Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

17th March 2000 - The Thrusting Organ of Investigation

Copyright © 2000 Russell Brown

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memo to the Employers Federation, the Business Roundtable and various other interests: We will soon have industrial relations laws that conform to basic international standards. Get over it, stop whining and get on with it.

The new government's Employment Relations Bill got its first reading this week, sparking a scramble to analyse its contents. It looks tidy and well-drafted to me, and what might be regarded as its airy-fairy element - good-faith bargaining - will be contested in select committee and proved thereafter in the pudding. Given our truly horrible record of productivity growth under the Employment Contracts Act, I am very much inclined to give it a go.

As, I suspect, will good employers. Indeed, it's a sign of what a deep-down loser Jenny Shipley is that she's chosen this issue as her own. It won't work for her and she won't work for it.

National has even set up a Website about it, which has some nice animated pictures of dinosaurs but descends at times into sheer tosh. Among other things, worried workers are informed that they won't be allowed to strike unless they're in a union. Well, yes. And unions will be constrained as to how they can undertake strike action, how they're constituted and how they can otherwise behave. National appears to be going into bat for the right to industrial anarchy.

What I am already tired of hearing is that the thrusting, technology-driven new economy has no need of crusty old labour rights. Sure. Tell that to somebody who works in a call centre. The shiny new knowledge workers, on the other hand, will be quite unmolested: they won't be on collective contracts, they don't have to join a union, they can carry on collecting their stock options.

But - and there are overseas trends pointing this way - maybe they want a union, perhaps one that can advise them on stock options. Maybe they'll take the necessary steps to form their own: minimum size, two people. Maybe their employers, seeking to deal with a union that understands their businesses, will chuck in a bit of money to set one up. It's all there in the legislation and it could be very useful if certain people could get their heads out of the third-world, low-standards space they're in.

Speaking of a third-world, low-standards mental space, climb inside, if you dare, the minds of Richard Prebble and Rodney Hide. Act's dustbusting scandal-hoovers are facing a revolt in their own party over their preference for populist point-scoring over intellectual rigour.

Major Roger Douglas ... hang on, Major Douglas was that other looney party, wasn't it? ... Sir Roger Douglas may not be pleased to find TweedleDumb and TweedleDuh chasing cheap political points again.

Looking for a Tuku Mk II, Prebble and Hide have gone for the new Labour MP John Tamihere, accusing him of ... well, it's not clear, really.

What is not in dispute is that two years ago nearly $200,000 of public health money was received by the Waiparera Trust and put in the wrong bank account - that of the Aotearoa Maori Rugby League, for which the trust was providing accounting services. It was subsequently put in the right account, along with interest. Shit happens, I believe the phrase is.

Prebble also brandished an internal memo from the Trust's new CEO, questioning the quality of some of the financial management under Tamihere. It may well be that the trust he built has simply grown too big and too complex for a salty sort like Tamihere to handle. If this is a crime there'd be a lot of entrepreneurs in jail.

But maonly - and Winston Peters would do well to note this - Waiparera isn't some publicly-funded start-up being looted by its so-called directors. It isn't Aotearoa Television Network. It's not a charity case either.

Tamihere is now hinting about fighting filth with filth. He should be careful. He has a chance of becoming one of the great Maori MPs, but he'll only lose himself on the road - or turn into Winston Peters - if he plays Prebble's game.

If he needed any proof of that this week, Prebble provided it himself. Now, most of those of us who have succumbed to the forbidden embrace of cannabis - that is, more than half the people born since 1960 - either don't do it any more, or choose their moments.

Reliable sources of mine recommend it whilst listening to music - of the reggae persuasion or otherwise - or before doing the dishes, attending a large sporting event or gettin' jiggy wid' it.

But they're a strange mob in Wellington. Down there, it seems some people's idea of a good time is to spark up in the very seat of democracy - or, in the case of Mr Andy Gregory, on the toilet seat of democracy.

Now, Mr Gregory was a press secretary employed by the Act party on the taxpayer-funded Parliamentary Services budget. He's also a foundation member of Act, a former communications director of the Employers' Federation and a Richard Prebble hire.

He has resigned from Parliament after allegedly being discovered by a security guard having a sly reefer in the dunnies at Parliament. The amusing thing here is that when an Alliance press secretary and a journalist were accused of doing the same thing in the debating chamber - which, if you ask me, shows a hell of a lot more style - Richard Prebble rode a very high horse indeed.

Actually, the earlier accusations were unproven and no action was taken by the Speaker, but that hardly matters. The point is that Prebble, having made so much mileage from the earlier incident, was nowhere to be found when one of his staff committed the same grievous offence. Ho Ho.

Perhaps we should hand the whole affair over to Ian Wishart and his thrusting organ of investigative innovation, Investigate. The second issue of Wishart's magazine is - along with quite a cluster of other local rags - out now. And it's business as usual.

Wishart has a dreadful habit of burying perfectly good contentions under three tons of rubbish. In the first issue it was the call for a national constitution obscured by a lot of tenuous raving to the effect that we don't have sovereign government because the British laws that declared us such couldn't have been valid after 1920. At least I think that was it.

Despite Wishart repeatedly conjuring "leading academics and judges in Australia" and "mainstream constitutional lawyers in New Zealand" as supporters of this theory, none of either were much in evidence after the story got further publicity. Which is, of course, just what you'd bloody well expect if there was a conspiracy of silence, isn't it?

The new issue's cover story concerns an Indonesian businessman cleared by our intelligence services to meet President Clinton during his Apec visit - who turned out to be a complete embarrassment: linked not only to the Chinese secret service but to the Democrat fundraising scandal that Clinton has spent two years trying to stand well clear of. It was an appalling cock-up to let him meet Clinton - but, once again, Wishart has wrecked a good little story with pages of conspiratorial overkill.

I'm amused by Wishart's high and mighty attitude towards the mainstream media - he was billing Investigate as "New Zealand's current affairs leader" even before it hit the shelves. That's a bit rich when, on page 19 of the new issue, he prints as fact a 25-year-old urban myth, under the heading 'Only in America'.

But what actually irks me is the tax-dodgers he lionises. Oh, okay Ian. So I'm supposed to think the winebox companies were villains because they worked the boundaries of the law to avoid paying tax. But why in Investigate am I repeatedly urged to regard various individuals doing the same thing as heroes?

Nonethless, after all that, I sincerely hope Wishart and his unorthodox publishing empire survive and prosper. There's an energy about the man and he makes a contribution to the national tapestry. Independent publishing is no easy thing and anybody who does it is to be applauded.

Speaking of which, I was relieved to see the Craccum editors given a huge vote of confidence by Auckland university students this week. I'm still not sure I liked their story about suicide, but I'm very sure I didn't like the idea of them being hounded out by a bunch of middle-aged busybodies, or morally instructed by the New Zealand Herald.

Said middle-aged busybodies would no doubt also disapprove of the relaunched Remix magazine, but I like the way Remix takes on club culture issues.

They've run a story on the health risks of cellphone use in the same issue as they've sold Nokia the sponsorship of their club news columns. Their story about speed - which is very popular in Auckland at the moment - kicks off by explaining why you have to queue outside the cubicles in club toilets these days, but also has a frank chat with a police officer and lists the many ways in which whizz can harm your health.

It's probably a mark of an upturning economy that we're seeing a bit of a blossoming of the street press. The latest crop looks plump, shiny, perfect-bound and healthy. There's Wellington's Loop, which has the biggest concepts and most of the best writing - but an unfortunately dull cover. Simone Kessell with her shirt off and a gormless expression on. I know cover chicks sell magazines, but in this case it undersells the contents.

Ditto for Remix, actually. The coolest, creepiest cover definitely belongs to Pulp, which has gone for a chick with black contact lenses.

Anyway, two of the new street mags have cover CDs, two of them have Websites, two of them interview Nandor Tanczos, all of them have fashion spreads, and all of them have a mobile telephony presence. They're all a lot more fun than listening to people flounce around striking poses over the new labour laws.

Or kvetching about the Black Caps. Look, for a good 30 minutes on the last day of the first test, we had the Australians just a bit worried. This is more than either Pakistan or India achieved this summer. And Daniel Vettori? Gotta love the guy. The second-best match analysis in New Zealand cricket history can't be denied.

Well, that's it. I've got a day job or two to attend to. Gotta pay those union dues, right? Oh, and if you're not doing anything tomorrow morning - apart from listening to Nice 'n' Urlich, of course - get along to the Westmere school fair. It's always a good do, and the posters this year are better than ever


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

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