Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

13th August 1999 - World Masters of Bullshit!

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

The Web Version of The Hard News is made available
by NZ Now Net

HardNews Home

1999 Hard News


HARD NEWS is first broadcast in Auckland on 95bFM around 9.30am on Fridays and replayed around 5.15pm Friday and 10am Sunday on The Culture Bunker. You can listen to 95bFM live on the Internet. Point your web browser to You will need an MP3 player. Currently New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of GMT.

HARD NEWS is also available in MP3 form from and in text form at You can subscribe to the 95bFM Hard News mailing list at


reach for your wallets people! Do I have a seminar for you! For only $10,000 upfront and first refusal on your firstborn child - or that of a nominated employee - you can attend World Masters of Bullshit!

Hear the world's greatest bullshitters explain just what a good little earner travelling around the world giving the same pat speech several times a week can be!

Learn how to extract thousands of dollars from starstruck and gullible businesspeople! Encourage them to impress their clients by paying five times as much to sit near the front! And the best part is, you'll get no grief from the business press - because they're in on it too!

Honestly, if the business community and its media applied the same rigour to over-promoted so-called "seminars" like this year's World Masters of Business as they demand of everybody else, they wouldn't happen. And the carnies who run these roadshows would be out of a dollar.

That's business. But when Green MP Rod Donald asked government ministers how much their departments had spent sending people to hear Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf, Mikhail Gorbacev, the discredited downsizer Al "Chainsaw" Dunlap and others, he struck a raw nerve.

Defence Minister Max Bradford checked and was no doubt horrified to find that defence forces had spent nearly $40,000 of taxpayer money sending 60 staff to the one-day seminar. Now Bradford is not stupid. He knew that this would turn into a embarrassment unless he nailed it.

So he wrote to the chief of defence to say that he'd cut the Defence Force's personnel development budget by $200,000 over the next two years. It wasn't a particularly constructive thing to do, but it got Bradford off the hook and that was what mattered.

Perhaps he needn't have bothered. Protest from the usual guardians of the public purse, like Act, and from the business press was almost nil, even though WINZ was tied up in this one too. To rail too strongly against corporate bollocks in the public sector might have drawn a bit too much attention to private sector bollocks.

The Defence debacle rounded out a week that began with the Incis debacle. On Monday night, IBM announced - from the safe distance of Tokyo - that it was getting the hell out of the troubled police computer project.

What the police have now is an NT-based computer system that does roughly what the Wanganui Computer did, with email. The rank and file cops who use it say it's a pig of thing to get data into.

There had been so many additions and alterations to the contract that Big Blue considered its obligations fulfilled, even though only stage one of three had been completed in five years, at a cost of $106 million - or more than the original budget for the whole damn thing.

Hindsight's cheap in these matters, especially in an era when whole paradigms change while you've popped down to the dairy for a pint of milk, but it's clear now that public sector IT projects should be manageable and modular. That they shouldn't be launched on fond assumptions about making millions of dollars selling systems that haven't even been built yet. And that the "hands-off" philosophy of letting state sector managers make all their own IT decisions has some serious shortcomings.

I can't help but feel we haven't yet heard the whole story about the collapse of Incis. IBM and the government have been discussing this since March and, while the computer company was keen to cut a deal, the government seems not to have wanted to know.

Now, with IBM putting daylight between itself and Incis, the government seems somehow to believe there's still time to talk things over. It seems more likely that its options are to (a) find someone else to try and finish the job, and (b)

Further embarrassment seeped out also this week in the form of a Treasury paper released to the Herald. Treasury told the government it couldn't do what it has been promising and still stay under its declared $600 million cap on new social spending.

Treasury also advised the government against its recently announced tax cut; and particularly against the kind of cut - widening the gap between the middle and top rates - it chose to make.

The timing of the tax cut announcement is also unfortunate from Treasury's point of view. In order to get such a cut in place by April 1, the legislation should be passed before the election. But Bill English won't be able to do that unless he gets the support of Mauri Pacific. This would almost certainly involve a substantial policy bribe to win the affection of Mauri Pacific leader Tau Henare.

We may actually have already seen this, with the sudden lurch away from the policy of "mainstreaming" of social services to Maori, to targeted assistance to be distributed to Maori service providers by Te Puni Kokiri. It's hard to think of any other reason for such an amazing reversal on what the government has been preaching for years.

That said, it ain't a bad idea. And neither is the move by the Ministry of Commerce this week to level the field for competitors by requiring Telecom to actually publish financial accounts for its local loop business and its Kiwi Share obligations. Telecom has brandished the allegedly onerous requirements of running a monopoly access business every time someone else tries to negotiate into the market. When this kicks in next year, we'll actually know.

But puh-lease, spare us from Maurice Williamson who, having repeatedly rejected anything like this for nearly a decade, this week styled himself as the active defender of competition - while the Labour Party had, in nine years in Opposition, done nowt. Pardon? Remind us who's been the Minister of Communications for nine years? Who styled himself "hands-off Harry"? Who has promised to act and then fudged more times than Tau Henare's tried to give up smoking?

Whatever, it means a somewhat more difficult environment for Theresa Gattung when she takes over from Rod Deane at the helm of Telecom in October.

At only 37 years old, and as a woman in an overwhelmingly male world, Gattung breaks the mould. Whether she'll be able to change Telecom's ghastly internal culture - which recruits bright young people then usually ejects them bruised, battered and traumatised - is another matter. It's tempting to suppose that she herself is only there because she didn't have to fight her way through Telecom's middle management dead zone.

We also currently have a 37 year-old Treasurer. Whether that will be the case after November will be a matter for the voters. The polls have Labour ahead - but can't agree by how much.

One poll this week put the Greens in the picture, another suggested the horrifying prospect of New Zealand First again having the balance of power.

Labour and the Alliance will have to decide which of them will put a candidate up against Prebble in Wellington Central. National won't stand a candidate aginst Prebble, but if he still loses, Act might just disappear from Parliament. Snicker.

At the same time, if Labour decides to give Jeanette Fitzsimmons a clear run in Coromandel, we might see three Green MPs in Parliament.

Anything could happen and it has to happen by November. You know, I'm almost looking forward to it ...


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

[ HardNews Home ] [ 1999 Hard News ] [ Subscribe ]

NZ Now Net Ltd NZ News Net
Search NZ News Net
Write to NZ News Net
Last update: 13 August 1999

Text Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown.
Formatting Copyright © 1999 NZ News Net