Upton Online: Legislating for Virtue on Venus

Published: Thu 30 Mar 2000 05:50 PM
Legislating for Virtue on Venus
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Upton-on-line Mar 30th
Legislating for Virtue on Venus
The Employment Relations Bill is guaranteed to provide a level of fireworks Parliament hasn't seen since the mother of all budgets. Written by a university lecturer and a unionist of radical middle class extraction it would probably provide a useful code for life forms that NASA hopes (but has yet) to discover in nearby star systems.
But as an attempt to legislate for virtue on planet earth it is other-worldly. The real world reaction of employers is anything but. We are already detecting an anxiety on the part of employers about speaking out lest they end up on a union hit list. Dick Hubbard's experience must have jolted the confidence of employers who believed that a kinder gentler approach would provide a degree of protection. If it can happen to an employer from Venus (so to speak) it will happen to employers from Mars with knobs on.
And there was a chilling message for those who thought the Minister might at least zap Mr Hubbard's tormentors. Contacted for a reaction in her spaceship far above the heat and squalor of the planet, Ms Wilson explained that she "preferred not to comment on specific industrial disputes". So there you have it. Poor Mr Hubbard - and the rest of us in the real world - will be left to struggle with the trifids while the Minister designs rules for virtue in a virtual world.
It appears that her foot soldiers are anything but other-worldly. It surfaced in question time this week that the select committee chairperson, Graham Kelly, has been warning unionists not to refer to employers as "pigs or dogs" when they appear in front of the select committee. It has to be best Sunday behaviour until the law is passed after which there will be an outbreak of good will and bonhomie all round!
Subscribers from planet earth may be interested in an excellent real world commentary from Chris Trotter writing in this week's Independent (March 29). Trotter is from Mars and has encountered unionist with red teeth and claws. Even he thinks elements of Margaret Wilson's prescription are from another planet. Read in particular his views on the provisions that require employers to hand over commercially sensitive material to unions...
Artefacts and Arty Farts
Like all good social democratic governments, the new administration has announced a major talkfest on culture and identity. Where labour parties of old concentrated on the solidarity of the nation through class, new labour parties find solidarity in cultural identity. And when you can't really put your finger on it, you go out and invent it.
So we're to have H[eart] O[f] T[he] Nation as an antipodean echo of Cool Britannia. And assorted hot personalities have been tasked to go out and get to the heart of things. Just what will emerge is about as clear as a Jackson Pollock at this stage but we can be sure that the people with opinions will not be in short supply. The only guarantee is that all those people who watch TV2 and Sky Sport are unlikely to be particularly fussed about having their identity discovered for them.
All of which brings us to the great Te Papa debate. This bold icon of post-modernism set about creating 'narratives' that dragged the crowds in but didn't please the cognoscenti. It wasn't scholarly enough for them. As a junior, country member of the cognoscenti, upton-on-line has to confess that he has had some sympathy for this concern. But his painstakingly acquired democratic veneer had persuaded him that he should bow to the vote of the masses.
No such caution has baulked our fearless new Prime Minister. A team of inquisitors has been appointed to stamp out the trash and reinstall standards. Te Papa shouldn't be overly concerned. If the review team makes the case for some permanent galleries where we can view the national painting collection, I for one would be delighted. And improved interpretation for those who want to dig below the surface wouldn't go amiss.
But it was rash to appoint someone like Rodney Wilson who is in direct competition for funding (about as neutral as appointing the director of the APO to review the NZSO - God forbid). And ministerial comments have done nothing to dispel a deepening sense of siege. It would be a real pity if, having found the heart of the nation, the Government gave Te Papa a by-pass. It'll be Hot Aotearoa if they get it wrong.
>From the Plains of the Serengeti
It has been a muddly and directionless week in the Rift Valley. Perhaps the animals had an intuition that an earthquake would rock the cradle of civilisation (as Wellingtonians like to think of their home). But we all woke to find Te Papa still standing and question time on Thursday was as dreary as the preceding two days.
Whatever was in the air, it caused a level of verbal flatulence from ministers in question time that at times nearly asphyxiated the predators. Wyatt Creech sought, rather reasonably, to find out why Annette King would not be supporting nurses and other hospital staff in their quest for a pay rise when she had positively haemorrhaged support for such increases in the past.
The Valley was treated to much harrumphing from the Minister in which she accused her predecessor of failing to appreciate that nurses weren't motivated by money. There were all sorts of things like career development and working conditions that mattered just as much. It was a real life case of tiggers not really liking haycorns. What they really liked, Ms King assured us, was workforce planning. Lots of it. We are all wondering just how much workforce planning you have to eat before you don't feel like a pay rise.
The other source of mild hysteria was Tariana Turia who, as a many times over associate minister, has been delegated the important task of general policy development. It has emerged in recent weeks that her principle policy achievement is disagreeing with her senior ministers. What really throws them - in this case Annette King and Steve Maharey - is her insistence in spurning their protection.
Having demanded equal representation for Maori on Labour's new health quangos and pronounced herself sickened by the racism she has encountered in the Child, Youth & Family Services Department, both ministers rushed to defend her with "What my ministerial colleague was saying.." type obfuscations. To her great credit she refused to confirm their fudge and made clear that she meant exactly what she said. The discomfort within the herd is matched only by the glee within Labour's Maori caucus. Speculation is that the herd may yet split on lines other than gender or ideology.
Life has not been so satisfying at the top of the food chain. Richard Prebble's patient stalking of the Waipareira Trust has so far yielded no quarry. The excitable Mr John Tamihere has been dancing about like Squirrel Nutkin making provocative statements and even taking a swipe at Donna Awatere Huata.
None of the animals is quite sure which of the two protagonists is living dangerously. But as Mr Prebble tries to relate his questioning to specific allegations within the swelling tide that is engulfing his office he is discovering the difficulty Winston Peters ran into with the winebox. The broad idea of the scam makes great headlines but trying to break through on the detail is torture. Helen Clark continues gravely to insist that she will investigate anything while everyone glazes over trying to recall which allegation is which.
The only silver lining for Mr Prebble (and it is a very noxious cloud otherwise) is the fact that Mr Peters' loathing of Mr Tamihere seems to exceed even that which he feels for Jenny Shipley. Perhaps Messrs Prebble and Peters will yet befriend one another under a complex new formulation that "though the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy, our mutual enemy is even more of an enemy".
Upton-on-line is prepared to accept odds on whose carcass will first nourish the soils of the valley.
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