Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

27th August 1999 - Tax, Lies and Videotape

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

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have a good week, then? I think I did, but my faculties got a bit scrambled by an unexpected 18-hour jaunt to Wellington.

I got off the plane after an hour talking to a man in a pinstripe suit about Rupert Murdoch and suddenly found that I'd gatecrashed Mike Moore's farewell drinks.

And a good do it was, too. As befits a man who washes his own undies in hotel bathrooms, Big Mike appeared to have conducted a wine blag of considerable scope. No two bottles the same, almost. He even managed a crack at the Australian Consulate in his speech for being a bit mean with their contribution to the cause.

And then we all sang "For he's a jolly good fellow" and I was off to the Plaza for the Tuanz Awards. I dimly remember standing on a stage shaking Maurice Williamson's hand and then meeting Mauri Pacific's spokesman on information technology, who seemed like a nice chap.

After not quite enough sleep, I met the acting chief film censor Bill Hastings over breakfast at the Astoria - don't you wish they'd just give the guy the damn job? - and managed the obligatory pilgrimage to L'Affare before departing into clear blue skies just in time for lunch. Or rather, in Ansett's case, a sort of cubist version of a ploughman's lunch that nobody really knew how to eat.

And that was Wellington. You wouldn't want to live there but you wouldn't mind a crash pad on The Terrace.

And I came back to the city where, to the south, the state of public health has fallen to third world levels, according to a report released at the beginning of the week. The situation has actually deteriorated since a similar report five years ago.

The government shrugged and said it was doing everything it could - and the Prime Minister, middle-class Ashburton farm matron that she is, said she blamed the parents.

Well I don't. I blame, above all else, National's housing policy. It's not exactly rocket science. Indeed, you could blame National's housing policy for most of National's problems.

The bungled move to market rents by Housing New Zealand helped create Auckland's rental-driven housing boom, which led the Reserve Bank to keep up interest rates to the point where the economy was smothered.

All the emphasis went onto the accommodation supplement, a subsidy to private landlords that has simply got out of control. People complain about the legal aid bill, but accommodation benefit costs are currently heading for two billion dollars a year. And still kids get sick in overcrowded housing in South Auckland. If that's not gross policy failure I'm afraid I don't know what is.

And I'm afraid that matters a whole lot more to me than Winston Peters I-told-you-I-was-right victory on appeal in the Winebox case.

The judges found that the Winebox Commissioner had erred in law in finding that there was no fraud in the most notable of the European Pacific tax dodges, the Magnum Transaction. They also found Sir Ronald was wrong in finding no negligence by Inland Revenue and the Serious Fraud Office, and in his sharp criticism of Winston.

It's quite a result. But in some ways it doesn't change anything. Magnum involved European Pacific arranging the supply - for a fee - of bogus tax credits from the Cook Islands government, which were then used to avoid paying tax in New Zealand.

It was, morally speaking, so obviously wrong that you wonder how anyone could think otherwise. But, like most people, I figured that, well the tax laws were a shambles back then, and if a respected retired judge who'd actually heard all that evidence thought there was no actual fraud, then maybe there wasn't.

The appeal judges didn't actually declare fraud, because that was outside their brief. So now Winston wants a prosecution. As much as I like the idea of Messrs Fay and Richwhite being arrested at the airport, the only real beneficiary of yet more legal trawling over of this sorry little chapter would be Winston Peters. And maybe not even then.

And speaking of tax, the government's wooing of Mauri Pacific in search of support for its tax cuts in now pretty much official - although Bill Birch won't admit it. Mauri Pacific wants $35 million spend in places of its choosing as the price of its support for helping National's tax cut legislation pass before the election.

And National's going to do it. They want this sucker. Remember, this is a tax cut against which they were specifically advised by Treasury.

Although the effect is the same, National hopes the idea of having a tax cut repealed will be quite differently received at the election than merely voting to decline one. It's entirely political.

Well not entirely, I suppose. Part of it is just the classic Shipley government duh factor. National also wants to do the deal now at any price because even if they did contrive to get back in, they wouldn't be able to meet their own deadline and they'd have to delay the tax cut anyway. Hilarious. I don't think.

Tau Henare, of course, is just pursuing his declared strategy of getting what he can out of the bastards. He hopes it'll play well in the Maori electorates, and it might do. But when he leaned back in his comfy Parliamentary chair and flashed the finger at Rodney Hide this week, he probably knew there was a solid National constituency who will feel that rude gesture is directed at them.

In which situation, you'd think the Alliance would keep its damn fool head down. But no. Out of the blue this week, they declared that their tax policy would once again include replacing GST with their mad Financial Transactions Tax. The prospect of Labour, as the senior partner in a coalition, even considering this is something less than zero. The prospect of it costing the Alliance votes the way it did at the last election is rather stronger.

Anyway, congratulations to Gatt Watchdog organiser Aziz Choudry for winning a substantial settlement for the government on account of the illegal - and, frankly, bungled - entry to his home by two SIS agents in 1996.

I don't actually agree with much of what Choudry says, and I actually think that at the end of the day a security service does need to be able to enter private property, but I don't think Aziz Choudry constitutes any threat whatsoever to national security.

Neither does Auckland City Councillor Maire Leadbeater, who's most upset that she wasn't allow to publish her anti-APEC thinkpiece in the council's free newspaper, City Scene.

Well, I'm glad. I don't like barrows being pushed via City Scene any more than I did when the bloody CitRats were doing it. I voted City Vision across the slate (apart from Phil Warren, for whom I have a soft spot) and I'd do so again, but this sort of crap annoys me. If she has something to say on international affairs, she can go and get it published in a real newspaper, not a council newsletter.

That's enough of politics. It's been a helluva week for sport. I managed to score a couple of corporate freebies last Saturday to watch the Warriors tear apart championship contenders Newcastle last Saturday. So did quite a few pollies, actually. My sources tell me that Winston Peters kept everyone in his box amused - or not - by "telling his Maori jokes". Oh good.

Now, Terry McLean once described sport as "a study of the human being under stress". And that's why so many of us find it better than any fiction.

There wasn't much drama for us Kiwis in the World Athletics Championships this year. We had to watch other people's athletes, like the sprinter Marion Jones. Does anybody else reckon she said "FUCK!" very loudly when she got that back spasm halfway down the straight?

No, the real story for us was the cricket. We beat England in an away series, 2-1 - and at least a couple of the ghastly English sporting journalists were good enough to acknowledge that it might well have been 4-0.

So England replace us at the bottom of the Wisden world rankings. But we shouldn't have been there anyway. Even before England, New Zealand had won series against Indian, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the past 18 months. Sure, we got thumped by South Africa, but so did the West Indies.

Indeed, Wisden's bizarre system still actually ranks the Windies above the Proteas, despite their 5-0 drubbing. It's weird.

But we have risen above it, thanks in no small part to Chris Cairns. Cairns played the final test with an injury, but instead of blowing up emotionally, as he has in the past, he stepped up and made the game his own. The flawed hero came good.

And so, amid all the static of another silly week in Godzone, there was no more affecting sight than that of old Walter Hadlee himself, there to meet the Black Caps at Christchurch airport, with tears in his eyes.

Awww ....


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

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