Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

27th November 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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and what about those hackers, eh? Well, what about them? After two weeks of the headlines being grabbed by the anti-social online actions of a few sad little rodents, I'm over it now. I got interviewed and soundbit for TV news, but the words "don't panic" didn't make it into the final cut. So I'll say it now: "don't panic".

On the other hand, please let's not indulge these little scumsuckers the way Holmes did when he interviewed Luke Whyte, the 19-year-old who trashed 4500 Websites because he had some real or imagined grievance against his Internet company.

In his best down-with-the-kids manner Holmes suggested that instead of prosecuting this young man, we should give him a job where his skills are put to good use. Wrong, Paul. There was nothing clever or groovy about it and vandalism is no recommendation for employment.

Holmes did get it quite a bit more right on Monday night, when his show took a look at those crazy kids in the dance party scene and actually managed to address them on their own terms instead of banging on about bloody Ecstasy all the time. And you had to love that drum 'n' bass version of the Holmes theme, didn't you?

More good-telly-on-TVNZ shocks came in the shape of Rod Vaughan's excellent Assignment documentary on the Special Air Service - yes the one that was on while all you substance-abusing bFM layabouts were watching South Park.

After a whip-round of SAS porkies about the unfortunate deaths of its people on so-called training exercises, the programme concentrated on New Zealander Mark Coburn, who suggested that not only were the British SAS commanders who ran the covert operations during the Gulf War lacking in competence, but that SAS officer Andy McNabb's best-selling book on how he and Coburn were captured by the Iraqis fell somewhat short of the truth.

The British government, which habitually puts a lot of effort into suppressing these sorts of embarassments, had been to court trying to stop the programme screening. They failed - and our government wisely stayed the hell out of it. Good.

TVNZ's lawyer was also to the fore this week in making sure that at least some of the material presented in depositions over the alleged murder of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope was also public. Fine. Justice should be seen to be done.

But a very hard boot up the bum, please, for the moron at One Network News who wrote the script that had Richard Long promising that "at last we get to find out how Ben and Olivia died".

We what? This is a depositions hearing. We get to find out "how Ben and Olivia died" if and when a jury convicts someone of killing them, and not before.

This sort of foolishness is exactly the reason why the prosecution wanted everything suppressed at this stage. There's every chance that a future juror was watching that bulletin. And now he or she has been told it's a sure thing and the boat-owning Scott Watson did it. Christ.

Speaking of foolishness, Defence Minister Max Bradford continues to press for the purchase of a third Anzac frigate. The Defence select committee, on which the government doesn't have a majority, couldn't bring itself to make such a recommendation. Now Bradford wants us to pay now and take possession later of Australia's old frigate, which would cost $100 million to buy and only five times that to refit.

Not convinced? You're not alone. Three quarters of New Zealanders, according to polls, can't see the point in another frigate when our social infrastructure is creaking. Fancy-free MP Deborah Morris is one of those who might refuse to support a frigate.Spooky, huh? A woman with short hair spits the dummy over a warship and brings down a tired National government.

It is, as they say, déjà vu all over again.

Or not. Bradford insists it's a decision for Cabinet, not Parliament, and it'll be Cabinet that decides on Monday. I can foresee a problem or two if Cabinet acts not only against the wishes of the country, but of the elected Parliament.

Or will Bradford be hung out to dry in the way John Luxton was over producer board reform? Too early to say, but he's certainly getting the fear. After suffering leaks all year to the Labour Party, Bradford asked the Secretary of Defence Gerald Hensley to ask the police to investigate.

At which point, of course, things turned really septic. The police investigation has already extended from Defence to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and, gadzooks, the Prime Minister's department. Gee, morale must be fantastic there right now.

More trouble for the government is raining down in the form of the Land Transport Amendment Bill, which provides for new driver's licence cards with photographs on them. There are a number of problems here. The first is that most of us currently hold so-called "lifetime" licenses, but we're apparently to be asked to shell out $30 or $60 for all-new licenses that last only 10 years. Isn't there some sort of breach of contract here?

We're also to be compelled by law to carry the new licenses any time we're driving a car - which is, of course, a law that all but the most anally-retentive New Zealanders will break sooner or later. In which case, you have to ask whether it's a good law.

The other thing that's exercising a few minds is the nature of the portraits on the cards. These aren't just photographs glued on, passport-style, they're digital images printed directly onto the card. These images are apparently to be stored on a database.

Now, call me a geek, but to my mind a bunch of bits describing my face is information about me in just the same way as a bunch of bits describing my tax history and my residential address. I therefore want to know where the images will be stored and how, when and why the database will be searched.

This is the sort of thing that should be set out and discussed well in advance, not gabbled about under Parliamentary urgency. Thank goodness for an amendment from Labour's Michael Cullen restricting the use the police can make of the license files and preventing their use by other agencies. But why is something this crucial being slipped in at the last moment?

I'll go, as ever, for cock-up over conspiracy. It's another sodding shambles and it's not really good enough.

On the upwards tip, the new Auckland City Council has done the sensible thing and allocated $15,000 to pay back to itself to clean up the streets after the Hero Parade next year. Just like it would for any other event attended and supported by tens of thousands of its ratepayers. It never needed to be controversial, and it wouldn't have been had the last council not chosen to play God.

Finally, I'd like to jump on the backs of just about every political leader in the country and pay tribute to the memory of Sir Charles Bennett, who passed away this week. His was a truly great New Zealand life, from the command of the Maori Battalion in World War 2 - about which he later expressed his bitterness - to a key part in the foundation of Te Kohanga Reo. As we pillory the pipsqueaks it's as well to honour the outstanding people who have dwelt - and continue to dwell, amongst us


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

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