Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

15th June 2001 - Sucking on the Half-Time Orange

Copyright © 2001 Russell Brown

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we used to have a very good rugby team in Auckland. Often as not, they would win even when they played quite poorly. They'd often go down a try or two early, but you could comfortably bet that by the time they were sucking the half-time orange they'd be ahead.

Perhaps we have a metaphor for the coalition government, which hit the halfway mark in its three-year term this week. Like the Auckland of old, the government can be lazy or arrogant at times. Both its people and its policies have suffered injury this year, and it has problems with health.

Yet polls for both the New Zealand Herald and TV3 showed daylight between the centre-left - which, with the superannuation deal now effectively includes New Zealand First - and any alternative government. Indeed, TV3's poll had Labour itself at 49%, a level of support that would allow it to govern in its own right.

Public support for the captain has eroded somewhat, but Helen Clark remains a cool 20 points clear of Jenny Shipley as preferred Prime Minister. According to TV3's poll, twice as many people consider her more than usually honest than they do Shipley and 76% regard her as a capable leader, compared to only 55% for Shipley.

Short of biting the Prime Minister's ear while the referee isn't looking, it's hard to see how Shipley can even hope to reverse this situation in the next 18 months. Unfortunately, her party will have to lose an election to get rid of her.

Yet all is not entirely well. The Alliance is like the old Counties half of the Auckland Blues. It provides a couple of key players and a ton of loyalty - let's say Anderton is Mac McCallion, Laila Harre is the big, scary left wing and Willie Jackson is the lazy trainer who talks to the press all the time - but gets little of the money, few of the crowds and none of the credit.

For so long as Anderton is there winning his Sydenham seat, the Alliance will be in Parliament, but its polling is now stubbornly below 5%, while the Greens, free of the responsibilities of government, coast along on 7% support.

This might provide a bit more cheer for the right if the worst-polling of all the Parliamentary parties - no, I'm not counting United Future New Zealand or whatever Peter Dunne is calling his party this week - wasn't Act, with a miserable 2.8% in the TV3 poll.

Despite Richard Prebble's plucky attempt to claim the Blair government's landslide in Britain last week as a victory for his party's philosophy, it will help Labour in New Zealand.

So will the inevitable advance of the Australian Labour Party - although I suspect I'm not alone in expecting any government led by Kim Beazley to be more bigoted, nationalistic and self-interested than the one it replaces.

Clark is now looking to buy into a bit of the Blair magic by having him tour here in election year. Remember how Jenny Shipley's polls shot up after Clinton visited? Same principle. Our current Prime Minister's husband doesn't play golf, but then neither, I think, does Tony Blair.

Another issue on which TV3 polled this week was marijuana law reform. As the prospect has advanced, the public has withdrawn. More than 60% now say they wouldn't want pot legalised - although it's arguable that legalisation oughtn't be the question anyway.

The current health select committee inquiry into dope probably adds up to yet another fudge. So be it. But let me join Nandor Tanczos in pleading for some movement on medical marijuana. It works for people in severe pain and they should be allowed to have it.

And no, Marinol and the other preparations - isn't it curious how something becomes acceptable if it's packed up and put in a pill by a global drug company? - don't do it. Read the recent New Scientist on complementary medicine if you don't believe me. The case for whole cannabis over THC pills isn't even close. It just works, and denying to people for whom it works is simply cruel. Are you listening, Annette King?

A word of sympathy for TVNZ, which is facing up to some belt-tightening as revenues slump. In other words, it's doing what any company would do in a difficult market. Murray McCully is gamely insisting that it's all the fault of The Charter, which doesn't even come into force until July next year. Oh right, screening that Barry Barclay documentary at 9.30 deep-sixed the whole year's profit.

But curiously, the most unalloyed broadcast bullshit of the week came from TV3, when it announced it would not be allowing its channels to go out on TVNZ's proposed digital service because it thought the public deserved free-to-air digital.

And TVNZ's plan isn't free to air, according to TV3, because the public will have to buy a decoder to view it. Well, yes, and a television too. While maintaining this principled stand, TV3 will continue to supply its channels to Sky Digital, a service available only to those who can afford to pay a monthly subscription.

TV3 has many reasons to reject an accommodation with TVNZ, but it is deeply dishonest to pretend the public interest is one of them. Indeed, its refusal to play ball means the worst-case scenario - Rupert Murdoch owns New Zealand television full stop - is one step closer.

Speaking of television, who else found the coverage of the Timothy McVeigh execution pointless and ironic? In the course of the killing and the coverage, America accorded him its ultimate accolade - fame.

While useless correspondents wandered around outside the walls of the prison in Terre Haute, mouthing clichés to interviewers in far-off places like New Zealand, and every hick able to utter a sentence got a vox pop, McVeigh remained the still, silent, dignified centre of it all.

He did an insane, horrible thing, but his logic - that it was a justifiable pre-emptive strike against a hostile government, at the cost of some collateral damage - had a grim, military symmetry. The death of innocent children in Oklahoma is no better or worse than the death of innocent children in Bagdhad. The only difference lies on how you seek to justify it


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

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