Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

2nd July 1999 - The Prime Minister's Brain is Missing

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

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ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister's brain is missing. There she was this week with yet another opportunity to get her story straight over the ridiculous Hawkesby affair.

The Opposition, having learned its lesson from the Kevin Roberts business, did not deny her leave to make a personal statement, which cannot, under Parliament's standing orders, be questioned or debated.

All she had to do was say her piece, that she couldn't recall telling Linda Clark she had "made up" the million dollar payment to John Hawkesby, and the story was over. But, in the words of the great English scholar Vic Reeves, she couldn't let it lie.

She demanded an apology from TVNZ, and raised the prospect of action under the Privacy Act for its filming her and her inner circle writhing around in panic mode through the window of the Beehive. Hello?

She also angrily accused IRN and TVNZ of failing to contact her or her staff before going with the "I made it up" story. Pardon?

Was that really a wise thing to say given that at a press conference on the day the story broke she had simply refused to answer repeated questions from both organisations on that very matter? Or given that TVNZ's Linda Clark had told her chief press officer, John Goulter, that the story was true?

Labour, probably wondering how far it ought sensibly to ride the Prime Ministerial silly train, made another complaint that the PM had misled Parliament - which, on the face of things, she had.

By Tuesday evening, her office had issued yet another refinement of the facts - this time, the complaint was that Linda Clark herself had not personally contacted Shipley to say that the story would be running.

You'd have thought that, with APEC trade ministers in town for their scheduled chin-wag - and with further embarrassment looming in the shape of an official $170,000 tax-free payout (along with an apology and Murray McCully's head on a plate) to the Tourism Board directors who she'd vowed to pursue through the courts - she'd have kept it simple and avoided looking more stupid in the press. I fear that she is temperamentally unsuited to her job.

Speaking of which, Tuariki Delamere. What a shitty little human he is. The day after finally getting Petra Schier and her three children on the plane to Germany to join their husband and father, Delamere did something weird.

He revealed that, two years ago, the Schiers had been charged with possession of marijuana for supply. The charges were dropped, apparently because of problems with the search.

Now, Delamere had nothing to gain from releasing such information but his own vindication. And he wallowed in it - declaring there had been "a concentrated campaign of vilification" against him and his family as the Schiers had fought to stay in New Zealand.

Showing all the spine of a tadpole, he didn't let this out until Petra Schier was out of the country, and had no chance of defending herself. And he made the worrying statement - for a Minister of the Crown - that it was irrelevant whether or not the couple had actually been convicted.

Now, the pot was an embarrassment for the Schiers' supporters. Their explanation - that the bucket of dope sitting on the bedroom floor had been unwisely accepted by Gunther Schier as security on a full tank of gas - is plausible, but only just.

If we take the other, and perhaps more likely, scenario, that they were growing a bit of pot, it's likely that a supply charge would have failed anyway. Delamere claimed that $4000 worth of marijuana was found.

At the usual hilariously inflated police valuations, that's about 10 ounces of proper pot and never mind the cabbage. People grow more than that in their backyards in Auckland. These people were not Mr Big, as evidenced by the fact that the police never even bothered to come back with a search warrant.

If there has been "a campaign of vilification" anywhere, it has come from Delamere. These people really wanted to live here. They had three children born here and they'd done something pretty admirable in restoring their dilapidated lodge and turning it into a business. They also had remarkable support from local people in Nelson - which Delamere, incredibly, ascribed to racism, because they weren't brown.

Actually, enough on that sad little loser. It's only a matter of time before he's bundled out of public life by the voters. In the meantime, I recommend you get a copy of this week's Listener and check out the Meantime cartoon. Very good indeed.

In contrast to his former fellow party member, Mauri Pacific leader Tau Henare came across quite likeable when he took the Crossfire hotseat on which the Prime Minister had burnt her bum so badly. He was careeringly, stupidly, refreshingly honest.

I still don't think he's bright enough to achieve what he wants, but you have to admire him for effectively describing his own fellow Cabinet minister as a bunch of born-to-rule pricks who lacked Labour's sense of principle. Gee Tau, why don'cha say what you really think?

In contrast to either of those ministers, Lockwood Smith continues to cruise in a statesmanlike fashion through his ministerial business. He did a remarkably good job of spinning an APEC ministers' resolution that amounted to not much more than: we think trade is good and tariffs are bad and that the World Trade Organisation should do something about it.

Ironically, the arrival of the trade ministers saw most New Zealanders transformed into rampant free-traders. We know when we're not getting a fair suck of the sav, and this is one of those times.

The Americans, having tried to use the WTO to force everyone to buy their revolting, hormone-sodden beef, are about to slap a tariff on New Zealand and Australian lamb to protect a sheep industry that's really not much more than a bunch of hobby farmers.

At some point, the WTO will get round to the so-called "industrials" - which, for some reasons, is what far stuff is called in world trade circles - and the Americans will not be able to do this kind of thing. That's what these endless, tedious discussions are all about.

Interestingly, Mr Supachai, the Thai deputy PM still jousting with our own Mike Moore for the WTO top job, articulated his stance on WTO policy while he was here this week. He was concerned that the US, the prime backer of Moore run, was a bit too interested in improving the pay and conditions of Asian workers. They didn't, he insisted, understand the situation.

People always cite the demise of our car assembly industry as one of the victims of tariff cuts. It was - but it was hardly an "industry". It was a wholly arbitary step in the process of car production that occurred solely because the tax structure dictated that cars should be imported as boxes of bits rather than whole cars.

The people working in the car assembly plants weren't creating great new products for the world to buy, they weren't using their Kiwi ingenuity; what they were doing ultimately had no future.

But most of them were good and skilled workers, because New Zealanders generally are. The problem wasn't the tariff cuts. The problem was an abject lack of vision from a government which, going by the small change it chucked at Porirua and Masterton, simply didn't give a shit about these people and their communities.

Where was the seed capital? The re-training? The tax breaks for replacement industries?

Nowhere. There is no vision - as evidenced by the government's attitude to the $70 million TVNZ picked up by selling its share in Sky TV this week. Now, this is also the week where a study revealed that New Zealand TV has the lowest level of local content of any country surveyed. So might not the $70m have been harnessed to some greater cultural good? To a centre of excellence? Or some Great New Zealand Television? No. The government said: thanks very much, we'll have that. The money will no doubt be used to help fund a tax cut coming to you soon - of before the election anyway.

So sad and contemptible, indeed, is this government, that it probably won't even be able to make capital out of the All Blacks return to the kind of ruthless efficiency that warms the hearts of New Zealanders. They went out and France and just did it - whoops, wrong sponsor.

Anyway, the new Adidas All Black jerseys were revealed this week. Not the high-tech, skin-tight future-fabric spacewear jerseys - they're saving those for the World Cup apparently. The new ones look, wellllllll a bit shirt-like.

That's about it for this week - but in closing I'd recommend that anyone with an interest in political stoush get themselves a ticket for Tony Sutorious's film 'Campaign' in the film festivals. It's the story of the strange goings-on in the Wellington Central electorate during the 1996 general election campaign. Intriguing cameos from a pre-makeover Shipley and an in-it-up-to-his-armpits McCully, and, overall, both funny and moving. See it -


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

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