Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

1st February 2002 - Golden Weather Etcetera

Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown

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Hello! Alright? It's summer! That is, the spell of golden weather that lasts about six weeks from mid-January, especially in the top half of the North Island.

It is beautiful, as a New Zealand Herald pointed out in an Anniversary Day editorial that came as a relief from the usual mean-spirited tone of the Herald leader column . It is also, cruelly, the time when kids go back to school and everyone who hasn't already gone back to work goes back to work.

So the mad race for the ribbon of Christmas gave way to the strange, contemplative days that follow, then the relaxation, then the feeling that you might just be able to do it all again for another year.

I did the usual: swam, got deliciously acquainted with my new Broil King Port-a-Grill and actually read some books. To wit: 'A Cook's Tour' by Anthony Bourdain, which is probably better than 'Kitchen Confidential' - but jeez, has the guy got a "no editing" clause in his contract or something? And 'Space Is the Place - The Life and Times of Sun Ra', which is both the biography of an extraordinary individual and a vivid explanation of black American culture in the 20th century. Can't moan, really.

Now it's back to work, and things that piss me off. Thing One, as Dr Seuss would have it, is the Enron scandal. A board that deserted its duty of governance. Managers who cashed in millions of dollars in soon-to-be worthless share options as they stopped their employees from selling theirs. An accountancy firm, Arthur Anderson, that started shredding documents when it all turned to custard.

And a federal administration that won't release any information whatsoever about its dealings within Enron, the largest contributor to the Bush campaign. Really, if there weren't an increasingly open-ended war on, people might start asking questions.

And then there's the refugees. I know there is no easy answer to the tide of people that approaches Australia. I know that Australia takes more refugees than New Zealand does. But what continues to take place at that country's refugee detention centres is obscene by any measure. The country seems determined to replicate the cruelty of the arrival of its original colonists.

The way the government there has blocked media scrutiny is chilling. An ABC reporter was arrested this week for refusing to join other journalists in being marched back to a fence 800 metres from the Woomera Detention Centre.

Worst of all, some polls suggest 90 per cent public support for the policy. Opposing it is a political risk. It does make me proud that our government feels safe in envisaging an increase in our refugee quota, and that a few families from the Tampa are now getting on with their lives in Christchurch.

There are people trying to profit, though. New Zealand First and Act, the twin parties of embittered small businessmen from the regions, foremost among them.

In an attempt to gain some mileage from the recent murder of a Samoan by a group of Somalis in Mt Albert - which looked like bad, macho behaviour all round - Richard Prebble let fly. We should, he said, only take refugees who will "fit in" with New Zealand culture. Like, he suggested, white Zimbabwean farmers and not black Somalis.

Let's replace the word "refugee" with "overstayer" and step back to the 1970s, when people were saying just the same sort of thing about Pacific Islanders: much better to bring in nice British people who spoke the language and knew how to behave.

Prebble, who is married to a Solomon Islander, then tried to turn it into an issue about the weather. These people came from the desert, he said - you couldn't put them in such a rainy country. I think he lost his shame a long time ago.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Auckland, John Banks, continues to demonstrate an abysmal understanding of the extent of his role and powers. Without consulting anyone else, he publicly promised that the council would fund the construction of an amazingly ugly statute of the late Peter Blake in the Viaduct Harbour.

We can't afford to plant a tree on One Tree Hill, apparently, but the mayor can, as it pleases him, promise tens of thousands of dollars for a sculpture by an unknown artist without even referring to his council. This is also, of course, the mayor who promised boy racers the use of an air base that isn't even in his city.

But apparently he's more popular than ever. This from Peter Verschaffelt, Auckland City's new communications manager. You may remember Peter as the boisterous ex-hippie from The Ralston Group.

He has more recently provided PR services to the Internet Society of New Zealand and Domainz - over a time in which, coincidentally, both organisations lost much of their credibility and had their directors rolled by angry members.

When he wasn't busy sending viruses to everyone on his mailing list, Peter once, memorably, issued a press release in which he misspelled the name of his client's CEO. Twice. It's nice to see from the email he sent me recently that he's keeping up that fine tradition. Yes, he couldn't spell "Banks". Tricky things, those apostrophes, eh Peter?

Meanwhile, the Water Pressure Group, the people who delivered John Banks his majority on council, are carrying on as usual. Their media spokesperson, Penny Bright has released her correspondence with Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard, apparently believing it makes her look good and Tizard look bad. Quite the opposite, really.

What I find really extraordinary is Bright whingeing about "personal attacks on myself". Pardon? These are the people who've spent years making nasty, abusive attacks on Penny Sefuiva and Bruce Hucker and anyone else who does not share their religion.

I've had email abuse from them in the past, after I criticised the appalling way they hounded the terminally ill Phil Raffils at his home - and then not only failed to apologise but tried to bring a police prosecution against him. I daresay I'll cop some again. That's pretty much their style. I'm sick of walking my kids past their ugly, aggressive signage in Grey Lynn. It's not their views - I don't entirely disagree with them - it's their consistently horrible behaviour.

The government has prepared a bill which will prohibit councils from selling off major utility assets. This is probably as far as central government can go in this matter - without completely negating local democracy anyway.

But the Water Pressure Group wants the government to also ban any form of Public Private Partnership, or PPP - management contracts or joint development deals - where the ownership remains with the council.

I'm no great fan of PPP myself - for practical, rather than religious reasons. The evidence overseas is that it provides little or no overall benefit, apart from easing funding by letting the private sector raise some of the capital.

But the proper way of addressing that is well-organised democratic action, not a diktat from Wellington. It was wrong when the National Party co-opted the rights of regional and local government and it would be wrong for the Labour-Alliance government to do so.

Any attempt to roll Banks that includes the Water Pressure Group is, basically, doomed to failure. Then again, Christine Fletcher emerging to throw her hat in the ring for next time boggles the mind too. The election's over, Christine. You lost. It's a bit late to start campaigning now.

You may not have noticed, but the new Property (Relationships) Act comes into force this week. The biggest nutcracking sledgehammer yet to roll off the Margaret Wilson production line, it sets three years together as the time after which "relationship property" must be equally divided. Five would have been more like it. And it gives any spouse the right to rip up a will and claim half an estate, depriving, say, children of a previous relationship if necessary. Does anybody really think this is a wise practice?

National has promised to amend key elements of the act if it gets back into government. Good on them. They certainly don't have many other policies I'd cross the road to vote for. If Bill English wants to get into a law-and-order bidding war with Phil Goff, he can bugger off.

The "law and order" question put to referendum at the last election was such a piece of gibberish that I personally decided the only reasonable course was to decline to answer it. But I will hereby demand life imprisonment for the next person who tries to use it to support an argument.

And finally, the Big Day Out. It was very good. I don't think I've ever come away from one feeling like I'd copped so much good music. But the tendency for great things to be on at the same time in different places was unfortunate: Shihad and the White Stripes; New Order and Basement Jaxx. Still, half a set's better than none.

Big ups - am I still allowed to say that? - also to Pitch Black, Jakob, Garbage - surprisingly - and the very cool Jurassic 5. And the Splore and bFM tents and the munted Australians at the Lilypad. Good cameo by Andrew Black during Mr Havoc's set.

Some stuff, of course, was not good. I just have no empathy whatsoever for nu metal, so we'll leave that alone, but the three most boring bands of the day were officially as follows: Silverchair, the Feelers and the useless Crystal Method.

Crowdwise, there was less visible drunkenness than I can recall and, by the look of things, more E underway than ever. The absence of aggro and low number of arrests was probably not a coincidence.

Anyway, it's been farewell to both Phil Warren, who shuffled off his mortal coil just as the weather was coming right, and to Jenny Shipley, who is leaving politics. One was my sort of Tory, the other isn't. No prizes for guessing


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

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