Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

13th October 2000 - Pathologically Constructive

Copyright © 2000 Russell Brown

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well, thanks to the people who emailed me about last week's Hard News and to the people who've mentioned it through the week. And thanks especially to the folks who talked to me about Hard News at Derrick Carter. I love you too ...

I've since been able to read some more of Rich Poole's chain letters - starting with the email in which he touts the support of "the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and Opposition parties" for his little stunt, and specifically says that the ad is Roger Kerr's initiative.

There is also a depiction of a "shocking" New Zealand that some of you living here might have trouble recognising, and a claim that the ERA is the most extreme employment law in the world.

That was followed, of course, by the "abridged" version, which, according to Poole's covering note, had been relieved of the mention of "any business organisation's financial assistance" - "which," Rich adds "is definitely not the case" - because the original email "seems to have a very small percentage of people thinking that this is some right wing movement or anti-government group."

Well, why ever would they think that?

It didn't stop there. Poole last week denied ever having been formally involved with the National Party - which seems a bit of a stretch given that I've been contacted by someone who attended National Party recruiting meetings at Poole's house. The issue here isn't membership of a political party - active participation in democracy is something to be proud of - but being apparently unable to tell the truth about it.

I had actually been developing a little sympathy for Poole - much as one would a keen but rather stupid dog which has injured itself chasing parked cars. But in reading the emails and considering what Poole told the nation last week it's tempting to regard him as a lying little shit. What exactly do they teach them at those fancy private schools anyway?

Poole describes himself and his school chums as "New Zealand's future", and he's lined up to address his Dad's friends at the Northern Club, but you and I might wonder what kind of a go-getter is it who at the age of 27 is still working for Daddy.

Alright, enough of that - except to note that Holmes' interview with Roger Kerr on Friday night was an utter travesty. "Were you and Rich Poole involved in a conspiracy?" Holmes inquired. "No." said Kerr. And that was the extent of the interrogation. In doing the deal and taking on the story, Holmes and his programme had become so bought and paid for - figuratively rather than financially - that he couldn't ask even the most basic questions.

Holmes' ownership of the Young New Zealanders' stunt was bound, of course, to pique the New Zealand Herald, which tends to prefer its big stories with the Herald grandstanding around in the midst of them.

But what's happened since is way beyond pique. The Herald, whose editorial voice has verged on the lunatic at times this year, has suddenly reinvented itself and turned almost pathologically constructive.

The government's petulant - if perhaps understandable - failure to invite certain business leaders, like Roundtable chairman Ralph Norris, to its forthcoming economic summit would normally have provoked an editorial frenzy from the Herald. But this week, it merely urged inclusion and reconciliation.

Truly, it is now the newspaper of positivity and the "jobs challenge", and its letters page is stacked with communications from Herald readers grateful for the leadership Auckland's favourite newspaper has shown. But seriously, it is an improvement.

And the warning to the government about running around declaring enemies is well made. Snubbing these people will just make them even more cranky and paranoid. Just engage them again and again until they get bored with it.

Because we have bigger fish to fry. Like Labour's superannuation plan - which is very, very big. Fifty years big. $240 billion big. And big enough, one would think, to warrant some very robust debate. But Act and National appear to have cried wolf so long and loud over the ERA and ACC that they they've quite lost their voices over this one.

This is not, it must be said, a good issue for Bill English to go out and brand himself with. Not only is there the substantial risk of misreading the public mood, but Michael Cullen is terrific on the super plan. Whether he's right or not I don't know, but he has been staring at the numbers long enough to at least appear to have all the answers.

The short version is that the government will begin by putting aside $25 billion over the next 10 years to meet the swelling cost of pensions as the baby boomers retire. The money will be independently managed, first as a single fund then as several as the pot swells. Most of it will be invested overseas.

The alternative to this pre-funding is an official private-sector scheme, like that proposed by Winston Peters and soundly rejected by the electorate during the last term of government, or the government backing itself to be able to pay as it goes for the looming grey bubble.

The most convincing argument against the plan is that in committing such a chunk of GDP for such a long time you severely curtail your options for doing much else - be that spending more on public services or trying to grow the economy with tax cuts.

Cullen can't guarantee that a government in 30 years' time will do as he says. But even if in 30 years' time we can't afford to pay every couple 65% of the average wage, even if there is a means test or a surtax, some public savings now would seem to me to be less reckless and more prudent than assuming we'll be flush in 20 or 30 years' time.

If Cullen was looking unusually good this week, Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel was looking very crap. Immigration Offcials didn't just deport a Filipino family, they staged a dawn raid and didn't even let them gather their belongings. To make it worse, it was a mistake - and the family had to be fetched back from Manila almost as soon as they'd landed.

While we should bear in mind that these people did flout our laws, and were only brought back because their appeal to the Removal Review Authority had not yet been heard, this kind of action is unacceptable. Dalziel appears to have been genuinely unaware of the way her officials planned to apply the tough new overstayer laws But that doesn't mean she's not responsible. She's the minister.

Dalziel has also been in strife over the mostly Chinese refugees who staged relay hunger strikes to try and get themselves into the overstayer amnesty - where, vague notions of fairness aside - they have no right to be. National MP Pansy Wong has been wading in on the refugees' behalf, but I can't help but wonder where the hell she was last year, when her own party was sending refugees direct to jail. Hypocrisy comes cheap these days.

As, one would suspect do railways. Anybody wanna by a branch line? TranzRail announced this week that it's looking to sell or contract off nearly everything apart from its core freight business and the inter-island ferries.

Now, I recall back in 1993 when New Zealand Rail was flicked on to Wisconsin Central and Fay Richwhite that I was of the opinion that it mightnot be such a bad idea to sell the thing to someone who actually wanted to run a railway. More fool me. The extent to which TranzRail does not want to run a railway is plain to anyone who has trod near the ghostly tracks of the Auckland commuter network.

TranzRail's sole new revenue idea is to try and get $60 million out of Auckland local authorities and the government to allow use of the rail corridors it leased from the then National government, along with the land under every other track in the country for a dollar.

Still, Wisconsin Central did bring some things into its New Zealand venture - like its rotten record on employee safety.

The other big noise this week was the plan to sell Fletcher Energy to Shell for nearly $5 billion. The markets were all set to hoover up a little happy dust when it became clear that the two companies had announced the deal before they had Commerce Commission approval. And the Commerce Commission wasn't approving.

It decided that what was plainly a fantastic deal for Fletcher Energy shareholders might not turn out so well for consumers. This appears to have come as a complete and utter shock to all involved. The by-now customary response took place: the NZ dollar dipped below 40 cents US again. Whatever ...

We were actually snapped out of our mode of introspection and fretting about the currency by the return to the national stage of serious weather this week. Yes, the spring storms have begun; this year in the form of a southerly motherfucker - that's such a fun thing to say - a southerly motherfucker that tore up trees in Christchurch and laid waste to a marina in Lyttelton.

But as if by the hand of God himself, the skies have cleared across the land for the NPC semi-finals. Auckland contributed to rather a nice weekend last week by running in zillions of tries against Otago at Eden Park last Friday.

That just happened to be Josh Kronfeld's last game on home soil. He ran the lines that openside flankers run in heaven - and then he got injured and didn't come back after half time. Ah well. He's going to England to play rugby and train to be an osteopath. Nice.

And so, in a week when we beat Pakistan at cricket and a New Zealander won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, in a week which will end with me going to watch Auckland uphold the natural order of things by stuffing Wellington in the semi-final, that is it


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

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