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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... so there we were, Friday night in Sydney, a cluster of enterprising knowledge workers with a
high tolerance for fun. And could we get a taxi? We could not. Not at the same time, to the same place, anyway.
Apparently it's going to be even worse on New Year's Eve. Estimates are - and I'm not joking here - that the ratio of
taxis to freebooting party people in Sydney means it's going to take three and a half days to get everyone home.
Sydney taxi drivers are threatening to stay home with their families because they're not being allowed to jack up fares
to make working worthwhile. Look, if the journalists at the New Zealand Herald are going to get triple time and lashings
of booze then so should cabbies everywhere. Well, not the booze, but you know what I mean.
But if there was ever a candidate for the most radical deregulation, it is surely the Sydney taxi trade. It is plainly
not worth the while of enough drivers to cater for the city's night-on-the-tiles population. But it's a funny place,
Australia. While I was there, a team representing the incumbents of the broadcasting industry was bragging that it had
as good as talked the government into a set of rules for digital broadcasting.
These rules essentially declare that anybody who is not currently a television broadcaster in Australia will be a
"datacaster". And datacasters will not be allowed to provide sports, drama, comedy, news or in fact anything
recognisable as television. There seems to be no good reason for such a regime, other than to protect the incumbents.
How very bloody odd.
Anyway, the taxis. They split us up. And in the course of our fractured late evening, one of us wandered off and wound
up watching not one but two people turn blue and die drug deaths on the streets of King's Cross. I suppose it follows
that if Australians are so good at living in their public spaces they should also occasionally die in them. But just
hearing the details chilled me.
Then, the next day, 15 minutes into a delayed journey home - we'd been bumped off Aerolineas Argentinas, which was sort
of disappointing - the elderly woman in the seat behind me had some sort of acute medical episode which caused her blood
pressure to plummet and she herself to enter a state of panic in which she forgot what English she did know and just
started wailing. Yes, there was a doctor on board, but it was all rather unnerving. I could only sit there pondering
what they do when people actually do die on planes.
When I got off that plane, there waiting for me was the Herald, with all the front-page detail on a particularly awful
domestic murder. Kids suffocated, old chap from next door stabbed to death trying to restrain the killer. Forgive me if
I confess to a little creeping dread, a little pre-millennium tension.
After all, it's happening again. Having screwed up our first try at MMP, Winston Peters has done it twice. In
contriving to crawl to a pitiful 63-vote victory, with barely a third of the vote in Tauranga, Peters has saved his
idiot party from the oblivion it deserved. The glamorous Greens have swept into the House with an electorate win and a
five-plus share of the party vote but Winston won't do the decent thing and restore the coalition's absolute majority by
Do you blame Labour, for standing a strong candidate in Tauranga? Or National's Katherine O'Regan, who ran pretty much
a three-year campaign and still couldn't unseat the incumbent?
One thing you can't blame Labour for is going for a recount. Margaret Wilson couldn't win, but Labour would, by seeing
NZ First out if O'Regan did - which, by then, she didn't want to, having already accepted a handy private-sector job.
National had hinted about intentions for a recount but did nothing - possibly in a effort to leave things up in the air
long enough to delay next week's opening of Parliament - which the coalition needs to take place in order to get its
keynote legislation in motion.
There is simply no other conceivable reason that Richard Prebble should this week have demanded a recount in the seat
of Rangitikei - where Act came nowhere, but where 100 votes were misplaced after counting and have not yet turned up so
they can be rechecked.
Act's expensive recount won't bring those votes back, and it won't change the result - given that special votes have
already boosted the National candidate's majority to more than 200. Prebble has made the preposterous claim that
counting all the votes again will prevent votes going missing in future elections. Right. Sure it will.
This is already turning into The Election That Wouldn't Die and I am sure I am not alone in wishing Prebble would give
up being a smartarse so everyone can just get on with it.
Act and National would, of course, love the Labour-led government to run out of time to push the the gnarly end of
their programme - the tax increase over $60,000 a year and the ACC wind back - and have to grapple with it instead in
the new millennium
The new government, on the other hand, wants it done before the holidays, because, as ever, we will return from the
beach with our nerves soothed and our minds wiped of the cares of the old year. It'll be like it's always been that way.
Anyway, Parliament probably will still assemble to enact those measures - but perhaps not the party-hopping bill that
Labour promised would be a priority - not under urgency, anyway.
The wilful theft of voters' mandates by the likes of Alamein Kopu - who took her stolen Alliance votes and propped up
National in exchange for morning teas with the PM and certain accomodations over "research" funds - was outrageous. But
she's gone, and so are the others who cheated the voters. And legislation to prevent anybody else doing the same thing
suddenly looks like more constitutional grief than it's worth.
Especially given that the Greens have declared that they won't be backing Labour's measure. The Greens have also put on
the squeeze over West Coast logging, where Labour's Pete Hodgson, who is a pretty pale shade of green for an Environment
minister, is concentrating on the winnable battle over rolling back Timberlands' dodgy beech logging contracts - signed,
in an amazing coincidence, the day before Labour's official policy announcement on ending native logging.
The slightly more robust contracts rushed through by Timberlands for rimu logging will have to wait, says Hodgson.
Grrrr ... say the Greens.
Act, of course, is already prancing about making dire pronouncements about the rule of law. But if any private company
management had sought to deceive its shareholders the way Timberlands' has, it'd be out the door.
And it's also worth noting that Act, the would-be defender of the West Coast working man, came a miserable sixth in the
party vote in West Coast-Tasman - well short of Labour, the Alliance, the Greens and New Zealand First and less than a
thousand votes ahead of Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis. National took out the party vote by about 300 - but the anti-logging
parties in that electorate won a clear majority of the vote. As they did nationwide. Remember that.
A little more Green-tinged tension was triggered by young Nandor's statement that he will continue his weekly religious
observance of marijuana, even though he is now a legislator. Labour's new Minister of Justice, Phil Goff, who I fear
will need to be watched, got grumpy over that. On the other hand, Labour's conservative Minister of Agriculture, Jim
Sutton, could be heard this week spreading good vibes about the potential of hemp farming. Intriguing.
For all that the arrival of the Greens seems to have briefly unnerved the currency markets, they've conducted
themselves very well. They are quality people - and a far more interesting proposition than the lower-list would-be's
they turfed out. They actually have the opportunity to introduce a whole new political culture to our system.
It's not a done deal yet - the Greens have previously promised much in, say, Auckland local body politics, and yet been
undone by their cumbersome internal machinery and po-faced attitude to policy. Maybe this lot do have the goods.
Which may be why Alliance leader Jim Anderton feels the need to preserve his own party's profile by keeping his mouth
constantly in motion.
Before Parliament has even sat, Anderton has told the press that Labour should think about going back on everything it
promised in the election campaign and implement policy from its planned review of the tax system without putting it to
the electorate. Labour, which seems to be at pains to do exactly what it promised to do, didn't need to hear that.
A brief breach of Labour's own military discipline occurred last week, of course when the plodders rather ruthlessly
kept out of Cabinet by the votes of their own caucus - and then not given the consolation prize of a post outside
Cabinet - went public. Graham Kelly and Harry Duynhoven in particular have worked away on their shadow portfolios - only
to see them going to sharper, smarter and more promising colleagues. They were not happy.
National for its part has been building an Opposition attack team which will target Cullen and Anderton. Already Murray
McCully has warned ominously that rolling back his ACC scheme rapidly will risk sloppy legislation. Which, in the week
when major flaws have become apparent in both National's terrible "home invasion" bill and Max Bradford's incompetent
electricity reform legislation, is just a tiny bit rich.
Frankly, I wonder if the nation cares all that much. Business is either in denial or not too fussed and ordinary
consumer folk are stressing about Christmas shopping. Let's just have it and be done with it and see them all again on
Waitangi Day. Are you with me? --- G'bye!