Hard News by Russell Brown


It was 30 years ago today

Thirty years ago today, New Zealand pivoted. On July 14, 1984, the fourth Labour government was elected and things would never be the same again.

I remember voting that morning. I was living in a barely-converted warehouse in Fort Street and we all trooped up the road to the Auckland Town Hall to play our part in the change. I voted Labour and spoiled my liquor ballot in protest at the law on cannabis.

I remember the elation afterwards, for months. New Zealand had been a dull, mean country in which to be young, one dominated by a demagogue Prime Minister who grasped every lever he could. To be young here was to be desperately embarrassed by Rob Muldoon, who had contrived a mad economy and led us into international odium and domestic rebellion by encouraging the tour three years before by the South African rugby team.

People who had fled talked eagerly of coming back. The new Prime Minister, David Lange, defied powerful interests in defending our anti-nuclear stance in his magnificent address to the Oxford Union.

And then, it started to hurt. The intractable demagogue turned out to have been supplanted by some equally intractable zealots. We experienced mass unemployment for the first time in decades. We began running up social deficits that remain unredeemed. And in 1987, the business dreams of fools and knaves fell apart. 

I was gone by then, off for five years to London, and the implosion of the Labour government seemed distant and unreal in those pre-internet days. I'm not really sorry that era doesn't form part of my politics.

I arrived home in 1991, with a life partner and a baby, to a bleak recession and Ruth Richardson. A friend told me it was, perversely, an exciting time: with so much laid waste and slim prospects for employment, we were freed to just do what we wanted.

My friend wasn't entirely wrong: I did things in the early 90s that became the foundation of what I do now. But I did them in a country that was never the same, for better and worse, after that Saturday in 1984.


Going solar?

The recent Guardian story declaring that "solar has won" over coal as a means of generating electricity for big cities may or may not overstated the case, but it certainly signalled a welcome and hugely beneficial trend. Developments in Japan and India bring similarly welcome news.

The news was also well-timed for our household because it comes as we're considering solar water heating (not photovoltaic generation) as an option. We've received a quote from Nova Energy of $7360 for two panels, to be paid off at $123 a month as part of our electricity bill with Nova over five years.

In theory, even while we're paying off the panels, our bill will be slightly lower than it is now. Which wouldn't be hard: this is a house with four adults, some of whom are hard to dissuade from taking long showers (face it -- you'd rather have your young men taking showers than not). Three of us are home nearly all day, using computers. We run two PVRs. We have an efficient wood fire and we've invested in good insulation (if you can afford it, take the government subsidy -- it makes a big difference), but bedrooms and the breakfast kitchen still need heating with electricity sometimes.

Is this a good deal? Is it viable to wait instead for photovoltaic panels? How will things have changed by the time we've paid off the investment in five years? I'm interested in your thoughts.


A wretched editorial

As Toby Manhire pointed out in his Herald column on Friday, the decision to speak up of 22 year-old Tania Billingsley, the alleged victim of an assault with intent to rape that sparked a diplomatic scandal, drew foaming outrage from the usual blog-commenting suspects. But who would have guessed that they would all be trumped by an allegedly respectable newspaper.

Yesterday's Sunday Star Times editorial doesn't appear to be online (although there is a picture here), which is perhaps prudent, because it is a horrible piece of work.

We need only get as far as the second paragraph to establish that in the Star Times' view the real villain of the piece is the victim. She is, after all:

a 22 year-old self-confessed "activist"

I'm not sure what that the quotation marks around "activist" are meant to signify, but the implication of "self-confessed" is pretty clear: it's the 22 year-old woman who has a case to answer here.

The claim is driven home a couple of paragraphs later:

The interview, which was more of a confessional since no hard questions were asked of Billingsley -- such as whether she had any political affiliations, given her strong criticisms of the Natuonal Government in election season -- must have come perilously the close to breaching the law of sub judice around the diplomat's case.

Well, lord forbid any mere slip of a girl should criticise the goverment and its ministers over their handling of a matter of direct importance to her. The nerve!

Actually, Billingsley can talk to who she wants, when she wants. The idea that she should be forbidden to to do what half the country has been doing for the past week -- criticise the performance of the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister -- is absurd. But apparently she should withold any thoughts on whether Murray McCully bungled the matter because an inquiry "will determine that in due course". Of course, because journalists always do that.

The facts of the case itself were not traversed in the 3rd Degree programme that featured her interview. There have been any number of high-profile news stories that have run far closer to the line of sub judice.

The editorial moves on to bitch about 3rd Degree's "sympathetic portrayal" of Billingsley -- apparently, it is only proper to be unsympathetic to sexual assault victims.

There's yet more blathering about how terribly unfair all this for the government, before the editorial declares that while Billingsley is "entitled to her views" ...

... the time for her to speak out publicly on this case was after any trial was concluded, not before.

I presume she's meant to feel properly put in her place.

The irony is, of course, that had the Star Times and not Paula Penfold secured an interview with Billingsley, the paper would have been all over it. It would have been yesterday's lead story.

But it actually gets worse. I was told by Penfold yesterday that that Fairfax, the publisher of the Sunday Star Times, was "chasing" Billingsley for an interview -- and, indeed, Fairfax reporter Kim Knight eventually did get an interview. It's there in the Sunday Star Times, where she explains her decision to go public, which is an obvious follow-up angle. But the story doesn't put her in the dock the way the editorial does.

In the end this wretched editorial looks not only patronising and tendentious, but hypocritical too.


Friday Music: Bits and pieces

Just a quickie post this week, because I'm flat-out with with and conferences and stuff. And besides, there's Campbell Walker's prodigious guest post on Peter Jefferies and his work if you want some more reading and listening pleasure. Peter plays with Shayne Carter and Little Moon at the King's Arms tomorrow night.

The buzz of the week is Anna Calvi's cover (with David Byrne) of Connan Mockasin's creepy little delight 'I'm the Man, That Will Find You'.

There's more about the EP it comes from here.

Revival tune of the month! An brilliant reggae cover of Chic's 'I Want Your Love', nicely edited by Australian DJ Hober Mallow. Thanks to Keegan Fepuleai for the heads-up on this:

A nice downloadable mix for Fabricate by Andrew Spraggon, aka Sola Rosa. It includes Ladi6, Home Brew, Benny Tones and Noah Slee alongside the likes of DJ Vadim, Hermitude and more:

A pick from TheAudience. I've never heard of Wellington's The Nature of Forces before, but this is pretty cool and reminds me of Deastro and Paquin:

More in a classic sort of pop-rock vein, The Pleasures of June (click through for the free download):

And more Courtney Barnett. She's so cool and this is probably the best song about having an asthma attack ever:

Her double EP A Sea of Split Peas doesn't seem to be available in the New Zealand iTunes store, but you can buy it via Bandcamp, which is way better anyway.

A little tidbit from the FlyingNunStory Tumblr -- Murray Cammick's brief January 1980 profile up-and-comers Toy Love.  Notable chiefly its observation that the band's set includes their "covers of 10 years or so ago." So that's 'Anold Layne' and 'People' are strange -- both only "10 years or so" old. It's easy to forget how close the 70s were to the 60s.

Mojo marvels ("we’re tuning into things we’re sure we’ve never heard before") at the sound of the Beatles albums remastered in mono for vinyl release. 

Audioculture goes way back with Aleisha Ward's stroll through the rise of jazz fandom in 1920s New Zealand. There were "jazzing contests"? Awesome.

And finally - hey! I get quoted on the front of Trick Mammoth's new Japanese vinyl!


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



Media Take: Afghanistan, trust and NetHui

The most puzzling part of the response to Jon Stephenson's Collateral Damage report last week for Native Affairs was the extent to which it focused on claims that the programme had not made.

Stephenson's story drew on both a paper trail and first-person  interviews with Afghan villagers to make the case that official accounts of the mission to prosecute those responsible for the killing of a New Zealand soldier in 2010 were not the truth.

His attention to detail meant it was a story not easily dismissed, and the Prime Minister and his Defence minister were caught giving notably different accounts on the same morning. Key stuck to the old story: nine insurgents were dispatched and no civilians were harmed. Jonathan Coleman granted that it was possible that civilians were killed -- but it certainly wasn't our chaps that did it.

Thing is, the Native Affairs report didn't claim that New Zealand SAS troops were directly responsible for the deaths of innocent villagers. You won't find that in the script. It did say that they were part of the mission in which these people were killed, that the mission was conducted in pursuit of those responsible the death of  New Zealander Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell and that our Prime Minister, John Key, was consulted in advance.

And yet it was incorrectly reported that the programme had called the mission a "revenge" attack (Stuff's reporter even attributed those words directly to Stephenson himself) and reports that Stephenson had claimed our own SAS troops were directly responsible were relayed (via AAP) as far afield as the Daily Mail website.

I'll be questioning Jon Stephenson about his report and asking him why he thinks accounts of it went awry on Media Take this week. Also on the show, Toi Iti looks at who we do and don't trust according to Readers Digest and I'm interviewing Antony Royal, the chair of Nga Pu Waea, the Maori Broadband Working Group, ahead of this week's NetHui conference.

We're recording the show tonight at TVNZ (we're hiring Studio 3, the same one we used to use for Media7). You're warmly invited to join us if you have a little time in the Auckland CBD after work.

It's a little complicated, because the building is currently more of a building site.  If you can be at the Victoria Street entrance between 5.30 and 5.50pm we will get you through the construction works and into Studio 3.

We record from 6pm and it should all be wrapped up by 6.45 ,when we might adjourn across the road to the Empire Tavern for a convivial glass. We're working on getting the Empire to do us a favour on prices, but I can report that their Monday night $10 steak deal isn't bad. (I'm sure some of our regulars will be keen to socialise beforehand too, and the Empire will also be the place for that.)