Hard News by Russell Brown


A better thing to believe in

Four years ago, on the eve of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, the excitement and controversy of a home event  jostled with the deeper dread that the All Blacks might not win their own tournament. Even at the end, the prospect of final-hurdle failure was so utterly present that when they did actually win, it was hard to know whether to feel jubilant, relieved or just sick.

In 2015, something different is happening. The play is far away and the dread so much more distant. What has happened instead is that the game has been caught up in an alienating political murk.

In a  complex, considered piece of writing on Saturday, Philip Matthews drew together rugby, refugees and the off-the-rails flag process to ask What is a New Zealander?

Rugby or refugees? Suddenly it seemed that while we were having an artificial debate about New Zealand and its values, a real and meaningful one was breaking out by accident. And it was not just the usual critics. As the refugee crisis worsened, newsreader Mike McRoberts said on Twitter that "it's not a flag that defines us as a nation, it's how we treat others".

The same point was made in powerfully graphic form by journalist Lyndon Hood at the Scoop website. Hood turned the silver fern that dominates three out of the four designs on the flag change shortlist into a barbed-wire fence that keeps refugees out

We were suddenly having a debate about national values on three fronts, with each raising a question to mull over. What does it mean to use Parliament for the launch of the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad? Are we the generous and welcoming people that we like to tell ourselves we are? Can any visual image summarise our contradictions, histories and hopes?

We're told it was the NZRU's idea to stage the announcement of the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad at Parliament. Did it genuinely intend the weird, uneasy live-on-TV event we saw? Could anything have taken the game further away from its home-ground mythologies than having Jonathan Coleman honk his way through an unnecessary introduction and politicians jostle in awkward photo-ops afterwards? As Megan Whelan noted in a roundup of reactions, many of those  who felt most uneasy about the stunt were those closest to the game.

As Victoria University political scientist Jon Johansson observes in Matthews' story, John Key's urge to "drape himself all over the All Blacks" has never been stronger than it is now. He is Richie McCaw's public mate. He openly proposed adopting the All Blacks' silver-fern-on-black trademark as a new national flag. His declaration that the soon-to-retire captain might have a future in politics spawned a flurry of absurd news stories. Ultimately, it seems less that he wants to brand New Zealand on the All Blacks than to brand himself and his government.

As both Johansson and Whelan note, all this cannot help but call to mind Key's infamous difficulty in recalling his position on the great moral divide that was the 1981 Springbok Tour. The irony there, of course, is that the rationalisation inevitably brandished by those who favoured playing with apartheid South Africa was that sport and politics shouldn't mix.

At the same time, another fine piece of writing offered a more appealing – nay, flattering – vision of rugby and its connection to our national identity. Andy Bull's journey for The Guardian in search of the making of the All Blacks – arguably the world's most successful sports team – should be of interest even to those of you who have no interest in the game.

What Bull finds is a culture that has successfully adjusted to the new world of professionalism by – paradoxically – emphasising playing for fun. One where even the concrete-mixers of the front row are taught to catch and pass. Most notably, he implies that the moderation of childrens' sport, the very thing habitually decried as "political correctness", might actually be the key to New Zealand's global dominance of rugby.

Just as interesting is his explanation of how the game got there.

They spend a lot of time and effort surveying young players. In one of its recent surveys, the NZRU asked the participants to define what rugby meant to them. “For the coaches and the parents and the school administrators, it was about results, it was about winning, and it was about being better than everyone else,” Anderson says. “For the kids it was slightly different, for them it was about the battle and about a sense of ownership. About it being ‘my space, my game, my friends, my school’. And most of all it was about it being enjoyment.

There's something really remarkable about this. It's a consultation process that paid most attention to its least influential respondents. It's the opposite of top-down.

The most affecting part of Bull's story is its conclusion. The last leg of his journey is a visit with Tiki Edwards, the NZRU’s Maori community manager, in Rotorua. They drive to Kawerau, and to Tawera High School, where even for the kids, gang culture is so omnipresent that "Tiki needs a variety of different training bibs because the kids will refuse to wear them if they are in the colours of a rival gang." Here, rugby is depicted as a way out – not in terms of professional careers, but simply as a means to something better to believe in.

On the drive back to Rotorua, Tiki talks more about the ties between the people, their community, and their land. He mentions Maori concepts: whakapapa, ancestral connections; whenua, land connections; whanau, family connections. Tiki talks, too, about the haka. “People think it is a war challenge but to be honest mate, we never came to the battlefield to tell you that we were here to challenge you. We came to kill you. The haka isn’t about the enemy. It is about us. It’s about opening ourselves up to our ancestors, to their spirits, about filling ourselves with their strengths and gifts.” He pauses. “It is hard to explain. And to be honest, most Europeans don’t get it.”

It is, let us be honest, a rosy view. Bull writes admiringly of the way Auckland Grammar requires its young rugby to stars to get their education and not only to win games and attract the talent scouts. But he says nothing of the player-poaching and rule-bending that has become rife in school rugby, or the curious disfunction at the city's flagship team, The Blues.

But, like Steve Hansen comfortably declaring his love for the players in his charge, it's better a better thing to believe in than a corporate beer campaign that appropriates the game's history to tell us "We Believe"

People everywhere invest great emotional loyalty in sports teams. And that's okay. On a personal level, my feeling for the game is undoubtedly driven by the fact that I played it through my childhood. That my strongest bonds with my late father lie in the way he was there every Saturday, watching me play, driving me and the other kids to and from the ground, offering praise in the cautious way that men of his generation did, as if there was only a finite supply. That I did, in fact, harbour dreams of being an All Black.

I never expect others to feel the same way. But I'm far more comfortable in expecting them to respect that than in expecting them to embrace instructions in patriotism from politicians and liquor corporations. Those things are just unpleasant noise, whether you love the game or not.

In the end, the All Black coach and captain and their charges represent a better version of New Zealand modernity than our corporate and political overlords do. They are an extraordinary team not only because they win nearly all the time, but because of the way they play the game. That way is an easier thing to feel comfortable with, to be represented by. It's a better thing to believe in.


A cog in the Mediaworks machine

It's almost exactly three months since the New Zealand Herald's 'Diary' columnist Rachel Glucina announced in a tweet that she had been "headhunted" by Mediaworks "for a joint venture partnership to create, run and co-own a new digital entertainment platform."

Many of her former Herald colleagues believed she had, at best, jumped before she'd been pushed, and that the final straw had been not her unethical treatment of waitress Amanda Bailey but her ludicrous "conifers" column. The belief was that she was due to be dispensed with in a reshuffle after the departure of editor-in-chief Tim Murphy.

Whatever the case, the news was not welcome at all amongst Mediaworks journalists. As Simon Day describes it in the Sunday Star Times today:

Morale in the newsroom was already low. It was less than a month since John Campbell had resigned. The hiring of Glucina, the infamous gossip columnist who had attacked so many of TV3's presenters and journalists during her time at the New Zealand Herald, was the tipping point for an anxious and now enraged newsroom.

The staff were mutinous. Their protests forced head of news Mark Jennings to call an emergency newsroom meeting. In a hostile session TV3's journalists demanded to know how the appointment could have happened. Jennings promised Glucina would never set foot in the newsroom.

Some time after that, Mediaworks journalists received a group email announcing that:

Rachel Glucina is going to be leading a small but perfectly formed team to dominate entertainment news in New Zealand and beyond. This is your opportunity to be there from the beginning and help shape our digital entertainment news into the phenomenon it will undoubtedly become.

We need your energy, your drive and your skills to deliver on some bold plans.

Being sought were a news editor responsible for ensuring that "news stories have an emphasis on quality, accuracy, accessibility, best Web practices, and search engine optimisation (SEO)"; an online editor ("You will write, file, edit and promote a range of digital content on the platforms, including website, tablet, mobile app, social media and others, that will build the online presence for this major technology site"); and a social media editor "experienced in creating, curating and promoting compelling creative social content, generating web traffic, and expanding brand visibility and conversation."

The site, Scout, launches tomorrow (or today, if you're reading this on Monday), with Francis Cook, a former gallery reporter with Scoop, signed on as news editor and Patrick Gower and Duncan Garner as contributors. What Glucina will do day-to-day isn't clear.

"She is very good at her job, forging sources prepared to leak her information. People have proven keen to give her inside access to their events, cameras, and lives," Day writes, but I'm honestly not sure if that's true.

Glucina's Diary columns since 2012 read increasingly like the work of someone no one would talk to any more. She had few scoops and wrote terribly, especially when she attempted humour. This was The Diary's "lead" on May 27:

During a radio interview with Mike Hosking yesterday to promote his upcoming New Zealand Trew World Order tour in October, British comedian Russell Brand had a momentary brain fade, believing he was talking to a journalist in Australia.

"What I might do is bring my cat Morrissey to Australia with me. Oh wait, this is New Zealand, right?" Brand said.

"Conifers", on May 25, led with a picture of a British DJ who looked somewhat like John Key that people had been sharing on Twitter, then a "second viral pic": an innocuous poolside selfie by John Key with his son Max, lifted from Max's Instagram account. Hilariously, the Herald's editors later deleted this deathless paragraph from the original column:

Phallic-shaped conifers shoot up to the sky. Fairy lights hang delicately from the spouting of the pool house. And the toned torsos of the shirtless studs have prompted winks and nods around the country.

This stayed in:

Mike Hosking took to the airwaves this morning to quiz if he was under the influence. The 53-year-old, that is.

"No I was stone cold sober," said the self-portraitist.

Key the Elder was not channelling his Russian counterpart Putin, who is no stranger to topless imagery. There's Putin topless riding a horse, fishing, hunting. Basically, any excuse to go shirtless.

Her final effort, on the day she announced her departure, was a report lifted from the Hollywood news site Deadline, that Martin Henderson was joining the cast of Grey's Anatomy. The Herald website covered the same news in a brief un-bylined news story, quoting the same website, on the same day.

Where she did seem to have a relationship was with the new Mediaworks leadership, with whom she clearly shared a low opinion of John Campbell. Between March and May, she had her byline on no fewer than eight Campbell pieces, including two in which she blamed Campbell (and his refusal to have a sidekick) for female journalists leaving TV3, and one in which she accused him of acting "like an insolent child":

Campbell, a former share trader, was little amused at comments made by John Key, a former broker, who declared last week he has little sympathy for a programme on a private station that needs to net commercial returns for shareholders.

Key branded it an "entertainment" show which got Campbell's Y-fronts in a knot.

Campbell retaliated on air like an insolent child - he played Robbie Williams' Let Me Entertain You in the opening credits of his show, and signed off: "I hope we entertained you".

Let's hope the Campbell Live fracas has not turned into an ego platform for a man who couldn't see the writing on the wall early enough.

Now that she's officially on Team Christie, Glucina will presumably have to leave off the simpering over Hosking. So what will Scout actually do?

The promo video promises "breaking entertainment and celebrity news", meaning it will – as the Stuff and the Herald websites do constantly – repackage foreign entertainment news, for which there is a solid public appetite. There will be the usual pillaging of the social media production of local sportspeople and their significant others.  

We'll hear from the eastern suburbs/Auckland National Party social axis: Max Key and his shiny friends and the various functions to which Julie Christie accompanies a Minister of the Crown. Glucina also understands the mediated and managed world of the local "event" scene, which is mostly about people claiming their celebrity by going to achingly dull product launches for the free drinks. She showed a notable work ethic in trudging along to those when she wrote Spy, but may now delegate that task to Scout's unpaid interns (yes, really).

Scout may, as the story implies, get some political gossip from Gower, but I think TV3's political editor would need to be very careful about that. They're citing TMZ as an influence, so they may be in the market for paparazzi. But I can't see them having the bank to compete with the women's mags there. Maybe they'll move into some of the scuttlebutt space surrendered by a somewhat chastened Cameron Slater, but in more of a "Guess Who Don't Sue" vein.

But the more I look at it, the more I see Scout as a cog in the Mediaworks machine; recursively making media about Mediaworks assets. As Day reports: "Bachelor star Art Green has signed on to do a series, and Bella Henry (Paul Henry's daughter) will host a show about Tinder dating called Bella Finds a Fella." Its output will be fed into Mediaworks news properties and breakfast radio shows and it'll get the inside running on whatever Mediaworks Nine Live is touring. That's essentially the model at Mediaworks now.

As a joint venture between Mediaworks and Glucina, Scout will presumably be outside the bailiwick of news chief Mark Jennings, which possibly comes as a relief to Jennings and his journalists. It may come in under Julie Christie's self-appointed role as acting manager of TV and video strategy, which you'd think would loosen its ethical boundaries somewhat.

But Day's otherwise very good story leaves hanging one tidbit any gossip site would surely seize on. How does a 42 year-old woman who's had a part-time job at a newspaper and a PR company with no clients afford lately to buy a "big" house in Ponsonby and invest in a new media joint venture?


Friday Music: A Life of Stories

A life in music is intrinsically a life of stories. By its nature, it provides narrative points: highs, lows, people, places, beginnings and ends. These memories, the bones of the story, may have been shared not only with comrades, but with the reader. We might all have been a little crazy at the time.

Thus, when I read Simon Parkes' marvellous Live at the Brixton Academy: A Riotous Life in the Music Business, I was several times able to say to myself, "Yes! I was there!"

I went to the Westworld party where they installed a dodgem car track in the middle of the Academy (do not attempt to pilot a dodgem car while on acid and wearing prismatic glasses, because it is not possible). I reviewed that infamous Grace Jones gig (she kept disappearing from the stage then coming back loudly blowing her nose and yelling about wanting to "party"). And we were there, with two pregnant women in our crew, at the Shabba Ranks show where there was a riot at the door and a guy was shot over some yardie business inside. (I still recall David Rodigan coming out onto the stage to calm the crowd: "I'm not here  to criticise you! I'm here to praise you!")

It was a delight to be able to connect some of those stories to the yarns of Stephen King of Believe Digital, who I interviewed at the Going Global summit on Saturday morning. Like Parkes, King was a white kid who entered the business via the unruly, sometimes dangerous world of reggae music.

He later managed the Libertines, and told the story of Pete Doherty legging it before the encore of the band's third night of a sold-out stand at the Academy. He alerted the two security guards whose full-time job it was to wrangle Doherty to the fact that Pete had gone out the stage door and jumped in his drug-dealer's car. They raced through the venue, stopped the car on the street outside and dragged the errant star back in to do his encore, while the Academy's own formidable security crew nodded understandingly.

But underlying Parkes' book and King's wonderful stories, there's something deeper about being in music. Although it inescapably involves money – sometimes in brown paper bags – it also has its own ways and codes and forms of respect. It's wrapped around the fact that the artists at the centre of everyone's living may by their very nature be mad and unreliable, as well as brilliant.

There is also an arc of social history integral to Parkes' book of rock 'n' roll yarns. That's integral to the Brixton Academy book too. Parkes only got his shot because the place was run-down and rotting in a part of town it was thought white middle-class Londoners would never venture. He had to learn to do business with Brixton, on Brixton's terms. And left the Academy in the hands of the suits who ran the entertainment corporate that owns it now.

All that is present too in Simon Grigg's How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song That Stormed the World. If Simon might not be a natural writer (like Parkes' book, it could have used some additional attention from the editor), he is, like all  the best people in music, a brilliant storyteller. The narrative rip of this book is so strong that I opened it on the day it arrived in the post and couldn't go to bed until I'd finished it.

Although the book's core story is about Pauly and that record, its early chapters tell Simon's own tale and, crucially, the story of what happened in the late 80s and early 90s when the children of Pacific immigrants came into the centre of Auckland – in more than one way – and changed everything. This era deserves better cultural histories than it currently has – and it needs histories from a Pasifika perspective – but the glimpse in How Bizarre is a precious beginning.

I thought about How Bizarre yesterday afternoon at Graham Brazier's funeral, not only because the service was rich with stories, but because I knew that Alan Jansson, the producer and co-writer of 'How Bizarre', and a properly sympathetic character in Simon Grigg's story, had been working with Graham on a new album.

I bumped into Alan as the standing-room-only crowd filed out of the church and he confirmed that the album is complete. He said Graham had actually approached him to produce his previous album but he'd declined because he didn't feel strongly about the ideas brought to him. This time was different. It was cohesive. He thinks the finished album is Graham's best work ("With the exception of 'Billy Bold'").

Attending the service, and the gathering afterwards at the Grey Lynn RSC – the inner west's great bulwark against gentrification – also reminded me I still hadn't read the late Dave McArtney's book of rock 'n' roll stories, Gutter Black. It appears there is no e-book version, so it's off the the bookshop for me today.

I'll balance that with Viv Albertine's mad, quirky memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. Tracey Thorn's Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star will have to sit around the house a little longer.

What's true of all these books is that they also tell the stories of their times; an alternative telling of history, the other side of ourselves. That's an aspiration captured by the writers of Westside, who have used music so well to define time and place. The second season of Westside takes place entirely in 1981. It matters not only that our political and social history that year was so memorable, but that, as Gary Steel points out, 1981 was an astonishing year for our music.

Connecting these histories is also a key aspiration for everyone involved in Audioculture. It helps complete us all.

For now, Chris Bourke's new Graham Brazier article on Audioculture is a rich piece of writing about a complicated man.


The success of last Friday's The Others Way Festival on K Road was a credit both to the good people at Flying Out and to their media partners at 95bFM. Every venue was crowded, everything I saw (Street Chant, a wild show by Heavy, Ghost Wave, Princess Chelsea and The Bats) was great.

It was also notable that alongside the kids who might usually go to these shows, there was a big contingent of people who looked to me like, ahem, older bFM listeners. This speaks to two things: that these listeners remain engaged with a resurgent 95bFM. And that if you you put together the right bill and have it playing at a reasonable time, the oldies will come out.

If you want to see what you missed, or relive the evening, there are great photosets from Georgia Schofield and Paul Taylor.


Tuxedo (aka Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One) play The Studio in Auckland next Friday. On top of its own funky merits, the show is a launch for Splore 2016 (the camping, glamping and transport deals are announced on the folowing Monday). You are encouraged to dress to impress. It looks like fun. They sound like this:


Duncan Greive interviews Simon Grigg about How Bizarre for the Spinoff.

That record Miley Cyrus has made with Flaming Lips? It's actually really good. You can stream the whole thing here and listen to the tracks on her Soundcloud account. Annoyingly, there's no download (or even public playlist) available, so you'll need to make your own playlist manually.

Jim Pinckney interviews Dean Wareham, who will be playing with a reformed Luna in Auckland Wellington this month.

A nice short documentary from Pitchfork, following Courtney Barnett on tour:

And an enlightening history of The Wine Cellar and Whammy by Gareth Shute on Audioculture.


A new Pain's People release, available at a price of your choice on Bandcamp:

Completists! The mighty Darkstation has a downloadable(!) recording of The Clean playing 'Point That Thing Somewhere Else' at the King's Arms in 2000:

Over at TheAudience, the impressive new track from Christchurch-based artist Plum. She's got it going on at the moment.

And for your Friday kitchen-dancing, a gorgeous Bobby Womack remix (click through to the page for a free download link):


Fifty thousand preventable deaths

In the new issue of Matters of Substance I have a story looking at a public health problem irrevocably tied to my generation. The generation either side of 50 that includes most of those living impaired lives and dying bad, early deaths because of Hepatitis C.

At least 50,000 New Zealanders, and perhaps many more, have the Hepatitis C virus. Many of them don't yet know they have it, which is why it's called the "silent epidemic". Some of them contracted  it through medical misadventure and the signs are that an alarming proportion of new cases are sexually transmitted (home tattooing is another growing vector for the disease).

But the largest group were infected through injecting drug use, 20, 30 even 40 years ago. The consequent stigma is a significant impediment for them personally, and for public health in general.

I talked to many such people and was able to convey some of their experiences here in the same issue. The others, be assured that everything you told me was useful. Everyone's story in this – and they came from everyone from senior civil servants to musicians, counsellors and council workers – is important.

Some have chosen not to attempt a cure for a disease that will almost certainly shorten their lives. Why would anyone do that? From the story:

Cruelly, the ‘cure’ is, for many, worse than the chronic disease. The established treatment for hepatitis C, interferon, involves weekly injections supplemented with six daily tablets of ribavirin for 48 weeks. Interferon bolsters the body’s immune system in the hope that it can overcome the virus, but it also depletes the brain’s stock of serotonin, inducing symptoms of clinical depression in most patients.

“Let no-one say otherwise,” author and historian Redmer Yska has written of his own experience with interferon, “it is inhumane treatment.”

And even though results have improved considerably over the past 25 years, nearly half of those who undergo the ordeal of interferon will find, as Yska did, that it has not cleared their virus.

What if there was a way to make all that go away – to even eliminate hepatitis C itself? There is, but in New Zealand, the bargain has yet to be struck.

A new generation of anti-viral drugs has changed everything about dealing with the virus. The drugs have a 98% cure rate, require only a 12 week course and have no significant side effects. They're cheap and easy to administer. But they are not funded by Pharmac and a course of treatment costs $80,000 to $100,000 – more than $1000 a pill.

Clearly, most sufferers can't afford that, but about 1000 New Zealanders – including Redmer Yska,who  successfully cleared the virus in 2014 with help of new generation anti-viral Sovalidi – have been able to access the treatment throughthe trials in Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Dunedin.

This is not Pharmac's fault as such, but the nature of Big Pharma. Hundreds of millions have been spent developing the anti-virals and acquiring companies with relevant IP, and the manufacturers want to recoup at the rate that indivdual country markets will bear. Pharmac is negotiating what that rate is. If you want an example of why a strong Pharmac is vital, that's it.

The irony, of course, is that even at the current rate, it's cheaper to cure someone than to conduct a liver transplant or provide care for liver cancer sufferers.

As Dr Ed Gane, Deputy Director and Hepatologist at the New Zealand Liver Transplant Unit at Auckland City Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Auckland School of Medicine told me:

“Every death from hepatitis C is a preventable death. We have the means to not only cure individual patients but also to eliminate [the hepatitis C virus] from New Zealand. We just have to somehow get the government to pay for it.”

Dr Gane has done more than anyone to bring the trials to New Zealand. I spoke to a number of the people cured in those trials and they are deeply grateful for their new lives. But trials will continue for only another year or two. Unless we have at least one drug combination funded by then, we will see the vision of a country without Hepatitis C recede agan.


To have a home

With the human crisis unfolding in Europe – and our own government's evasiveness over how much we should help – it is worth remembering that this is hardly the first time refugees have been at the centre of political controversy in New Zealand.

In 2006, Tze Ming Mok talked Public Address readers through the less savoury elements of the Labour government's Immigration Act in Everyone is illegal Part 1 and Everyone is illegal Part 2.

At the same time, David Haywood was approaching the issue from a different direction, with Refugee Stories Our Politicians Never Tell Us: Part I - Shahzad Ghahreman, an extraordinary first-person account in which Shahzad observes:

It's surprising how many times New Zealanders have told us that we could be better off in Australia - but we would never accept that. I believe that our family has thrived in New Zealand because of the environment. Even the most talented person would get nowhere in a bad environment. New Zealand has been wonderful to us - it is our home. We wouldn't abandon it for a few extra dollars.

David followed that with Refugee Stories Our Politicians Never Tell Us: Part II - Lan Le-Ngoc, a remarkable story of childhood amid the social collapse of post-war Vietnam, and risking everything to get here. As David notes, Lan, now a scientist and engineer, "has numerous scientific publications to his credit, as well as a number of commercial patents which have added significant value to New Zealand industry. His scientific work was recognized by a Royal Society Medal in 2001."

For his part, Lan speaks of his love for New Zealand and determination to to stay here and contribute – but laments the racism still suffered by his own New Zealand-born children:

Only a few weeks ago I dropped my daughter off at school, and as I went back to my car there were some kids standing at the front gate. Just primary school children - only nine or ten years old. And one of them shouted at me: "You f**king Asian. Go home!"

That incident really depressed me - because you can judge a society by its children. Where would a child have learnt those attitudes? Just nine or ten years old, and already he thought that Asians shouldn't be in this country. The message is actually out there in society for him. It was a terribly worrying thing to happen at my daughter's school, and it's a real concern of mine that these new racist attitudes might affect her as well.

I suspect that part of the responsibility for such attitudes can be laid at the feet of certain politicians. The rhetoric of people like Winston Peters and Don Brash has actually promoted anti-immigrant sentiment. It was probably always there to a certain extent, but when senior politicians start spouting this sort of nonsense then it isn't merely airing the views of a racist minority - it actually starts to incite racism.

Easily-led people take such political rhetoric as legitimization of their own bigoted views. They think it gives them carte blanche to treat immigrants rudely in shops, or to shout insults from their cars. Of course, I'm not suggesting that this is the intention of Peters or Brash. They're just doing it to get votes. I'm sure that after the election they forget all about it. But they don't realize the long-term impact that it's having on people like me and my family - who can be easily identified as having ancestry from somewhere other than Europe.

The following year, I accompanied another Vietnamese refugee, Mitchell Pham, back to his home country and wrote about it for The Listener. Mitchell, who attended school here before forming the IT company Augen with his university friends – and then opening a branch of Augen in Vietnam – had a scarely-believable story of escape that began like this:

When Mitchell Pham’s mother quietly woke him early one morning in 1984, he knew his life was about to change. She had a bag packed for him. You’re going on a trip to the countryside, she said, but don’t wake your brother and sister or they might get jealous.

“And she gave me a big kiss,” he recalls. “It was from the way my mum kissed me on that day that I sort of knew it was not going to be a normal day.”

He was 12. He would be 25 before his mother kissed him again.

I had the privilege of dining with Mitchell and his parents in Saigon. It was a memorable meal.

The common thread in these three stories is the determination and dedication shown by those to whom we gave a chance, and their subsequent commitment and contribution to New Zealand.

There is one more recent account to share, one that addresses the pernicious rationalisation I've been seeing proferred about the current crisis: that these people really just want to be at home and around people like them, as if we'd be somehow culturally interfering with them by giving them shelter. The truth is that the families fleeing Syria don't presently have a home. Michael Earley posted this comment to a debate on that idea on my Facebook page yesterday:

 I'm in Malta right now, the first place refugees end up en in Europe route from Syria (if coming via Sea). These people are dying en mass at in the Med and are desperate. They don't want to go home - their homes are fucked. Their countries are fucked. They are fleeing death and destruction. 

They are willing to do almost anything, take any risk to get somewhere safer for themselves and their families. 

Tomorrow I'm off to Sicily - where we will land at Palermo, the main processing point for most refugees in the med. Hopefully we can volunteer or so something to help while we are there. It's heartbreaking seeing whats going on and politicians arguing over bullshit while people die. 

These refugees don't want welfare, social services or handouts. They simply want somewhere were they can safely raise their families without the risk of bombs landing on them or their kids being killed on the way to school.

Isn't that what you'd want for your family? And with all the talk about national values amid the flag debate, wouldn't you want offering that chance to our share of those in need to stand as a marker of New Zealand values?