Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

19th October 2001 - Cleaning Up the Streets

Copyright © 2001 Russell Brown

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oh, the humanity. It may take the city years to recover. The shock, the shame, the horror. Yes, with the support of a thunderous 18.3 per cent of adult Aucklanders, John Banks is the mayor.

Looking down the country, two things are clear: for whatever reason, fewer than half of eligible voters bothered to send back their forms. And a ban on broadcasters standing for election seems ever more appealing. The list of contenders - Banks, Balani, Bob Parker, Craig Little, Philip Sherry - is becoming unnerving.

Banks is not, it must said, the bigot he used to be. He did enjoy some sort of enlightenment several years ago, realising that diversity was not in fact the Devil's work. He was quick to assure the city that he had no intention of withdrawing funding from either the Hero Parade or the Santa Parade. On the other hand, it doesn't seem like Hero needs the help of homophobes to repeatedly screw up anyway.

But it was only last year that Banks described the Prada America's Cup team as "greasy Italians who should be sunk to the bottom of the Waitemata Harbour." Oh, and also as "cowards", "bastards" and "poncy". This sort of tosh sounds bad enough coming from a talkback radio host. From the mayor of the city where Prada is spending millions of dollars, it is simply embarrassing.

Unfortunately, Banks' entire campaign has been expressed in the silly language of talkback. He promises to get roads built, but he's not in control of the roading budget. All the new roads he claims he's going to have constructed are, in fact, scheduled for construction.

Well, nearly all. This week he proposed selling the city council's Auckland Airport shares to fund a tunnel under Hobson Bay. The viability of such a tunnel appears to exist only in Banks' fevered imagination. And this is Week One of the mayoralty: what's he going to come up with given three years?

Banks is also, of course, promising to clean up the streets of our mean city. Unlike Rudy Giuliani, he doesn't actually run the police, so it's hard to see how he can do that either. Closing Queen Street at nights is apparently one of his big ideas. That'll stop people driving up and down it, like they've done for several decades. Whatever. Anybody who thinks a bunch of people with blow-off valves is Auckland's greatest problem has a pretty odd sense of proportion.

But Christine Fletcher so resoundingly failed to inspire, so Banks it is. I grant you he might be amusing - and I'm much more irked by the return in force to the region and the city of Citizens & Ratepayers, the crowd of suburban stuffed shirts who ran Auckland into the ground in the first place. They wormed they way back into favour by merging with the young tories at Auckland Now. It remains to be seen whether what we get is Auckland Now or back to the bad old days.

Two things remain: how much did the pro-road lobby spend behind its favoured candidates and where did the money come from? And, unusually, I'm going to agree with the Water Pressure Group: Auckland C&R Now candidates appear to have said one thing about water privatisation on their party "loyalty statements" - and quite another in public. It looks shabby to me.

But, of course, our problems don't amount to a hill of beans compared to what's going in elsewhere. America, having endured the most visible and violent of terrorist attacks, is now seeing a silent one: biological warfare has arrived. We use the word terrorism a lot, but it rarely fits better than it does here. There has been one death and dozens of infections, but fear itself is the more powerful agent.

That fear has only been heightened by thousands of hoaxes - some aimed at American abortion clinics and family planning offices - and by the fact that no one really knows who is sending anthrax through the mail.

It cannot go unremarked that there might well have been more hope of tracking the source had not the US government first frustrated and then, under the current administration, finally scuttled an international biological weapons protocol.

The protocol, which would have required disclosure of biological weapons stocks and facilities, did not tally with American national interests. Where have we heard that before? Perhaps a protocol would have been too late, perhaps these spores have been in the wrong hands for years. The irony is still pretty glaring.

Meanwhile, having apparently bombed everything conceivably worth bombing at least twice - at the cost of a number of innocent lives - US forces are now apparently set to enter Afghanistan on the ground.

Their chances of ejecting the Taliban are probably very good; the chance of catching Osama bin Laden or anyone close to him presumably considerably less so. A ground presence will, unusually, expose US troops to clear risk, but it's really the easy part. The hard part will happen if Pakistan's military government gets the wobbles. Will US forces - and our little band of SAS troops - then roll into Pakistan?

Meanwhile, with the Prime Minister off to Apec, where she has scheduled face time with George W, the Greens are playing up. If the government plumps for anything other than a continued ban on field trials of GM crops, it could lose Green support on motions of confidence and supply.

Jim Anderton - angry that, once again, the Greens get airtime by virtue of their charmed position outside government - is accusing them of reneging on their promise to the coalition. Winston Peters is offering to wade into with his party's support, in the interests of "stability". Actually, I suspect the situation is rather less acute than that.

The fact is, there is already no consensus - and possibly not even a majority - within the government on letting field trials proceed. The government has two weeks to get together its formal position, and it appears that something is in train.

The release of a paper from the Wellington law firm Chen and Palmer on liability issues on field trials is probably a useful pointer. Its suggestion that the originator of a GM release ought face clear and specific liability for any consequences has not been well received by the pro-GM group the Life Sciences Network. But why not? If the risks are so low, why not embrace liability?

The Life Sciences network reeks of vested interest and the promise of fat pockets, frankly. On the other hand, the new GM resistance movement is rather too fond of slogans and star endorsements for my liking. We shall have to wait and see who wins hearts and minds.

Anyway, what a relief to see that Te Papa - after being bluntly told to by the Prime Minister - has now made some gallery space to show some of the national art collection. But there will be no permanent collection. No, we couldn't have anything so straightforward as a simple collection of the country's most resonant and important art in a nice room. Not without some cutesy curatorial postmodernist scene-setting anyway.

I just cannot understand what goes on the minds of those people. Think about what you do when you visit the national museums and galleries of other cities: you go and look into the soul of the nation in the shape of the work they have selected to permanently display. You can't do that at Te Papa and that is stupid.

Anyway, best of luck to East Coast in the NPC and the Silver ferns against Australia, and big ups to Big Matt for his set before the Mad Professor last Friday. Not just rocksteady, alright


Russell Brown                      

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