Hard News by Russell Brown


Tidbits ahoy

The reports on John Key's big policy tidbit seem confused. According to Colin Espiner, Key is "expected to announce that those not in work or further education and training and aged under 18 will no longer be eligible for any benefits from the taxpayer unless they are genuinely sick."

In return, there will be educational and training entitlements, in addition to those already offered.

Most people will think of the Unemployment Benefit, but that's not available to anyone under 18, unless they are in a relationship and supporting children.

Some of the few thousand 16 and 17 year-olds on benefits receive the DPB, with the remainder on the sickness and invalid's benefits and a few on the Independent Youth Benefit.

I suspect Espiner has it a bit wrong. Audrey Young's version makes more sense:

National Party leader John Key will unveil fresh policies today in his biggest speech of the year, including a voucher entitling 16- and 17-year-old school-leavers to a limited period of free educational training at polytechs and other tertiary providers.

The policy will come with a quid pro quo: any young person who fails to take up his or her entitlement (except for reasons of sickness) will be ineligible for a benefit.

So the benefits won't be abolished, just made contingent on taking up the training entitlement.

The chief innovation seems to be the offer to fund training for school-level qualifications in non-school environments. Exactly how else the proposal differs from the present arrangements, and what degree of support National plans to offer young beneficiaries with children to care for will -- one would hope -- be made clear in today's speech.


There is an important tradition of books by visitors to New Zealand that provide an unflinching perspective on our country and its people -- whether we immediately appreciate that critique or not. David Goldblatt's Democracy at Ease and David Ausubel's The Fern and the Tiki come to mind.

I doubt that Duncan Fallowell's As Far as I Can Go is such a book (it may indeed be more about the author getting his end away in Timaru), but the publishers certainly seem to have decided that his unflattering commentary on New Zealand, the location of his book via a three-month visit in 2003, is their best bet for publicity.

Fallowell is a greying bisexual rake who picked up his personal style in the 60s counter-cuture. His journalism is serviceable, if campy in the high English style, but I can't pronounce on his novels, because I haven't read them and because all the people who do write about him and his work seem to be his personal friends.

He and Camile Paglia exchange regular literary hand-jobs, and a blogger called Madame Arcati (""Madame Arcati is great fun, sort of the News of the World getting off with the TLS at a drag ball," Fallowell wrote) breathlessly announced last April the sale to a publisher of Fallowell's "next travel book about looking for sex in New Zealand". She is again helping with the hype this week.

And, of course, The Spectator's Roger Lewis named the yet-unpublished ("long awaited") book one of the best of 2007, promising "there is no nonsense about scaling glaciers or being polite about Maoris here". (Lewis also indicates that Fallowell develops outrage at the sidelining of proper European art "as it is deemed politically incorrect to upstage Polynesian tat". Perhaps he could consider it revenge for every time I had to walk past a J.M.W. Turner at the Tate.)

The premise seems banal. Fallowell, having come into a small inheritance, decides to see if he can sate his wanderlust by travelling as far away from home as possible. If he really wanted to get far out, he'd go to one of those no-reason-to-exist ex-Soviet regional capitals where everyone's a drug addict, not hit the comfy New Zealand tourist trail.

I wonder if it will be a bit like Julie Burchill's long-awaited first trip out of Britain, when she informed her readers that -- gasp! -- New York is big, romantic and cosmopolitan; that is, a travelogue by a sharp prose stylist with nothing new to say on the topic.

Because, frankly, we know that the Auckland CBD is a picture of architectural vandalism. And perhaps it is true that "New Zealand comes across as a philistine hellhole," but there's not much new about saying that either. Or about the amazing observation that we invest a little too much emotional energy in the All Blacks.

I played host to another of Fallowell's luvvie-friends, the brilliant interviewer Lynn Barber, several years ago. She was perfectly pleasant, if rather high-maintenance, but after our event she took up a holiday to Rotorua and Queenstown. And then she went home and wrote a feature dismissing New Zealand as a cultureless wasteland of tourist tat and adventure tourism. I doubt she even picked up a listings guide. She could have written it without bothering to come here.

But what sort of dork comes to New Zealand looking for "the perfect rose" then scorns New Zealand wine on encountering an example of the kind of wine that is a budget-range afterthought here? Perhaps he should secure a zinfandel from California, or even try a grown-up variety.

"Genius wit or libertine bore? I don't know," wrote Steve Braunias in his Sunday column, about his failure to meet Fallowell four years ago (the author pestered Braunias for a meeting, got the brush-off, loudly complained to the Listener's editor about this slight, then copped a telephonic ear-bashing from a drunken Steve). Me neither. Perhaps Mr Fallowell will surprise us.

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