Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

19th April 2002 - Just Sign Here

Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown

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you'd have thought from the last few political polls that the Prime Minister was utterly untouchable. Labour is polling as high as 56 per cent - twice where National's at and miles clear of the need to patch together a coalition. It was perhaps a sign of the uselessness of the Opposition that her severe political wounds this week were self-inflicted.

The Sunday Star Times broke the story this week that the rather turgid painting she contributed to a charity art auction in 1999, when she was Leader of the Opposition, was not her own work. Somebody else painted it, she just signed it,

In line with her government's established style in these matters, Helen Clark issued a full and frank admission and said she was sorry and that she'd learned her lesson.

But she had to include a crack to the effect that she wasn't the only politician to have done this sort of thing - and then couldn't name a sitting Parliamentarian who had. And she somehow forgot to mention that she had done something similar several other times.

The man who bought the painting for $1000, Henry van Dijk, has received his money back. He still appears to be greatly enjoying having his name in the papers.

This serial art fraud is surprising and disappointing. Not to mention arrogant, deceitful and silly. Its saving grace is that it didn't involve the business of government. But Clark has given Bill English a great big stick with which to beat her. If she's lucky, the whole affair will become a standing joke. If not, she'd better keep an eye on that "honesty" question in the next poll round.

As ever, the PM enjoyed some political fortune - if a nasty sexual murder and a frightening baby kidnapping can mean fortune to anyone. Those headlines also somewhat obscured the launch of the National Party's economic policy, which is, to put it mildly, business-driven.

National will seek to generate GDP growth of four per cent or more by gradually cutting company tax and income tax rates for those earning more than $60,000 - whilst increasing social spending at roughly the same annual rate that this government has managed.

This will mean two things: the scrapping of the new superannuation scheme - with no clear substitute yet enunciated. And running a considerably looser fiscal position than Michael Cullen will currently countenance.

If the former will be seized upon by Labour in the election campaign, the latter is really the greater obstacle. Because unless National can somehow get rid of the Reserve Bank Act - or the Reserve Bank governor - it just won't work. National's Finance spokesman David Carter blamed this week's interest rate rise by the bank on the current government's inflationary policies. That, as anyone who got through sixth form economics will know, is just a bit rich.

On the other hand, the entire financial community seems united in fear that Dr Brash will suffocate the economy the way he did in the 1990s. Even though quarterly inflation was considerably lower than either he or independent analysts predicted, rates went up. Again. We can only hope he's right and nearly everybody else is wrong, or nobody's getting four per cent growth any time soon.

Oh, by the way, it's interesting to see the British government putting tax up by 3p in the pound this week to rebuild the National Health Service.

One very good thing the New Zealand government did this week was to unexpectedly include housing as one of the "strategic assets" on which local authorities will now be required to fully consult their communities before selling.

The move was unabashedly aimed at Auckland City, whose mayor John Banks was predictably outraged and, just as predictably, full of crap.

Banks claimed on TV and radio that before last year's mayoral election he had "openly and honestly campaigned on these issues". I you've believed that, I have some bee pollen products you might be interested in buying. Assuming that he meant the planned sale of the city's pensioner housing, it was just a lie. There is no other word for it.

I haven't been able to find any evidence whatsoever of John Banks even mentioning the sale of pensioner housing, let alone campaigning openly on it.

The ratbags from Auckland Citizens and Ratepayers Now didn't campaign on it either. Indeed, when a policy paper suggesting the sale of pensioner housing was presented to the C&R Now executive last year, it was soundly rejected.

To quote Auckland C&R Now president John Collinge from the New Zealand Herald, November 9, last year, the paper was rejected "in two seconds flat". Three days later, also in the Herald, Collinge reiterated the point: "It was made crystal clear. We weren't going to save $25 million by throwing pensioners on the street."

So if it was policy then the CitRat councillors hadn't even told their own party president, let alone the voters. It wasn't in their manifesto and it was never canvassed at a public meeting. Like Banks, the CitRat councillors didn't start talking about selling pensioner housing until the election was safely over. They were, in short, just as duplicitous and cowardly as he continues to be.

Banks and his chums have parroted the Birch report in insisting that sharing the load in the provision of housing for those in need is not a "core business" of local government: it should be funded by the taxpayer, not the ratepayer.

This philosophy was also trotted out as some sort of biblical law in a New Zealand Herald editorial. But a century's worth of practice in New Zealand local government suggests otherwise. There are 15,000 council-owned dwellings in New Zealand. The burden has always been shared, and to suggest otherwise is simply dishonest.

You and I don't get to vote on this for two and a half years yet - but it is possible to register a protest of sorts by voting the in the Auckland Regional Council by-election. The candidate who is not a CitRat and has the best chance of winning is City Vision's Mike Lee. If you are a registered voter in Auckland City you will have the envelope. Tick the box and send it by next Saturday - especially if you were one of the sorry horde that forgot to vote last time.

Anyway, it's Super 12 season and thus time for the annual Hard News assessment of Auckland Rugby's ability to organise a piss-up in a brewery. Status: unchanged. Still negligible.

There was the time three or four years ago when me and my mate turned up at the gate at Eden Park and couldn't buy two seats in the south uncovered. There were plenty of seats available. But they were in special blocks of *three*.

"You'll have to buy three seats," said the man.

"But there are only two of us," I protested.

"We can give you a good price on the three," he insisted. "But there are ONLY TWO OF US!" We had no choice but to accept this deal-of-the-century ...

This year looks as much of a shemozzle. This Friday's Blues v Bulls is the first home game I've been able to attend. So I went to Ticketek to buy five tickets for me and my mates. But Ticketek doesn't sell rugby tickets any more. Now, it's PostShops and Books & More.

So I went to a PostShop, stood in a queue and eventually got to the counter. Yes, the man agreed, we do sell them. But you can't pick your seats any more - you can only elect a part of the ground and get the "best available", a notoriously unreliable way of buying tickets.

Oh well, I thought, there's usually plenty of room in the Panasonic stand, so we'll please ourselves where we sit when we get there. Whoops. "None available" in that stand. This is absurd. That stand only ever sells out for test matches. None available either for the field seating in front of the ASB Stand. So, no seats under $35 on one entire side of the ground.

This is silly, I said, and thanked the man at the PostShop, who clearly had no idea what was going on.

I drove to Eden Park, and went to the big, flash new ticket office which, naturally, had the "closed" sign up. I explained my predicament to the woman in the adjoining office. She explained that the reason there were no seats available in the Panasonic stand is because they weren't selling them. Decision by the new marketing people, apparently. Oh. Right.

Field seating in front of the ASB Stand then? Nope, she said. Another marketing decision. That's all allocated for Sovereign Family Packs - Sovereign Insurance being the sponsor. What are they? You get an adult and a children's ticket for $15, she said. Same price as a single adult ticket. So I could get in by buying five adult tickets and five children's tickets that I don't need? Yes, apparently. But not right now, she said. Come back tomorrow and I'll sell them to you.

So I went home. I found, which is now hosted by XtraMSN. They had online booking, via Red Tickets, the NZ Post ticketing spin-off. I tried that. Still no cheaper seats available on the north side of the ground, which has better facilities and is closer to where we park. And still only "best available" on the south side. Not good enough.

So I called the Red Tickets 0800 number. Surprise! They could sell me five tickets in the north uncovered. I was even able to specify that I wanted them as far up and as close to half way as possible. I got what seem to be good seats - suggesting that most people have just given up trying to buy tickets there. Fine, then.

It got weirder. The tickets were only $10. "Are you sure?" I said. "That's the terrace price." Yes, said the man. Okay then. They agreed to post me the tickets.

Two minutes later I got a call from the Red Tickets man. "Because it's so close to the day of the game," he said (this is 3pm Tuesday afternoon, for a Friday night game). "We can't post them to you."

I could pick them up on the night or have them couriered for an extra $3 (on top of a $6 booking fee, but, hey, the tickets were cheap). Alright. But why on earth can't an agency owned by NEW ZEALAND POST guarantee to mail an envelope across town within three days?

My tickets did arrive, on the Thursday. Couriered from Wellington, weirdly enough. I have since learned that a friend of mine had a terrible experience getting tickets out of Red. I suppose it's all turned out alright, but, really - these people want to run a bank?

Other provincial unions manage to sell tickets in a less mysterious manner, of course. And the Rugby World Cup would doubtless have been sweetly run - well, nobody could have screwed up ticketing as wildly as the Welsh Rugby Union did last time. But we won't get that chance.

New Zealand has finally, irrevocably been dumped as a co-host of next year's cup. We have been shafted by our erstwhile partner Australia. Or, to be precise, the Australian Rugby Union - a body that was once finally bankrupt and facing expulsion from the International Rugby Board. It was saved on both counts by the New Zealand union. So much for "mateship".

Senior New Zealand rugby administrators overplayed their hand in this debacle. That clearly played a part in the IRB's decision - hence the whingeing about "inappropriate behaviour" in the official statement; for which behaviour hundreds of thousands of people who love and have grown up with the game are now being punished.

Rugby is not about its officials, and it ought not be about solely about money. On the basis of this week's events you have to conclude that these days it very clearly is


Russell Brown

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