Hard News by Russell Brown


Labour's return of fire on National - with the promise of, literally, a book of embarrassing emails to and from Don Brash in advance of last year's election - is, of course, spin: a classic effort to change the subject from something Labour doesn't want to talk about to something National doesn't want to talk about.

Specifically, Labour is promising that new light will be shed on discussions between National and the Exclusive Brethren over the $1.2 million the Brethren spent - amid some ham-fisted attempts at secrecy - during last year's campaign. The emails apparently come from the trove held by Winston Peters, which would explain why they weren't revealed in advance of the election. Winston wouldn't want to be going too hard against a potential coalition partner. But now he's up off his sickbed and we'll see what he's got.

Even if what he's got is pretty good, it hardly alters Labour's position. Yes, National used public money to produce and distribute a pledge list before the 2002 election (and I'm pretty sure Jenny Shipley did the same thing with a letter to women voters in 1999). The difference is that after 2002, the rules on the use of Parliamentary Services were clarified and strengthened. What passed muster then didn't pass muster last year; to the chagrin of Labour and, to a lesser extent, every other party but National.

According to the Herald, Labour is in fact making plans to repay as much as $800,000. Good. I guess it's fair enough to wait for the Auditor-General's final report, but after that, please, no mucking about.

In the meantime, I could do without any more "stolen election" hysteria from Brash, let alone demands for fresh elections. No one can demonstrate that the result would have been different had Labour handled its finances differently. Did you cast your vote on the basis of the pledge card? Do you know anyone who did? Can you actually recall what was on the damn thing? Indeed, Labour's above-the-line campaign advertising was so lousy it's difficult to say it had much positive impact at all.

What won the election for Labour, and it may have turned quite late in the piece, were (a) spooked urban voters who didn't want to go back to the 1950s with National (Labour "won" all four main centres), (b) The student loan sweetie, (c) The consistent public perception that Clark was and is a more capable leader than Brash, and (d) good old-fashioned getting-out of the vote in South Auckland.

The three supermarkets closest to our house - a Woolworths, a Foodtown and a Countdown - are all owned by one company, Progressive Enterprises. I'm withholding my not-inconsiderable weekly supermarket spend from all of them until Progressive gets things right with its distribution workers, who want a national collective contract and have been locked out by their employer in the course of a fairly rugged dispute.

For all the Progressive PR, it seems that satisfaction for the distribution workers would add very, very little to grocery prices (and if prices are your concern, you'd probably be better off fretting about the lack of competition in the local market, as evidenced by Progressive's comprehensive hold on supermarket shopping hereabouts). I'm less certain about the radiographers' case, in part because it involves a fairly significant challenge to DHB budgets, and because they don't appear to have the wholehearted support of their medical colleagues.

Both disputes come down at least partially to something that nobody seems to be mentioning: the Auckland Premium. It just costs more to live here, especially when it comes to transport and housing costs. The same salary on which you'd get by alright in Christchurch will have your family struggling in Auckland. However both of them wash up, I think that premium will have to be paid in some way.

Anyway, Jim Kunstler, who was here for the Digital Earth Summit, has an entertaining blog post about New Zealand.

AppleInsider claims to have the inside word on Apple's movie plans, which seem set to be unveiled next week. Unsurprisingly, it's not just about iPods, and may include a device designed to deliver movies from your home server to your TV - an Airport Express for video.

Greg Palast has some interesting stuff on Innovative Emergency Management, the company that took millions of public dollars to write an evacuation plan for New Orleans, which is now - bizarrely - lost. IEM's founder is, unsurprisingly, a Republican Party donor, which would explain why, in light of comprehensive failure, the same firm seems set to receive millions more to write a new plan. For broader background, read Rolling Stone's incredible story of pork and political favour - at the expense of public safety - /Looting Homeland Security.

And finally, Tracey Nelson analyses those sorry All Black lineouts.