Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

23th February 2001 - Thus, The Sky Kissed Goodbye

Copyright © 2001 Russell Brown

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and so the weekend signed itself off with a mad, outrageous sunset that filled the sky, flitting from one colour to another, blooming lighter and darker, hanging on like someone who couldn't bear to leave a good party.

Thus, the sky kissed goodbye to a good weekend. Sure, it misted and drizzled through Saturday, but it lifted right on time. By 8.30 Ponsonby Road was humming and chattering under the muggy, druggy atmosphere that is Auckland's special weather for this time of year. Sure, it drives us mad, but not always in a bad way.

Thanks to Parkside Publishing for having me and mine up to their Hero Parade party, which went absolutely off as the night got deeper. And thanks to the people behind the bFM float. As it rolled past me, with a live band belting out 'Lust for Life' and your favourite radio personalities going amiably mental, I felt pleased and proud. You are all my special friends. I kiss you.

I'd be interested in TV3's excuse for not showing that bFM float, especially given that bFM is a Hero sponsor and foundation friend of the events. Surely it wasn't because the float carried a couple of special friends from a competing channel? If that was the case, get a dog up ya, TV3 - if you can't cover the event properly, let someone else do it.

Anyway, barely did bFM listeners have time to grab lunch on the heels of the Hero party, Bob Sinclair or whatever else than it was all on again in Albert Park for the excellent Summer Series. Now tell me: do Concord Dawn get a crowd going or not?

And as we enjoy the afterglow of the parade, let us dwell on the Act Party's contribution to the atmosphere of goodwill over the Hero Parade. Using taxpayer resources, Act's Deputy Leader Ken Shirley issued a statement last week demanding the Minister of Police assure him that he would not condone gay police marching in uniform in Saturday night's parade.

This, said Shirley - isn't that a girl's name? - would damage the "integrity and standing of our police force". His concern, he said, was nothing to do with the "sexual orientation of individual sworn police officers". No. Of course not.

But ... "a key role for the police is to maintain civil order and uniformed gay police officers marching as an exhibit in the contentious Hero Parade is unacceptable." "Contentious"? "Exhibit"? Is the Act Party saying there would be an outbreak of social disorder if the population were to discover that a few policepeople were poofs?

In the end, the gay cops didn't actually march, but, with the authority of the Police Commissioner, rode with their chums from the fire and ambulance services.

One night 16 years ago in Auckland I stood seething while a couple of cops rounded on a gay friend of mine and administered what you might call a verbal gay-bashing. It was on Ponsonby Road, actually. If, in 2001, I can stand on nearly the same spot and see out gay cops roll past, I think that's progress. You'll have to ask Ken Shirley what his problem is.

Act's stance on social policy retreated still further into the stone age this week, with Stephen Franks issuing a press release headed 'Act MPs Proud To Support Those Who Cry, 'Enough!'' The occasion, of course, was the nine-month suspended sentence handed down to Mark Middleton. Franks had earlier issued a statement hailing Middleton as a "hero".

Act no doubt figures the string-'em-up tendency are the kind of flaky, faithless voters it might be able to capture without actually having to explain the rest of its policies. Some of the Middleton cult members want to stand their own candidates in the next general election.

But ... how on earth does a man who's been convicted of assault, wilful damage and threatening to kill in the past 24 months get to be a poster boy for law and order? And doesn't the fact that a members of a mob of his supporters in Wanganui last week beat up someone who had the nerve to disagree with them go way beyond irony?

Middleton's stepdaughter Karla Cardno was raped, tortured and left for dead 12 years ago by a man called Paul Dally. Two years ago, when Dally was due to come up for the first time before a parole board, Middleton began telling the press and anyone else who would listen that he would kill Dally.

He made lurid, detailed and frightening threats involving acts like crucifixion. He kept on making them even after the police pointed out that he was committing a criminal offence and begged him to stop. Eventually, they were obliged to charge him.

I cannot imagine the impact of losing a loved one to such a vile crime as Dally committed; the nature of the grief it would generate. But at the same time whenever I see Middleton on TV, I see someone I'd cross the road to avoid. He looks like a scary little man.

I do not like either the cult of personality he builds around himself. At some point this stopped being about a dead girl and started being about her stepfather. As Karla's grandmother said at the weekend: "He's not thinking of anything but himself. He just wants to be in the limelight as much as possible."

Middleton's followers claim nothing has been done in response to the "Norm Withers" question tacked onto the ballot at the last general election. (a) It has. And (b) That question was a ghastly piece of prose with no clear meaning. It was so badly written I personally refused to answer it. Unfortunately, that kind of semantic gibberish is a hallmark of the law-and-order brigade.

Speaking of the law, Richard Prebble is going to court with New Zealand Post, which wants back the leaked copy of its business plan for the People's Bank - or MyBank, KiwiBank, NewBank or whatever - that he has been doling out on a drip-feed basis.

It was National leader Jenny Shipley who originally tried to upstage the official approval of the bank proposal by trumpeting selected bits from the confidential business plan. But, being Jenny Shipley, she fluffed it, first revealing security information that she oughtn't have, then guiltily shredding the document.

Michael Cullen gleefully informed Parliament on Tuesday that Prebble and Rodney Hide had been overheard on their flight to Wellington loudly discussing how Shipley had fumbled the leak, with Prebble reckoning he could have done much more damage.

He soon got the chance. Somehow, he too, got his grubby little hands on a business plan. And unlike Shipley, when he was asked to return or destroy it, he thumbed his nose.

You have to admire Prebble's sheer confidence in waiving any immunity to which he might be entitled and fighting Post's bid in court. And as a journalist I don't like to see anyone forced to reveal their source - even though that source, if they be a Post director or a public servant, is guilty of a disgraceful dereliction of duty. But, my, there are some ironies here.

Prebble - playing victim, believe it or not - is expressing horror that an SOE should take court action to stop him drip-feeding details of is business plans, when he is only doing his job in Opposition. Yet he was an enthusiastic defender of Timberlands' secret and prolonged dirty tricks campaign against Helen Clark both before and after she became Prime Minister. I'm fairly clear about which one I think is the greater abuse of democracy, and it ain't the Post Office.

Ditto for Shipley, who this week mocked claims of commercial sensitivity - but, when she was Prime Minister, wasn't shy about claiming "commercial sensitivity" over information on, for example, the sale of Wellington Airport.

The phrase "the government has no place in banking" has been chanted like a mantra this week. But the government already has a place in the wide range of commercial activities New Zealand Post pursues.

These include range of delivery services, online and offline billing for third parties, franchising, retail, running mail systems in seven other countries - and even owning savvy stakes in Web developers and portals. There are some decent arguments against this venture, but "the government has no place in banking" is not one of them.

Oh, but look at the BNZ, which the government had to bail out twice. Isn't that the killer? Not really. The BNZ got into trouble not because it was running retail banking services, but because it threw money at a swathe of shonky businesses that defaulted on their loans. The People's Bank won't do any business banking at all.

But more to the point, can we actually have a political discussion in this country without referring to the late 1980s? Get over it, you dimwitted baby-boomers!

As a ridiculous discussion on - of all places - TAB Sports Café made clear this week, the level of ignorance about this proposal is very high indeed. Bill Ralston, who allegedly appeared as an expert commentator, should be ashamed of himself. Stick to the sports, guys.

For what it's worth, I'm not entirely convinced about the idea. I wouldn't have done it myself. Its approval is clearly a concession to the Alliance, which has been very well behaved in government but needs some points on the board. But I also have considerable respect for the operational efficiency of New Zealand Post, which has considerably enriched the taxpayer in the past and appears confident it can continue to do so with this venture.

The bank is being backed with money from the government's capital investment budget, to the tune of $70 million, with a further $10 million likely to be knocked off this year's Post dividend to the taxpayer.

Flies in the ointment include the fact that the bank may struggle if it gets too many poor people joining up and could have to hike its lower-than-the-rest fees if it can't get the balance right. The bank's relationship with competing small institutions is also unclear, and staff security remains a concern.

What won't happen is that you will lose your money if you save with the bank.

I'm worried that we are slipping back into the kind of negative, knee-jerk "debate" that made last year so tedious. I am prepared to give this thing the benefit of the doubt and I am pleased to see the plan to bring back the old POSB school savings scheme. I will be opening accounts for both of my children as soon as they're available.

I'll wait and see what's on offer before committing to shifting my own banking business. In particular, I'll look for a killer conversion product - a kind of 0800-switch-me-over-from-those-bastards-at-Westpac package. We'll see.

And we'll see what happens to Philidda Bunkle and Marion Hobbs, who having been cleared over their living arrangements by two official enquiries, appear to have been tripped up by a third. A Crown Law opinion sought by the Registrar of Electors having apparently raised doubt,s both ministers have resigned until such time as they are cleared, assuming they are.

Recent polls - which have Labour surging to a remarkable 49% support and the Alliance riding as low as 3% - suggest the Bunkle bungle is causing damage to her party. Losing yet another minister might yet shade Labour's dream run.

But, as the PM's spin doctors were keen to point out this week, and as you've heard from me, the whole thing is a mess. National's Bill English gets the same out-of-town allowance as the two ministers, on the basis that his "primary residence" is in the wilds of Southland. Yet not only does he spend most of his time in Wellington, his horde of children go to school there. How often exactly does the English family actually live in its distant "primary residence"?

Well, that's enough of Wellington. Can I just say I'm glad that the inexorable advance of Westfield on the Auckland retail scene has been temporarily halted? I hate Westfield - not because they're Australians, or because of their pave-the-earth philosophy, but because of their logo. That hideous bit of fourth-form calligraphy has become the most virulent bit of visual pollution in the city. Stop this crime against taste, I beg of you.

And that's quite enough Hard News for anyone. It's party time again, and my Wellington friend Big Al T and I will be getting aboard the Titanic to bust some maritime moves tonight. After, of course, watching the Blues beat the Highlanders in the Super 12's opening stanza. Now that's a good night out


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

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