declaration that New Zealand did not practice "megaphone diplomacy", it might have been alright.

But, in the words of Vic Reeves, she couldn't let it lie. The following day, she declared herself confident that Dr Anwar would get a fair trial. She said she accepted the word of Malaysia's PM Mahathir Mohamad that there would be no political interference in the process. Say what?

Look, it's at Mahathir's instigation that this guy's been bundled out of government and basically fitted up with a range of charges ranging from corruption to sodomising his closest friends. He's been beaten up in jail - after which the Malaysian government made the farcical claim that his injuries were self-inflicted. It's a sham. The upshot is that

Our Prime Minister has become the Malaysian government's poster girl. Her defence of Malaysia's corrupt government has been seized on by the local press and she's front page news. Hey, the New Zealanders understand us. The only mercy is that the conference is over and she can't do any further damage to our reputation on the world stage.

You'd think most of us back here, in a democracy could understand that. But not Tuku Morgan, it seems. Undieman saw fit to release a press statement accusing Labour leader Helen Clark of being "diseased with the colonial mentality that big white brother knows best". First, Tuku, she's a big, white sister. And second, if you want to live in a country where that sort of thing happens you don't deserve to be in a democratic Parliament.

Tuku's old chum, Winston Ciggies - sorry, Peters - just refuses to stay in the political grave. After a party conference that convinced no one, he scored the windfall this week of an Appeal Court decision that said he could, after all, challenge the interpretations of the Winebox commissioner, Sir Ronald Davison.

He's on again. But he wants to be careful. It may well be that the public is hearily and right fed up with the whole thing. We're struggling to gear up for the Millennium, and considering, yet again, the events of the 1980s, probably won't help us get there.

This is, after all, the late 90s. What we're freaking out about now is hackers - or, to be precise, malicious online attacks. Real hackers wouldn't want to be seen in the same chat room as the dickless little swine who wiped out 4500 of the 12,000 Websites on the Ihug homepages machine.

It's just a shame the law hasn't caught up with the information age - about the most this guy can be charged with, if and when he's nailed, is misuse of a telephone. And that's hardly very wired, is it?

The law might, ironically, be harder on Ihug itself. Some legal commentators believe its terms and conditions, which require people to back up their own Websites, wouldn't hold up in a civil court. Maybe Ihug should stop insisting it's too hard and just do it.

But hey, let's look at what's going on here. Whatever you stick on a Web server isn't your files - it's a copy of your files. The originals remain on your computer. If you subsequently delete your own files, and then the Webserver gets nuked, well ... you're not very clever, that's all I can say.

It's been interesting looking at the way this story has gone mainstream - it really took off. I spent half my day helping out my colleagues in the broadcast media - especially Ewart Barnesley from TVNZ.

I put him onto a mate of mine whose site got wiped. He spent 20 minutes discussing the issues and then found himself soundbit to five words - "jail terms for serious offenders" - on that night's One Network News. The visit to bFM, whose excellent new Website site was struck, was also a bit of a giggle.

But I have to say Ewart and his chums didn't do too badly on the story - better than they might have a year ago, in fact. The really weird thing was that I had to explain to him what bFM was. Really.

Anyway, it looks like the last few anomalies in our liquor laws will be straightened out after Parliament overwhelmingly voted to pass the Sale of Liquor Amendment Bill on to select committee.

The bill promises to scrap the silly jumble of exemptions by which 18-year-olds can drink, and simply lower the drinking age to a firm 18 years, no arguments. It'll also get rid of two daft hangovers from the bad old days - the law that supermarkets can only sell wine, and the ban on Sunday sales. Neither of these ever actually stopped anyone developing a drinking problem, they just inconvenienced people who wanted to go to a barbecue.

We've seen positive trends - lowered overall consumption, wine being taken with food rather than guzzled in the carpark and a trend towards quality rather than quantity in booze- since our liquor laws were freed up, and there's every indication that these changes will help the trend along.

Perhaps the lawmakers might eventually decide that a similar attitude to the laws on cannabis might have positive consequences. But don't hold your breath. Especially not for a long time - because you'll go all funny and dizzy and we can't have that. Word might get to the Herald and we'd have to endure a string of front-page stories about the latest youth craze. "Breath of death seizes New Zealand's young!". Don't laugh. That looks suspicious too, you know ...


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

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