Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

24th September 1999 - Nice Dress, Shame About the Economy

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

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so sorry to have missed last week's post-Apec appointment, but I was drugged by a shadowy group with links to powerful international financial interests and then taken to a secret location.

Well actually, I copped a bad old flu and took myself to the Coromandel, but I thought the first version sounded a bit more hysterical.

So anyway, it's over and we're all expected to be terribly impressed that, after doing a reasonable impression of a possum in the headlights as Timor broke all over the first week of Apec, the Prime Minister didn't fluff her lines in the second week. Indeed, it was classic cue-card Shipley; shuttling from one tightly-scripted photo-op to another, basking in the reflected glow of the President of the USA.

She wore nice dresses and she had Burton at her side. In PR terms, the Burton factor was most adeptly handled - for this is a place where Helen Clark cannot go. She has a husband, but he is a little man and does not, I would wager, play golf, even with visiting presidents.

But Burton did, and then appeared beside his wife on Holmes, a picture of strong, southern family values. She spoiled it a bit of course by lying the moment she came under even the gentlest pressure from Holmes over the debacle in Christchurch.

She told Holmes that the police action against the Free Tibet protestors had been purely an operational decision for the police commanders and nothing to do with her. Right.

And Mark Prebble, her chief of staff, was just debating the dinner menu during those vigorous discussions with the police.

And making a great wall of buses and turning on police car sirens to drown out lawful protestors so the Chinese president can get to dinner without having his eyes or ears offended is just standard public order policing. Happens all the time.

But anyway, the government figures Apec is as good as it's gonna get and will finally stop playing sillybuggers on Sunday and name an election date. National has already declared that it won't stand a candidate against Richard Prebble in Wellington Central - which is a bit more honest than what they did last time; standing a candidate and stabbing him in the back.

It still leaves Prebble as the only major party leader who can't win an electorate seat on his own. Keen observers of the political process will have noticed he has made an art of arselicking in recent weeks, even coming out with the priceless claim during Apec that: "The hero of the whole thing was Burton Shipley - what a great ambassador for New Zealand!" Honestly, if Prebble got any more trivial he'd write another one of his wretched books, probably.

There are, frankly, bigger issues in the air than Prebble's list of redneck hot-buttons. Like the current account deficit - the difference between what the nation spends in the world and what it makes, which is at its worst in 13 years. Our lame export performance continues to drag us into the red - potentially pushing up interest rates and putting *both* tax cuts and big spending off the agenda for the next government.

Or perhaps the latest quarterly GDP figures - which actually show the economy contracting by 0.3%. That's really pretty disastrous.

There's the new report from the Family Centre, undertaken with public funding and the help of ACNielsen, which showed that - and this is absolutely a result of government policy for the last nine years - nearly half of poor households really are paying 40% and upwards of their income in rent and they really often don't have enough money to take their kids to the doctor, or for food.

And, of course, there's the fact of our soldiers being drawn into an unpickable mess in East Timor. Making oneself subject to the domestic agendas of another country is usually a worry - and when the other country is Indonesia, it's terrifying.

I somehow doubt that Timor will turn into a "Falklands factor" for National and rescue Shipley the way war rescued Margaret Thatcher in 1982. For all her faults, Shipley isn't the nasty piece of work that Thatcher was, and New Zealanders are not so prone to hysterical manipulations as the British.

Or are we? Some people are certainly going to try - witness Fran O'Sullivan's embarrassing Herald column this week that claimed "mediocrity will once again rise up the beanstalk if Labour's proposals to inflict extra taxes on those paid above $60,000 are accepted by business as a fait accompli".

For one thing, "mediocrity will rise up the beanstalk" is a foul metaphor that ought never have seen print. For another, O'Sullivan's exhortation for Labour to follow the example of the Blair government in Britain and cut taxes is amazingly ill-informed.

The facts, for part-time business columnists too lazy to do their own research, are these. The major income tax cut introduced by British chancellor Gordon Brown this year was at the very bottom end of the scale - he cut the rate on incomes less than 1500 pounds a year from 20 to 10p. It was more of a publicity stunt than a meaningful fiscal strategy - and it has absolutely nothing to do with the top tax rate O'Sullivan witters own about in her column.

The UK's top tax rate, at 40p in the pound, is not only higher than that planned by New Zealand Labour and there are no plans to reduce it. Mediocrity does not presently appear to be rising up Britain's beanstalk. But, even when the commentators do not have a clue what they're on about, you can expect to hear lots of shock horror stuff about tax, ACC and the unions between now and ooh, and the first weekend of November.

Yes, some smart folks are picking that National will go to the polls on November 6, simultaneously giving itself less time in which to screw up and cashing in on the national euphoria as the All Blacks prepare for the World Cup Final. Probably. In any case, it's going to be a funny old month and a bit


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

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