Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

14th April 2000 - No Laughing Matter

Copyright © 2000 Russell Brown

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some weeks the headlines are not kind to news commentators. There are precious few laughs in the likes of the cervical screening inquiry, which seeks to trawl over one man's disastrous misreading of test results over the span of years.

Even the ostensible aim of the inquiry - to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again - has been clouded this week by the drama and bitterness around Dr Michael Botrill's statement. If you can find a laugh in that, good luck to you.

And there is nothing funny about the discovery on both islands of the Varroa bee mite, a biosecurity disaster that can't be reversed and that threatens a live bee trade of $1.8 million and a broader bee-dependent economy running to $3 billion a year. The mite came in four years ago; we're left now with the clean-up and the recriminations. If you know any good bee mite jokes you'd probably best keep them to yourself.

How fortunate for commentary purposes then, that the Audit Office and the Serious Fraud Office have come back with their reports on Act leader Richard Prebble's mudslinging at the Waiparera Trust and its former CEO, Labour MP John Tamihere. The result: apart from the messy contracts devised by the last government - which apply to all such private agencies - the Audit Office could find nothing. The SFO has found no fraud or forgery.

Prebble hasn't apologised. He can't. Instead, last night he issued a press release which began "ACT leader Richard Prebble is refusing to speculate on the matters that the Serious Fraud Office states it is still investigating with regard to the Waipareira Trust." Refusing to speculate? Why, in a campaign of vilification based entirely on speculation, stop now?

Prebble is already belly-crawling away, of course; promising in the same statement to forward the findings to "the people who made the allegations against the Trust". Pardon? Who is it who's been standing up day after day and alluding ito fraud and impropriety under the protection of Parliamentary privilege?

Prebble avoided any commitment to responsibility for the mud he was flinging when he flung it; so the chances of his resignation now are zero. So in the interests of stopping him and he Tweedledum chum Rodney further stinking up the Parliament, I suggest his party president, Roger Douglas, takes action to protect Act's good name, such as it is.

Douglas is a nutter, but a nutter with integrity. Prebble's just a turd in the sewer of democracy. And at last we chance upon a joke; Act's slogan: "Values, not politics".

But if Prebble's aim was to damage the Maori MP, then he has succeeded at least in part. Tamihere eventually couldn't hold his poise and used Parliament to denounce the people who talked to Prebble as "thieves and drug addicts", then breached the privacy of some other people.

The Labour spin team descended from that point - as evidenced by Tamihere's apology for both gaffes, and, one suspects, the subsequent appearance on the cover of the Woman's Weekly of Tamihere, his partner and their election-night baby, Hauraki, who has just been cleared of cystic fibrosis. Still, rather them than Paul bloody Holmes again.

Speaking of which, I look forward to Holmes' erstwhile replacement Linda Clark taking over at Grace magazine. The idea of Grace is great; by women for women and never mind the paparazzi. The execution is still pretty humdrum. I actually bought the current issue because Telecom's Theresa Gattung was on the cover. I was disappointed. Rarely can someone so interesting have been so consistently poorly interviewed.

And speaking of interviewing, I rather do hope that the sartorially splendid John Campbell gets the new Saturday morning slot on National Radio, as rumours indicate. I always thought the flap over Brian Edwards' departure was fatuous. Edwards appeared to regard himself as beyond criticism; a dangerous stance to take when your show is stagnant and you lose ratings to Pam Corkery every time there's a survey.

National Radio itself is up for discussion under the broadcasting policy process announced this week by Marian Hobbs. The process looks appealingly broad; covering everything from the Internet and digital TV to youth and minority programming. Significantly, it will aim to find a way to put broadcast funding back out of the reach of Treasury.

The main thing saving Labour from the death of a thousand reviews is at the moment is that the reviews, including the telecommunications inquiry, have been creditably robust. They seem to have the right idea. But delivering that into policy - as the rapidly receding promise of local broadcast quotas shows - is another matter.

Christchurch Central MP Tim Barnett sought to push along the policy process over marijuana this week, by asking Health Minister Annette King to supply statistics on the relative damage caused by alcohol compared to dope. The results were not unexpected, but still a little startling.

In the period between 1994 and 1996 there were 419 deaths in which alcohol was the underlying cause; liver disease, psychoses, accidental poisoning, that sort of thing. There were a further 509 deaths from the likes of road accidents, suicide and falls related to alcohol abuse. That's nearly 1000 deaths in three years.

On the other hand, there was one death where cannabis was recorded as the underlying cause and 23 of external causes where cannabis might have contributed. Given that, at even a conservative assessment, fully half as many people smoke pot at some time as drink alcohol in New Zealand, you might wonder whether the law is an ass.

An ass, additionally, is what the Auckland Rugby Union is. There we were last Saturday, me and a mate, exercising the right God gave to Aucklanders to turn up at Eden Park five minutes before kick-off and gain admission.

This oughtn't have been a problem. We had money and there wasn't a queue. Could there be anything else to it? Unfortunately, yes. I strode up to the booth marked as selling tickets for the Lower South Stand, my favourite spot. Two tickets, please, I said, brandishing two crisp $20 notes.

"I've only got one single ticket left, I'm afraid," said the man in the booth, showing me the single ticket. But he had piles of other tickets neatly stacked in front of him. "But I can sell you three seats for $45."

But, look, I said, there are only two of us. Two seats for the advertised $20 each, please. Nope. Even though the stand we wanted to sit in was only about half full, we could not get into the ground without paying for a seat we didn't need. This strikes me as borderline illegal, and certainly not the way to treat someone you want to come back. It didn't help that the bastard gave us hopeless seats and that the Blues were quite horrible.

But let us conclude on happier matters. Has this been the best New Zealand Music Week on 95bFM ever? I think so. The station has sounded fabulous this week; driven along no doubt by spanking live-to-airs by more than 40 different acts. Maximum respect to Dubhead for making this all happen.

And a tip of the wings too, to Hugh, who I think has come of age in his current standing-in slot for Mr Havoc. Hugh, you'll more than do


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

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