Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown
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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ...
just where is Bill English getting his strategic advice? And should he be asking for a refund?
It's hard not to wonder after his public letter of apology to the Australia government this week. English felt it necessary to beg Australia's pardon after Helen Clark made it known to journalists that she had told the Australian government to back off after two of its ministers criticised our government's policy on those old favourites, immigration and defence.
There exists, apparently, an informal agreement that the two governments won't wade in on each other's politics in election year. We supposedly respected the agreement last year, but the Aussies, in playing to the home crowd, have forgotten themselves. Such was the PM's message in advance of this week's intergovernmental talks.
Bill English might have been expected to snort derisively at such action. But a written apology? Can you imagine an Australian Opposition leader doing that? He or she would be crucified.
But hey, if we're going to apologise for the PM's failure to genuflect across the Tasman, why stop there? Let's apologise for keeping the Australian cricket team out of the one-day finals; to Steve Waugh for his consequent dropping as captain; for Baz Lurhman missing out on a best director nomination; and - given that their own government is too gutless to go there - to the aboriginal people for the historical insults and injuries they suffered.
Still, there is cringing in high places if not amongst the masses. Although most parts of the New Zealand Herald are performing well under its new editor, Tim Murphy - certainly in comparison with the slim and silly Dominion - its editorial page still seems to be prone to bouts of self-loathing.
Friday's editorial seemed to imply that being told off by Australia is our birthright. Oh, and America too. Unfortunately, the circle of interest is being bent out of shape. John Howard and his immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, have been found out.
In last year's elections, Howard made frequent use of the information that boat people had tried to force the hand of the Australian navy by throwing their children into the sea. These, sneered Howard, were not the kind of people he wanted in Australia.
Trouble is, as a new report shows, it never happened. And if it is faintly possible that Howard and Ruddock didn't know that when they first made their claims, it is unthinkable that that remained the case. Howard lied. There is also the matter of the potentially unconstitutional use of intelligence services for political advantage. Memo to Australia: never, ever lecture us about our immigration policy.
The shine is also going off the campaign to rid the world of evil. It was possible for a while to countenance military action as the only effective response to the horror of September 11. To believe that in seeking the support of its friends, the American government would commit itself to a new culture of co-operation. Not any more.
President Bush's first State of the Nation address put paid to that. He insulted Europe and humiliated America's best friend, Britain. The "Axis of Evil" to which he introduced Americans was conceived not by foreign policy officials, but by a speechwriter called David Frum - his job to come up with something catchy, whether or not it made sense.
It also employs some new and unheralded meaning of the word "axis". Two of the parties - Iran and Iraq - are bitter enemies with each other. The third - North Korea - has little to do with either of them. Worse, Bush has made Iran an enemy just as it was trying to be a friend. Nothing could have done more damage to Iran's emerging, democratic moderates than a threat from America. And why demonise North Korea just as it is beginning to talk to the South? Who does that help?
Iran's supposed crime is having a "porous border" with Afghanistan; doesn't everyone? Iraq has "weapons of mass destruction" - including the chemical weapons it obtained with the approval and active support of the Reagan administration. None of this makes any sense.
Consider also the $48 billion dollar - yes that's more than a hundred billion of our little dollars - increase in defence spending announced by Bush, when American is already sufficiently armed to fight and win two wars at once with anybody it chooses, and the crazy missile defence plan, and it is easy to be scared by America..
The rest of the world's problem is that US foreign policy is not really foreign policy but a domestic distraction. Without a war to fight, Bush and his chums might have a few too many questions to answer.
What I am saying should not be taken to be anti-American. I like Americans. I had a few too many drinks with one last night - which is one reason you're getting this at the end, rather than the beginning, of the day. But their dubiously elected president gives me the shits. And I can't help but notice that all his local cheerleaders have fallen strangely silent.
Back home, the Prime Minister launched the government's new 'Innovative New Zealand' strategy. All very Third-Way-Cool-Britannia-Carry-On-Up-The-Focus-Group, I'm sure. But by golly it's hard to work out what they're actually going to do about it.
Still, nobody can quibble now with the elevation of creative industries to the strategic first division. Not now Fellowship of the Ring has picked up 13 Oscar nominations - most of them attached to the work of New Zealanders in New Zealand. And for some strange reason, TV3 has been very shy about telling us that 'Being Eve' was recently named the best teenage TV drama in the world at the New York Festivals. That's amazing.
But the most bizarre political news of the week must surely be the announcement that Merepeka Raukawa-Tait has been appointed deputy leader of the Christian Heritage Party, and will stand in the Wairarapa electorate - against, of course, the country's most famous transsexual, Georgina Beyer
I wonder what the party members think of her professed fondness for attending strip clubs. I wonder what her former colleagues at Women's Refuge will think of her joining a party that wants to make it harder for women to leave their partners, and to abolish the Ministry of Women's Affairs, suspend aspects of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - those relating to physical punishment - and ban the "advertising" - their word - of homosexuality.
I also wonder whether Merepeka Raukawa Tait stands for much other than her own ambition.
Another person prone to preening is everyone's favourite media Maori, Tukuroirangi Morgan. His $1.8 million grant to make Hawaiiki, a 10 part series on the cultural origins of Maori, to be fronted by his son and daughter, is somewhat controversial.
It's a lot of money. But in film and TV production it's not only a matter of the budget, it's about, as they say, how much of the money you see on screen. And Tukuroirangi Morgan, in the relatively recent past, played a senior role in a Maori TV channel in which very little of the money was seen on screen.
While his crews worked for the dole, Morgan, in salary and directors' fees, took home more than the Prime Minister - and then awarded himself that generous, notorious clothing allowance.
It doesn't matter that the Serious Fraud Office didn't find any criminal actions. He and other senior figures in Aotearoa Television Network betrayed their young staff and betrayed anyone who had aspirations for Maori broadcasting. They behaved as if they never really expected it to last, and that was sad.
It is for that reason that Tuku will never be free of scrutiny - even though the Audit Office enquiry will most probably find nothing amiss.
It's been quite a week for television, of course. The top job at TVNZ has gone to one of the high priests of the cultural establishment. Whether someone as Absolutely Politically Wellington as Ian Fraser will prosper somewhere as resolutely Auckland as TVNZ remains to be seen. But I can tell you that they're a bit nervous up there on Hobson Street.
Doubly, in fact, with the impending entry of Kerry Packer to the local TV market. Quite soon, Prime TV will begin screening a raft of Nine Network talk shows, jack-up shows and makeover shows to compete with the ones you already see on TV1 and TV3. Nobody has really done trans-Tasman television before; let alone live daily programming. You will be able to see Australian news and current affairs presenters. And you might well decide that John and Carol and Richard and Judy aren't so foul after all.
Anyway, best of luck to the fine folk from Splore - you should go if you're able. Me, I like the look of David Kilgour at the KA. Here's to winning cricket, then
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