Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

12th February 1999

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

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well, another year, another Waitangi Day passes - and passes pretty sweetly. The Prime Minister - or, as the Herald called her on the front page of last Friday's paper, "the birthday girl" - glided through the event surgically attached to the hand of Titewhai Harawira, but failed to all get the touchy-feely mileage she might have expected.

The reason was not the speech scorning Maori sovereignty Shipley rather churlishly delivered the moment she was safely off the marae, but a couple of events which blew Waitangi's pleasantries off the emotional scale.

That weekend, three workers died after being overcome by gases in an Auckland sewer. It was pretty terrible. And then All Black hooker Norm Hewitt stepped up to face the music after being found by police grossly drunk and bleeding nearly to death after punching in the window of what he thought was the Hurricanes' team hotel in Queenstown. He'd scared the living daylights out of the young couple staying at the timeshare house, but they did not press charges.

You can be as cynical as you like about the motivation for Hewitt's extraordinary press conference - was it really just an apology to the sponsors? - and about the three-course meal TV made out of the pictures of him, face streaming with tears in the strobe of the flashbulbs.

But Hewitt had very publicly hit the rock bottom that most alcoholics will tell you about. And just maybe the sight of a strong man humbling himself will send more men to seek help than any number of public health commercial campaigns.

What I found disturbing was the response of the knee-jerk brigade. Some people seemed outraged that the couple did not press charges and have Hewitt up in court. They seemed to believe that Hewitt had "gotten off", and that he should have been languishing in a police cell. For God's sake, anyone remanded in custody on a charge of wilful damage would need a new lawyer more than anything else, wouldn't they?

But we can expect much, much more of that in this election year. All the political parties - with the notable exception of the Greens [] - will be beating a bloody great big banal drum on crime and punishment. Labour's [] Phil Goff is the ringleader, and I know some lawyers have a genuine fear that he plans to deal to criminal legal aid entitlements if he makes government. We can but hope his colleagues keep him on the leash.

National [], desperate not to be outflanked, has pretty cynically seized on the crime scare of the moment - so-called home invasions - and made it part of its pitch. That was the "security" part of Shipley's big speech last week.

Even the Alliance [] is playing. Matt Robson did a bit of chest-beating recently, declaring that the burglars who broke into his electorate office would have been bloody scared if they'd gotten away with a copy of the party's justice policy. Wooo ...

Speaking of break-ins, who the hell is so interested in the contents of Judith Tizard's filing cabinet? For the second time in a year, somebody has broken into the Auckland Central MP's electorate office, ignored various items of value and headed straight for the files. Is this just a lone nutter, or can we expect a truly filthy election campaign?

On the topic of knee-jerks, Margaret Robertson has collected sufficient signatures to trigger a referendum on cutting the number of MPs in Parliament. The polls already suggest up to 90% of people would, off the top of their heads, support a cut from 120 MPs to 99. I just hope and pray that when they do come to vote, at the same time they go to elect a government, they'll think a bit harder.

The stupidest arguments for cutting the number come, ironically, from Robertson herself. She seems a nice lady but she really hasn't a clue. She insists that cutting the number of MPs will somehow "make them behave better" and "stop wasting our money". Oh yeah?

Never mind that most of the worst-behaved politicians are actually currently constituency MPs, it's impossible to see any way at all that cutting the number could possibly improve conduct.

It would, on the other hand, endanger the broader base of representation that MMP has brought us, and make MMP dangerously difficult to operate. Electorates would be larger, the chance of anomalies and "overhangs" vastly greater. National and Labour would do well get any list MPs into Parliament at all.

Look, in comparison to similar democracies, we have relatively few MPs per head of population - and even if David Lange had never made that unfortunate slip of the tongue and triggered the whole electoral reform business, we'd have had 105 MPs by now, purely on the basis of population growth. Speaking of which, hey! 3.8 million of us!

Maybe we'll have a party when we crack four million. But the millennium will overtake us first - and both Labour and Act [] have raised questions about the apparent synergy between New Zealand's "big year" and National's feel-good re-election strategy. The auditor general will now be looking into the goings-on - or rather the goings-away - at the Tourism Board.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, losing one member of the board might be considered bad luck - but losing three, plus the chief executive, in the past three months, is positively careless. Shelling out nearly a million dollars of taxpayer money to the departing directors looks simply bloody reckless.

Tourism Minister Murray McCully's scrapping of the board's strategy for one which involved him going to South Africa to watch test rugby was untidy. And bringing forward the board's big publicly-funded promotion so the Prime Minister could launch it on her European trip was questionable. And to then have Kevin Roberts, the head of Saatchi, the agency creating the promotion, as a keynote speaker at a gathering of National MPs, leaves you open to all kinds of misunderstandings, doesn't it?

Roberts himself seems like the kind of charming, intelligent man you wouldn't trust as far as you could throw a Steinlager-sponsored All Black. He frequently behaves as if he runs rugby - his plotting behind the back of the rugby union to extend the Super 12 to the US being a case in point - and he conceivably would like a hand in government too.

But we'll give them all the weekend off scrutiny, for it is Hero Parade [] time and the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and Alliance deputy leader Sandra will be cutting the ribbon on Ponsonby Road. Altogether now: BIIIIIIG HUUUUUUG ...

Whoops, sorry. Don't mention the Teletubbies. Especially Tinky-Winky, the purple one that carries a handbag. He, according to the Reverend Jerry Falwell, could be "damaging to the moral lives of children." Unless he's a she, which might be alright.

Similar bad comedy hit the Herald this week with the full-page ad placed by Stop Promoting Homosexuality Internet (NZ), a small group of conservative Baptists put up to it by a travelling professional homophobe from Hawaii. It used pictures of Dame Whina Cooper, Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King over the banner: "It takes more than a parade to make a hero" and implied that gays, with their "destructive" urges, could not be "real heroes".

I love that phrase: "promoting" homosexuality. It's like there's some sort of marketing campaign: "If YOU become a homosexual this week, we'll give you a FREE interior design course! Ladies, there's a nice pair of sensible shoes in it for you!"

Apart from that, there was the incredible crassness of using the images of civil rights leaders to push the message.

Do you think they knew that Dr King's widow, Coretta Scott King, has spent decades campaigning for gay rights? That she spoke in the US Congress in support of legislation banning employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Or that she said "I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation"?

It was Dr King himself who said "I have worked too long and too hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible."

And it was the Mahatma who said "No society can possibly be built on a denial of individual freedom" and "No charter of freedom will be worth looking at which does not ensure the same measure of freedom for the minorities as for the majority."

And I'm down with that


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

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