Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

27th October 2000 - Feuds and Pseuds

Copyright © 2000 Russell Brown

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was it ever a war? More like a feud based on something someone said when they were pissed, perhaps. But everyone ought to be glad that it's over. It is not that, in the wake of this week's business-to-government forum, everything will always be rosy between business and the government. It is that the debate is no longer driven by a bunch of nutters who think Helen Clark is the Antichrist.

Eighty-five invited business leaders and 11 ministers of the Crown converged on the offices of an Auckland law firm for a six-hour economic talkfest on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister gave a speech worth hearing - made all the more impressive by the knowledge that this is a Prime Minister who writes her own speeches. Michael Cullen - in keeping with the apparent policy of having him say as little as possible in case he offends someone else - delivered a more modest effort.

The businesspeople present got past the pointless obsessions of their lobby groups this year - the ERA and ACC were never the issue, okay? - and called for, among other things, less complex and lower taxes. And if lower corporate tax overall wasn't on the cards, how about targeted tax breaks?

Cullen was able to announce what looks like a useful rethink on R&D tax treatment and embraced the idea of tax breaks for foreign investment and donations to universities. The government also promised a more open immigration policy and backing for a business taskforce on foreign investment.

But most, significantly, they all wanted to meet again. Some senior business people are realising that in some key areas this government is doing more for business than National ever did. The citadel that was the Ministry of Commerce is now, as the Ministry of Economic Development, a veritable business outreach agency.

Hence, an outbreak of pragmatism. In the wake of the Herald's O'Reilly-inspired lurch to the centre, INL CEO Mike Robson declared that it was business's duty to work with constructively with whoever the elected government is. Roundtable stalwart Sir Gil Simpson is chairing the government's e-commerce summit next week.

What the government can't do now is put it all away and carry on. The tax initiatives can't wait for some never-never tax review before the next general election.

And yet barely is one fire doused than another flares up - and this week it was the government's Maori problem. Or, rather, the problem with Closing the Gaps.

Dr Rajen Prasad, the Race Relations Conciliator, told a Parliamentary select committee he was concerned that affirmative-action policies on Maori health - programmes targeting Hep B, smoking, diabetes - would cause resentment and division.

He also proposed the removal of the Treaty clause in the Health and Disability Bill - which from what I can tell requires the 22 new partly-elected health boards to bear the Treaty in mind and establish links with their local Maori communities.

Act's Stephen Franks leapt on the submission and called the Prime Minister either a liar or a fool for saying there was no intent in the bill to provide preferential treatment for Maori. It might have been nice to hear Act's Maori MP, Donna Awatere, say something about Maori issues, but the whiteys in charge plainly have no intention of engaging that risk.

Fortunately, Dr Prasad is not a pencil-necked lawyer from the Act Party. He is a useful citizen. And if his office is perceiving resentment and already seeing heavy-handed application of policy from Wellington bureaucrats then he ought to be listened to.

Which is, of course, what select committee hearings are for - to consider the merits of draft legislation and recommend changes. It appears those will be forthcoming.

A sense of perspective here wouldn't go amiss either. The $283 million allocated to Closing the Gaps policies over three years is a fraction of overall social spending.

This looks to me like part of the process of moving from lip service - and we've had plenty of that - to action. Demand for Maori involvement in service provision to Maori has been voiced so often, and from so widely across the political spectrum, that you'd think the actual idea wouldn't cause a furore, even if the details might. But it is beginning to.

Most surprisingly, unease is being expressed from the citadel of lefty-liberal New Zealand, The Listener. A cover story this week headed 'Culture of complaint' proposes that we are "at the racial crossroads".

The story extensively quotes left-wing commentator Chris Trotter, who has lately been writing ominous prose about "dangerously nationalist forces" among Maori. In the Listener story, Trotter marvels at his own transition from writing a thinkpiece called 'The Struggle for Sovereignty' five years ago.

I remember that story. It was an outrageous 70s socialist wet-dream that proposed, as a model for Maori sovereignty, the forcible overthrow of an elected government led by Maori members of the armed forces, with the subsequent imposition of twin, racially-selected Parliaments of equal power. I was absolutely appalled by it at the time.

Yet now, Trotter is outraged by Tariana Turia using the H-word in a speech to some shrinks. He's a treasured feature of the intellectual landscape and all, but I think he's lost it. Chris, your journey is spectacular, but some of us have just been plodding down the middle of the road. Try it. It's quite good here.

Speaking of treasured features of the landscape, One Tree Hill is now without a tree. The pine at its summit had its end hastened by oafish attacks in the name of Maori sovereignty. Mike Smith and others - they all came from Northland, rather than Auckland - invested in it an oppressive colonial symbolism it never really had for most people. Seeing it go is sad and weird.

Associate ACC minister Ruth Dyson sent the lately declining government wowser-o-meter off the scale this week when she issued a press release ticking off Wellington captain Norm Hewitt for playing the last 20 minutes of Saturday's NPC final against Canterbury with a broken arm. When the drive to curb rugby injuries had succeeded so well, she said, Norm was a bad role model for young players.

She was right, of course. The rational thing to do when you suspect yourself to have sustained a broken arm is to leave the field and seek medical attention.

But Norm didn't. He couldn't. He was the captain. Wellington had run out of front row forwards, hence his move to prop. And Wellington, the team which has raised and dashed more hopes than any other - excepting perhaps the English soccer team - had its chance. In an dogged display of defence they held out Canterbury, the team that never seems beaten.

The really astonishing thing that that he played loosehead prop with a broken right arm. And when the Wellington scrum ought to have been taken to pieces by Canterbury, it wasn't. It was bloody amazing.

As were, I must say, The Clean, back together briefly and simply stunning at the King's Arms last week. They can keep reforming every three years for the rest of their lives as far as I'm concerned. As a signal point in our culture, I think they're right up there with Colin McCahon. Really, I do.

On the pop tip, nice to see three Aotearoa hip-hop tracks - Kapisi, DLT and Strong Islanders - on the new NZ On Air Kiwi Hit Disc, a regular local music sampler that has been hugely influential in getting radio stations to play the local product. But oh, how jolly to see Mai FM programmers singing the praises of those tracks in the accompanying flier.

"The world knows DLT is a force. So where are you?" shouts Mai's Manu Taylor. Well, welcome to the club, Manu. But where have you been for most of DLT's career? It's nice that your iwi radio station has finally decided to leaven all that cheesy booty music with something from New Zealand, but don't you think it's a bit rich to be preaching about it?

And you, 95bFM listeners, are in the right place. It's true: other radio stations *are* shit


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

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