Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

2nd March 2001 - From Dubious to Dangerous

Copyright © 2001 Russell Brown

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anybody else found themselves saying a quiet thanks they don't live in Europe right now? As foot and mouth disease courses around the British Isles, putting paid to the ebb and flow of national life, living in the world's most distant land in the late summer glow looks pretty effing good.

Anyway, it was a quieter week in politics. Having leaked everything worth leaking from New Zealand Post's MyBank business plan, and then had a good day in court over it, Richard Prebble sat down again. National and Act contented themselves with going into bat - a bit bizarrely, surely - for the soon-to-be lost right of New Zealanders to go to Australia and automatically qualify for welfare at the expense of New Zealand taxpayers.

The government, meanwhile, had its party-hopping bill dragged out into the light. Labour touted this bill - which now has some preposterous title - before the election as a means of preventing the kind of shambles that afflicted the last Parliament, where a handful of MPs laid waste to the wishes of voters by jumping parties. Eight New Zealand First MPs and two from the Alliance deserted their parties in circumstances that - in the case of list MPs in particular - amounted to a perversion of democracy.

But since then Labour has headed a coalition which has shown MMP doesn't have to be that way. Whilst the attrition rate among ministers has been embarrassingly high, even Dover Samuels has stayed in the waka. So the utility of the proposed bill was already marginal.

But because the Greens won't have a bar of it, the government has been forced to go begging to Winston Peters for support. And Peters managed to have inserted a clause that turns the bill from dubious to dangerous.

The original bill held that an MP who resigned from his or her party - and informed the speaker of such - had to resign from Parliament. But acting on a suggestion from Alliance leader Jim Anderton - whom you might have hoped would have known better - Peters proposed that an errant MP could be dismissed by a party leader on the two-thirds say-so of caucus, even if they had entered Parliament as an electorate member. He went to far as to issue a press release to declare that he had achieved the change, which came as a surprise to the Alliance and Labour caucuses.

This is a stupid idea. It is the voters who decide who should be in Parliament, not the party leadership in the course of God-knows-what internal politics. This bill already has a sunset clause - it's set to expire in two elections' time. It would be better if everyone decided that the system has been rehabilitated by the orderly conduct of the current coalition and just forgot about it.

Otherwise, apart from the usual low-level sniping, there were two major reports on which the major parties could largely agree. Judge Mick Brown reported that Child, Youth and Family is a dysfunctional and demoralised agency that needs money and attention. In a way, this is not really news. Over the past decade, it has been starved of money and restructured into incoherence. It fails at-risk children not because its staff don't care but because they can't do any more.

By way of illustration, as of October 31 last year, 3379 cases of suspected abuse had been lodged with CYFS but remained unallocated to a social worker.

The government has promised swift action on Brown's 57 recommendations and Bob Simcock - who was last year responsible for a craven and disgraceful bit of National Party politicking that masqueraded as a conference on child abuse - rehabilitated himself somewhat by accepting that his government had fallen short in protecting children.

There was also broad agreement on the results of the independent report on monetary policy, which found, among other things, that Reserve Bank governor Don Brash lost the plot during the Asian Crisis and suffocated an economy that needed an oxygen mask.

But now that we've sidelined the Monetary Conditions Index and required the governor - and the committee that will likely do his job at the end of his current term - to take a more holistic view of the economy, aren't we getting a little, well, Keynesian on it? Weren't independent central banks supposed to forsake all else but the ceaseless pursuit of price stability? Yet it's taken as read these days that Alan Greenspan can and should save the world. Not that I'm complaining, I'm just intrigued.

Speaking of complaining, how thrilling to see that the Letter of the Month in the new Metro is all about what a thoughtless bastard I am. I was invited to write a long essay on Auckland, the state of the nation and the meaning of life in New Zealand which was published in the January Metro under the title 'Funky Seaside Village'.

The challenge of going outside my comfort zone to write it was rewarding, and the feedback from people I respect was extremely gratifying.

It was actually good to see some criticism - but what a shame Guy Sellers' letter was a bum rap. I have never claimed in Hard News that students "piss their loans up against the wall", with or without Mr Havoc giggling in the background. It sounds like something Chris the Lawyer might have said, but you'd have to ask him about that.

I have now, of course, become identified with the absolutely-positively-Auckland lobby. We might not have been come up with our own slogan - remember "Auckland - City of Lovers"? Second thoughts, forget it - but we're well nice all the same. The US consultancy William M. Mercer this week released the results of a survey that found Auckland the seventh best city in the world in which to live. Auckland! Nearly as good as Copenhagen!

I need hardly tell you, then, that it was a good weekend in the old town again. The weather defied the gloomy forecasts again and me and the family and I swam and swanned around like you would expect to in the seventh best city in the world. I spent a stupendous Friday night on the harbour on The Titanic, an outing marred only by one young chap's overdose on GHB.

Losing consciousness on GHB is so uncool, kids. You'll quite probably be right as rain the next morning but in the meantime you've wasted valuable resources, scared your friends and family and made a prat of yourself. Leave it alone - or at least stay home with it. Although it meant a final hour of dancing in at the dock, bringing the kid in and getting him in an ambulance was the right and responsible thing to do.

The same did not, unfortunately, apply at another dance party on the same night. A friend of mine - who had not taken much of anything, still less GHB - collapsed at an Auckland bar. It looked like her drink had been spiked. So what did the manager of this bar do? Render assistance? Call an ambulance?

Unfortunately, no. This idiot, declaring that "not in my bar" would this happen, threw my friend and her boyfriend - who he had not actually even established was actually her boyfriend rather than, say, a potential rapist - out into K Road. They wouldn't even get her a glass of water. That is appalling. The only reason I won't name the establishment or the person concerned is that I wasn't there personally - and neither, in a sense, was my friend.

If this happens again, I might not be so understanding. Yes, people take some funny things these days - but a lot of people wouldn't have profitable bars if their customers weren't taking those funny things.

Anyway, it's another weekend in Auckland and this time it's Pasifika. Tonight, of course, the Super 12 rugby returns to Eden Park - and, sadly, Auckland Rugby is once again proving it has no idea about how to treat its paying customers.

It took Auckland Rugby years to recognise that it might be a good idea to let Ticketek run its ticketing. But, as anyone who has tried to actually buy those tickets this week has discovered, Ticketek has been allocated only the seats at the far extremes of the ground.

All the good seats in either main stand, and the uncovered seating in front the South Stand, appear to have been held back in the vain hope of selling them in membership packages. So if you want a decent seat for the Blues' first home game tonight, you'll have to buy a seat for the entire Super 12 and NPC seasons, at a cost of $300 and up. Because they only really started advertising these packages a week ago, they won't have sold them and there will be acres of empty seats. And anyone who wants to buy a ticket for the ASB Stand will pay $42 to sit behind the dead ball line. They just don't get it.

But there is a happy sporting tale to tell, with the Black Caps rehabilitating their season with a come-from-behind series win over the brilliant but erratic Pakistanis. Wednesday's game was an outrageous collision of centuries, collapses and chucking, but we got there. New player of the season: Lou Vincent. Keen as mustard, won't let you down. We need more of that


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

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