Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

15th December 2000 - The Grinch By A Mile

Copyright © 2000 Russell Brown

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so, Closing the Gaps no longer. The Prime Minister is lancing another boil, banning another word or three. She is perfectly correct when she says that the phrase in question was spawned by the previous National government - it even commissioned a report by that name - and also correct to suppose that her government would be better shot of it.

But in ditching the branding of its Maori enablement policy, Helen Clark's government should take the opportunity to have a look at the policy itself.

Not the stuff that everyone's been whingeing about - the now-abandoned Treaty clauses and that - because, for all the hype, much of that is really an extension of what National was doing anyway. It's more that we all deserve to know exactly what the policy is and how its success or otherwise will be monitored.

That the rebranding was sufficiently abrupt to catch Trevor Mallard by surprise - he liberally dished out the forbidden phrase in a briefing to journalists in the same day it was expunged - is further evidence that the policy is a bit of a mess.

Curiously, it wasn't that that led the headlines early in the week, but the claim that Clark was "the Grinch who stole Christmas" because she decided against spending $2500 of public money to light up a Norfolk pine outside her official residence in Wellington, then declined an offer to pay for the lights from some bumptious little fart on the Wellington Regional Council.

This might well be an insight into the Clark character, but it looks petty bordering on mindless from where I live.

I do find it ironic that Clark took such a hit for the lofty language she employed in writing in support of her Auckland neighbours in opposing the building of their friendly local three-story commercial doss-house - but is now apparently letting the side down because she won't play with a bunch of rich folk in Tinakori Road.

National, keen to dredge something out of a week of distressingly good economic news, deployed that terrifying political warrior, Wyatt Creech, who told Parliament that while denying the public the simple pleasure of driving into the posh part of town to look at some lights, the government had funded the $8000 installation of double glazing and hemp curtains at the residence of associate health minister Philidda Bunkle.

Hemp! Those crazy old Greens, eh? The implication, of course, was that the people's drapes were somehow made of drugs. That Bunkle would, when entertaining Nandor Tanczos, be snipping off a piece of the curtains and dropping it in the bong. You can't do that, of course. Well, you can, but it won't get you high.

Anyway, Richard Long, wrapping up the Assignment doco a couple of days later, noted this "sharp break with tradition" - which extends all the way back to ooooohhh ... Jenny Shipley.

In years past, the Municipal Electricity Department had paid for the illumination of the Prime Ministerial pine, but when that stopped under Jim Bolger, so did the lights. Shipley, Ashburtonite that she is, authorised the spending of part of the Premier House budget light the tree. Clark hasn't.

It's a measure of the gulf between them that while Shipley was trying to pot the Prime Minister as a grinch, she was battling to dispel the perception that she had suffered a rather more serious failure of judgement last year at the troubled dinner for Chinese premier Jiang Zemin.

A select committee report - tartly presented by Labour's Janet Mackey - caned the police for their willingness to spare the premier's sensibilities by curbing the rights of pro-Tibet protestors last year, particularly on the night of the dinner. Police evidence to the select committee had in some cases been "unconvincing and inaccurate" said the report.

The committee found no evidence that Shipley, the overexcited host for the evening, had overstepped the line of Prime Ministerial responsibility by instructing the police to take action to quash protests so Jiang could emerge from his hotel and go to dinner. But a police video that might have helped sort that out had been "accidentally erased" by police. Uh-huh ...

Shipley insisted, perhaps correctly, that the video in question would have showed nothing of the sort. But, as she has every other time she's gotten herself in this sort of situation, she succeeded only in strengthening the impression that she wasn't being quite straight.

In most major political parties, in most years, she'd be considered a lame duck and could safely be planning to spend more time in Ashburton next year.

But Bill English, having been drawn by the Sunday Star Times into all manner of semantic contortions over his support for his leader, has disappeared into the shadows after being forced to clarify his loyalty in an official statement. While plainly the best leadership candidate, especially as Labour tries to move on the political centre ground, English isn't good enough to organise his own succession.

Indeed, the Parliamentary National Party is so pathetically desperate for leadership talent that not only would it have Phil Goff like a shot, it'd probably give Jim Anderton the once-over. To make matters worse, it has a coalition partner roughly as popular as leprosy and, by the testimony of the retiring man-boy Simon Upton - if only Parliament saw more speeches like his valedictory effort this week - a broken and bogged-down operational culture.

Clark, on the other hand, celebrated her first anniversary in the top job looking more in command than ever. Economic and opinion poll data have suddenly swung the way of the government. And Clark's demeanour in this week's major interviews - perceptive and revealing efforts from The Listener and Assignment - is so utterly confident and capable as to suggest that smugness could yet be her undoing.

What disturbs even her admirers, one suspects, is her tendency to identify her enemies and cut them off at the knees. So efficient and determined is she that everyone will finish this first year respecting her more - but liking her less.

One of those enemies, Dover Samuels, re-emerged this week in advance of a 60 Minutes documentary that finally goes to the rumours that others have shied from this year. Yes, the Dover Samuels as heroin importer story - which I had heard - and the Dover Samuels as perpetrator of incest - which I hadn't.

Clark passed a letter containing these allegations to the police earlier this year, without even telling her disgraced minister. She was, she says, doing what she had promised to do after being pilloried by Richard Prebble for not going to the police with the Dover tales way back in January. You could also argue there wasn't much point in her asking Samuels for the truth anyway, given his already demonstrated reluctance to tell it. It is still a messy business.

To finish on a cheerier matter, hearty congratulations to the Auckland City Council for Dancing in the Streets. I can remember when the council marshalled its resources to stop anyone smiling in the streets, let alone dancing. Yet, there, as part of 55 separate events under Music in Parks, were 1000 people in Beresford Square on a Friday night, having a big old dance party. The police policed brilliantly by staying away - in their uniforms, anyway.

And now it's on again, in QE2 Square tonight, headlined by Nice 'n' Urlich. Nice town, if you ask me


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

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