Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

19th April 2002 - Soldiering On

Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown

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one of the more notable - and welcome - social shifts in the past decade or two has been the rehabilitation of Anzac Day.

When I was younger, poppies were sold and the day was observed, but there was a disconnection of some sort - perhaps because the RSA was all too much in evidence. They were a bunch of grumpy old buggers who voted for Muldoon and were generally agin pretty much everything I was for.

But now that the old soldiers are fading away, it is as if their memory has become more precious; as if the proximity of their loss through age and attrition brings closer their loss as young men. It's a good thing.

In the same vein, the RSA is no longer the grumpy political force it once was. Indeed, it has become relatively apolitical - which made the National Party's politicking all the more unfortunate this year. On the eve of Anzac Day, National announced that it wanted establish a Tomb of the Unknown Warrior - something the government is apparently already doing. And that it would introduce a veterans' "gold card" for discounted access to services - something the government says, less convincingly, that it is also looking at. But it hasn't been costed or detailed in any way - making it look less of a policy than something National's spin department thought up during the week.

It got much worse on the day, when National's political powerhouse Clem Simich got himself some rare headlines for all the wrong reasons. Speaking at the Panmure RSA - which, having suffered a nasty murder last year, needed healing - Simich tore into the country's anti-nuclear policy and past and present Labour governments. It was so wrong, his audience was incensed and Bill English was apologising.

Meanwhile, the public appears to have forgiven the Prime Minister for signing paintings she did not paint, if the One News poll this weekend was any indication. Labour remained on 50 per cent support - and her personal support actually went up. She was able to appear in a jacked-up interview on 'Sunday' back in command of herself - and looking far more appealing than English in sermon mode.

Yes alright Helen, you can still be Prime Minister.

Just don't do it again.

I still feel personally let down by what she did - I thought she was better than that, and smarter. But by golly am I tired of the people who have so eagerly been making a meal of it - most notably Henry van Dijk, the purchaser of the original painting, who got yet another front-page story in the Herald to wax about what a good promotional boost it was for his water purification business and the self-help manual he was writing. Oh, puh-lease.

Calls for Clark to resign as arts and culture minister fell terribly flat when it became clear that the arts community, from Hamish Keith on down, was of the view that celebrity art auctions had bugger-all to do with art in the first place. The exception was a rather desperate chap from Mt Eden, who produced I PM, a work after McCahon. He got himself in the paper but Spin Doctors' 'I Am a Fraud' did it a lot better.

The lure of scandal induced severe memory loss in the National Party, which forgot that it had a new economic policy and devoted most of its Parliamentary time to trying, largely unsuccessfully, to trying to chip another flake off the government. If it wasn't last week's art scam, it was this week's version of the Alliance.

It's like this: Jim Anderton is still regarded as Alliance leader in Parliament, while Laila Harre has been elected as party leader by the Alliance ruling council. It is odd, but I suspect most people are simply grateful that the two factions have come to a reasonable agreement and stopped taking shots at each other. Bill English had so little success with a string of questions on the issue that he allowed Michael Cullen to goad him into calling for an early election, which was hilarious.

Really: does the public want an early election? No. Does anybody else? No. Does the government have any less support in Parliament than it had a month ago? No. Is either Alliance faction remotely likely to withdraw support? No. There is a general election due in a few months, and the voters will have their say then.

In a somewhat desperate attempt to make a story of it, One News's Mark Sainsbury speculated on the tactical moves the government might have to make to force a snap election. He forgot to explain why the hell it should actually bother.

What with all but a couple of ministers having achieved sufficient command of their portfolios to stay reliably out of trouble, Parliament's habitual mongers of scandal are having to scrape the bottom of the barrel. The press go with it because, well, they've got to write about something.

The non-scandal of the week really has to be that concerning Sovereign Yachts, the company that last year set up a super yacht building facility on some land formerly occupied by Hobsonville airbase. The government and Waitakere City worked together to speed up compliance with regulations so the company, which is owned by expat New Zealander Bill Lloyd, could set up.

It has been revealed that in the early 1990s, Lloyd traded in shares in the mining company Templar Resources, which was listed in the Vancouver Stock Exchange. He was its president and a director and failed to properly declare his trades - and was quite rightly slapped by the British Columbia Securities Commission, which in 1996 fined him $20,000, banned him from being a director of a publicly listed company for five years and told him to take a study course in governance. Fair enough.

Yet there has been some startlingly lazy reporting on this. Various writers - most notably Jane Clifton in the Listener - have been happy to go along with the portrayal of Lloyd as some sort of fugitive from British Columbian justice.

Shall we check this out, then? Oh look! There he is, being glowingly promoted, along with his business, on the website of the British Columbia Trade and Investment Office, which aims to help "strategic industries" and attract investment. So the state where he once breached regulations is providing active assistance to him and his company - and New Zealand, where he has never done anything wrong, shouldn't? Do me a favour ...

Lloyd's ban on directing a publicly listed company in British Columbia overlapped by a couple of weeks the announcement that he would set up here. But Sovereign Yachts is not a publicly listed company. It's his money. And the new base in not in British Columbia.

Moreover, it is tempting to muse that if New Zealand had insider trading laws as strict as those in British Columbia, then one or two prominent members of the local business community might find themselves in strife.

Lloyd is also in dispute with several creditors - three according to Lloyd, six according to Hide, who, as usual, has no evidence to back up his higher number - in Canada, including a former designer. The total sum in dispute across all the claims is around a million dollars - which might sound a lot until you consider that the boats he builds retail for as much as 12 million New Zealand dollars. Furthermore, he has apparently deposited money with civil courts until the disputes are resolved. It is very hard to see what more he could do.

Meanwhile, Hide continues to fling mud and simply walk away when it doesn't stick. He claimed the New Zealand government sold Lloyd four hectares of Hobsonville land at a knockdown price. Actually, it was sold for half a million dollars - the higher of two independent valuations - in accordance with the Public Works Act. Perhaps the land has since appreciated in value, but no one has produced actual evidence to that effect, still less that there was anything improper in the sale. Compared to the way in which various well-known New Zealanders made a killing in the 1990s out of buying and onselling public assets for huge profits, it seems inconsequential.

Hide then claimed that a secret deal had been done to sell another 50 hectares of former airbase land to Lloyd. Again, no proof was offered and the allegations were not repeated outside the protection of Parliament.

Meanwhile, the owner of the local contracting company that built Lloyd's giant boatshed has described him as "nothing but fair and honest". Lloyd is currently employing 40 people and plans to hire another 20 when a second yacht hull arrives from Canada in July. He has done all this with his own money. Rodney Hide - who was so recently happy to be hosted by Lloyd out on the harbour - seems to want to shut him down. It is shameful.

Then there's the business with the New Zealand Post board - Hide again, this time with his fellow bottom-feeder Murray McCully. They produced this week a seven-month old memo from the eternally unhappy man of the Post board, deputy chairman Syd Bradley.

In the memo, Bradley made various accusations against Post CEO Elmar Toime in a bid to have him removed before his contract ended. His fellow directors rejected the bid, leaving Bradley with two choices: resign if he felt he was right and they were wrong, or retract what he said in the memo. He publicly did the latter.

Post has had a bit of explaining to do - especially over its brief, bizarre business development foray into Spain - but to demand the resignation of the Minister of State Owned Enterprises on the basis of something happened - or, rather didn't happen - seven months ago on its board is preposterous.

The Herald did show there was more to life for journalists than waiting for instructions from Rodney or Murray this week. A group of reporters led by Louisa Cleave did the legwork and discovered that the CV of John Davy, the recently-appointed chief executive of the Maori Television Service, did not seem to stack up.

No record of his MBA from Denver University. No one's heard of him at the British Columbia Securities Commission where he said he had worked. No use asking him about Bill Lloyd, then. No record of the books he claimed to have written. And at least one Maori Television Service board member claims to have been unaware of his last job: running a multi-level marketing company that fell over last year owing more than half a million dollars.

Treasury has been asked to investigate, Derek Fox will be talking to his executive search firm and the Herald reporters can pat themselves on the back. Nice work was also forthcoming from the Herald's Bernard Orsman in his story on Auckland's City's amazing PR largesse. If what I hear is right, news punters should stay tuned for more on that one.

Anyway, after last week's ticket saga, the rugby went alright: a giddy 13-try romp for a Friday night. I contacted my friends at Red Tickets again this week, and a few things had changed. No admission to the ASB field seating unless you could claim possession of a child; and an unexplained increase in price from $10 to $15. Strange. But also, they're letting people sit in the Panasonic stand again. Amazing. In the absence of any other explanation, I take full credit for that.

Big hugs to Goldenhorse for making their happy noise so well at the King Arms after the game. This week it's the Stormers playing the Blues and the Clean playing the KA. Nice. And, of course, the new venture from a certain shortarsed bar owner is landing like a mothership on High Street later on. It might be worth a look, eh?


Russell Brown

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