Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

24th June 1999 - The Million Dollar Dream

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

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a bit over 10 years ago, a show simply called Holmes launched with a bit of calculated outrage. The host, Mr Holmes, needled the unpopular American yachtie Denis Conner until Conner up and stormed out.

This, for Holmes, was precisely the desired effect. They even managed to have a camera set to catch Dirty Den as he disappeared out the door, stage left. Thus was Holmes established in the popular consciousness.

We may come to regard this week's first showing of Crossfire in a similar vein. It may become known as the show that undid a Prime Minister. But Mike Hosking and Linda Clark did not, as Holmes did, lay a trap for their guest.

No, Jenny Shipley dug a big hole and tipped her strange old self into it all on her own. Her acknowledged tendency to first blurt then make it worse reached new depths.

It went like this: In the course of the dual-interviewer interrogation, the Prime Minister was asked what she was going to do about what seemed to be a spate of golden handshakes that began with the Tourism Board directors and flowed through Fire Service Commission CEO Jean Martin and NZQA chief executive Douglas Blackmur, the Australian who was, to put it bluntly, on a bloody good wicket.

It was inevitable that this question would be asked. Shipley and her people could count on it and prepare for it. And what she prepared was a frankly aggressive jab back. What about that John Hawkesby, she demanded, raising the embarrassing matter of TVNZ's recent newsreader gaffe.

"He," she said, "Got the stitch, somebody dropped their rattle and he got a million dollars as he walked away from TVNZ." Or something like that. The language was fairly bizarre.

This might have been an edgy sort of gambit had it in fact been true. But it wasn't. There has been no payout, and Hawkesby himself tried to call the programme on the night to say so. But the phones weren't working properly, which is a bit of a shame.

Hawkesby, understandably, didn't let it drop. So the PM apologised, eventually, and when challenged by Helen Clark in Parliament declared she had been misled on the matter of Mr Hawkesby. She subsequently refused to say by whom she had been misled.

She got herself into further needless strife by pompously declaring that even though there was no payout, we'd jolly well better know about it when there was one. In all such cases, she said, the public had a right to know. She attacked the media's "double standards".

This prompted the obvious question: what about Jean Martin, the terms of whose so-called "resignation" have not been revealed? Would we get to know about that? Apparently not.

But it was about to get worse. When the PM had come off air from Crossfire, Mike Hosking asked her where she'd gotten the Hawkesby million dollar number from. He had apparently been too stunned to ask the question on air.

And then the Prime Minister said: "I made it up - you people do that all the time." She made it up. But hadn't she already told Parliament that she'd been misled? That she'd been put wrong by some unnamed advisor?

I myself have been carrying the dread weight of this information, having been appraised of the green room events if not quite from the horse's mouth, then from the filly in the next stall. Unlike Barry Soper, I didn't stand on the steps of Parliament bragging about it, but bFM might have had a little scoopette on the Thursday Wire.

It hadn't actually occurred to me then that Shipley had given Parliament a version of events that differed from the facts. Nobody could be that stupid, could they? Yup.

So while TVNZ brass met last night to decide whether to confirm what was already well into the public domain, the Prime Minister and her people met to work out what to do about her latest attack of stupidity.

Stung into action by the fact that TV3 was gleefully reporting the story, TVNZ decided, as they say in the world of tabloid journalism, to pull the chain. Linda Clark went to air to confirm that she'd heard the Prime Minister admit to making up the million dollar claim.

Meanwhile, Shipley issued a press release claiming, somewhat desperately, that she couldn't remember making the statement in question. SOE minister Tony Ryall suddenly felt able to share with us that he had in fact briefed the Prime Minister.

Now, this is trivial stuff, really. Just like the did-I-or-didn't-I-dine-with-Kevin-Roberts debacle earlier in the year was trivial. But it was further evidence that the Prime Minister can't think on her feet and that, when under pressure, her instinct is to be less than straightforward with the facts. She blurted something out, tried to talk around it - and it bit her on the arse.

Now, she was widely reckoned to have performed quite well, otherwise, on the programme. She seemed well-briefed and confident. But she lost her composure more than once. Pressed on the matter of tax cuts, she made commitments her Treasurer - and would-be successor - felt unable to endorse in the morning.

Pressed on the matter of the $340,000 illegally paid to Messrs Mogridge and Wall, late of the Tourism Board, she went death or glory. We'll absolutely get all that money back, she said, we'll see them in court. Did she not know that Lockwood Smith was even then negotiating a compromise with the two men?

The Prime Minister made her post-match comments in what was reported to be an elevated, even cocky, mood. The same tone on camera saw her step on the toes of two key ministers. It's very difficult to avoid the conclusion that she has problems with her temperament.

Her own ministers are now losing patience with her. And it may be that Bill English's people are starting to wonder if it's not worth flagging away this year's election in order to see their man in the top job sooner rather than later.

After all, they'll be thinking, maybe Labour and the Alliance will seriously fail to get on and they'll get another crack before too long. Whilst one wouldn't say that's exactly likely, it's plain that the looney left will cause some headaches for a future Labour-led government.

Because, frankly, some of these people wear ideological blinkers as big as anything on the Business Roundtable. If it's not the screaming anti-Metrowater people - who seem determined to ignore the stark fact that decades of direct council control of the waterworks and the associated piles of dosh are what's created the current mess in Auckland - it's APEC hysteria.

Now, I'm not terribly looking forward to having the central city and the Domain closed down for the APEC Leaders' meeting in September - and I'm turned right off by the government's attempt to sell it all to us with a TV advertising campaign. But to listen to some people, you'd think the whole of APEC was some global orgy of evil. It isn't.

Take this week's Women in APEC event in Wellington. Now, you'd think that most thinking people would regard the prospect of the Ministry of Woman's Affairs being given a decent budget to organise a two-day women's gathering called Our Contribution to Economic Prosperity would be a good thing.

The lineup at the meeting was amazing. Everyone from Dame Georgina Kirby of the Maori Women's Welfare League to Denise from World Clothing. From Mai Chen to Pamela Jefferies, the chief human rights commissioner.

There were also prominent and accomplished women in business and social policy from Russia, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Japan and Canada, where the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank is a woman. There was the founder of Webgrrrls.

On both days, there were free public sessions: one a lecture from Marilyn Waring, and the other, 'Unlocking the potential for women through sporting leadership', with a panel featuring Farah Palmer, the captain of the Black Ferns, boardsailer Barbara Kendall, and Sheryl Dawson, CEO of this year's World Netball Championships.

A great event, no? But because it was preceded by the dread initials A, P, E and C, there they were outside, Annette Sykes and her chums, chanting "Shame! Shame! Shame!" I wonder if they even knew what they were protesting about.

APEC is not perfect. But it's not all bad either. It's all very easy to say that free trade is a bad thing. But that begs the question of whether no trade agreements, no annual economic talking shops, would be any better.

In fact, I think it would be considerably worse. Consider Asia's closed economies: North Korea, Burma and, latterly, Malaysia, where the Prime Minister instructs the judiciary to stitch up his former deputy on sodomy charges, and ask where you'd rather live and where people have a better time.

So anyway, this week has brought Helen Clark that much closer to the day when she, too, has to exercise political management of a coalition government. She's not there yet, of course. But you'd have to guess that she'd make a better job of such management than the incumbent currently is


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

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