Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

4th August 2000 - Good Faith and Going Without

Copyright © 2000 Russell Brown

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and so, the great shepherd reached out to his flock and said: "Alright, there's a bit of a price spike on - but I can ignore it if you do."

Yes, Don Brash put down his customary economic parables in favour of a direct appeal to the workers this week. If the inflation spike caused by petrol and cigarette prices and the dip in the dollar wasn't perpetuated by wage rises, he wouldn't have to raise interest rates. The Deputy Prime Minister agreed but called on business leaders to set the example.

What presents itself here is the opportunity for an old-fashioned national consensus. One not based around a sporting event. Wage and salary earners agree to bear the current spike in prices in return for the good faith of government and business. Oh, alright, it's a pretty fond idea and one or two union leaders have snapped back at the governor already, but they might be open to persuasion.

Who wouldn't, on current form, is business. What would be required from business is not price restraint - the economy is sufficiently competitive that they're obliged to do that anyway - but good faith.

A group of companies organised by a PR firm this week placed full-page newspaper ads this complaining that "this government isn't listening" over the Employment Relations Bill.

Problem is, although the ads were run after the government unveiled the final form of the bill this week, they were completed in advance of the announcement. The fact that the government had actually made a raft of changes as a result of listening to business was ignored - and was certainly not allowed to get in the way of a good whinge. Such actions do not exactly reek of good faith.

Why should employers give it a go even if they don't like it? Because this is a bill which was a flagship of the Labour election campaign and people voted for it. And because none of it is out of line in international terms. Good faith bargaining, for example, doesn't appear to have damaged the American economy.

Individual contracts can still freely be made between employer and employee, contractors can still be contractors. It allows multi-employer contracts, but so did the Employment Contracts Act. Only unions can negotiate collective agreements - but anybody can be a union, minimum membership two, subject to fairly simple democratic requirements.

If employer groups would stop whingeing and engage the legislation they might actually find some use in it. Under it, they can encourage and even financially support in-house unions like that already being nurtured by the Warehouse.

There will very likely be other worker advocacy services that undercut the fees of existing unions. The union establishment doesn't have a mortgage on advocacy, and it is not inconceivable that some could lose business to cheaper, smarter, more effective employee advocates. They will have to compete. This is all good.

People will decide what they want. And if his People First outfit is so much better a deal than the mainstream retail workers' union, Stephen Tindall ought to let it compete. Banning one union but letting his pet one in isn't doing that.

Any show of sensible discussion has been replaced by lead stories focusing on the fridge magnet the government has sent out along with information in the bill. The magnet carries the address of the Cabinet Website. This seems a simple, clever device. It also seems more than a little trivial as the subject of a newspaper's front-page lead story.

But we live in trivial times. The people who said the Mark Todd issue wouldn't go away were right - even if that's because the same people are obsessively keeping it on the boil.

There was another insane New Zealand Herald editorial on the subject this week. The paper urged the government to withold money from the New Zealand Olympic Committee and - incredibly - compared the little tabloid scandal to the 1981 Springbok tour.

Better get ready to take to the streets again, comrades. I don't think. This is seriously creative stuff, though. Geoff Steven should call in the author and build a TV2 show around it: Whose Utter Bollocks Is This Anyway? perhaps.

Look, I don't think anybody should admire Mark Todd for having repeated unprotected sex without telling his wife - assuming, of course, that his wife did not in fact know about his gay life.

Cocaine is illegal. And the oath that New Zealand Olympians sign swears them off illegal drugs. They could, of course, get blind drunk and wipe someone out in a car. That would be alright. But drugs are bad, okay?

On the basis that Todd hasn't denied any of the details published by the Sunday Mirror, the Herald and others hold that the Olympic Committee and Eventing New Zealand should ban him - and if they don't that the government should.

But given that the matter appears to have fallen well below the radar of the British plod, they don't even have a prosecution to go on. They could be forgiven for thinking that allowing a tabloid newspaper on the far side of the world to run things would be just a bit fraught.

I'm a little tired of hearing that allowances shouldn't be made for Mark Todd, that a young Olympian in the same position wouldn't get any latitude.

The point here surely is that a young Olympian would never in a million years be in the same position as Mark Todd. A young Olympian wouldn't have been set up and videotaped by a foreign newspaper. A young Olympian probably wouldn't have had time to develop a personal life as hopelessly messy as Mark Todd's either.

Let's be realistic about these Olympics. If New Year's Eve is anything to go by, Sydney will be awash with Ecstasy for the duration. The police, having gone on record as crediting the uptake of E for their relatively trouble-free Millennium watch, will be more interested in traffic and pickpockets.

In Sydney you will have a bunch of young, fit, sexy people who will over the course of two weeks be relieved of the burden of up to four years' training. They will be after a party. And some of them will quite enthusiastically violate their Olympic oaths. They won't be in the papers.

I am wary anyway of undertakings that that seek to prescribe the private lives of sportspeople. It's actually enough for me that they compete well, don't cheat and, hopefully, win.

Will Jenny Shipley and Jim Anderton, both of whom are obviously feeling the need for a bit of cheap publicity, be demanding oaths on the matter of past drug use from their caucuses? After all, surely running the country is much more important than riding a sodding horse around a paddock?

At the moment, it's only Maori MPs who seem obliged to cough up their past misdeeds. And in the cases of Dover Samuels and John Tamihere, there's been quite a bit of coughing to do.

Samuels unexpectedly turned up at Parliament this week to confess to two ancient convictions - for theft and for selling liquor without a license - that led to brief spells of imprisonment. It's tempting to conclude that an urban pakeha wouldn't have gone to prison on either.

Unfortunately, for Dover Samuels, everything he says and does just digs him in deeper. The convictions were not reported to his party when he became a candidate and he now faces the prospect of explusion.

Shipley - who is plainly still in need of medical attention - has floated the idea of banning anyone with a criminal conviction from standing for Parliament. What an appalling idea.

The current Prime Minister, while plainly seething at being presented with yet another surprise from her former Maori Affairs minister, has not rushed to cheap judgements on any of the matters that might have invited them this year. That's one of the things I like about her.

But you do fret that she's alright, what with the rather nasty nature of the political climate. So it was nice to see her get a hug from both Havoc and the Newsboy in this week's episode one of the new series. Give Helen Clark a Hug.

It was quite a night for local television, actually. Apart from the return of the dynamic duo there was a new series from the Topp Twins, as mad and clever as it was daft and cuddly. And there was Street Legal, where the heavily disguised streets of Ponsonby were stalked by a vicious criminal known to bFM listeners as the Rhythm Slave, 4-7 Wednesdays with Otis.

Oh, listen to me, will you? Maybe Jim Gladwin from the Water Pressure Group was right about me. Jim, I know you're listening, I'm sorry - I shouldn't have called you a nutter. Like Fran O'Sullivan, you're alright really. I respect the fact that you're active in your community. I just disagree with you, that's all.

Jim thinks I'm a flash git, and, hell, perhaps I am. How flash is it, for example, that I'm surging up the charts at Yes, me! The t-shirt deal is on the table as I speak


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

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