Hard News by Russell Brown


Protecting privilege in Epsom

One of the Act Party's founding conceits was that its ideas represented a better way for everyone. Yes, its financial support might come from the very rich, but classical liberalism meant opportunity for all. Roger Douglas came not to uphold privilege but to bury it for good.

In truth, the dream was sullied from the beginning by the presence of punitive social conservatives in the party ranks, and the masses showed no great love for the party's ideas. Act began to look less like a party of visionaries and more like a party of weirdos and chancers.

But even when Rodney Hide became the MP for one of the country's wealthiest electorates, Epsom, in 2005, the party could claim a little of the dream. Hide was coarse, he went to school in Rangiora and had worked on oil rigs – he might represent the burghers of Epsom, but he was not of them. His successor, John Banks, could have have been the working-class hero the party dreamed of, but never really believed in what Act professed to stand for.

And then, in 2014, came David Seymour, the current holder of the electorate that is now Act's sole source of political oxygen. Seymour mght have touted freedom and opportunity, but he was almost immediately all about the protection of privilege. The leader of the party of property rights went to war to prevent developers in Epsom exercising theirs.

In an extraordinary 2015 interview with Interest.co.nz, Seymour railed against "freeloading developers" who sought to build on land they owned in his electorate. He suggested that the electorate's two sought-after state schools, Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar, should be able to exclude the children of apartment-dwellers as an alternative to the schools reining in their zones. Because, after all, existing residents had paid for their privilege. They were entitled to it:

Seymour said the risk was that the Grammar Schools may eventually have to restrict admissions, which could affect the entitlements of those who had already bought into the Grammar Zone for their children.

"That's the sort of investment that a lot of people have put in and you have to have some empathy for that," he said.

Owners and tenants of new apartment and townhouse developers in the zones were effectively free-riding on the benefits of being in the zones, which could ultimately hurt the rights of those already in the zones.

So that's the context for Seymour's recent odious letter to Epsom residents, fanning concern about a development planned by Housing New Zealand for a property it owns in Banff Avenue, Epsom – in-zone for  both Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls, where big backyard swimming pools lie limpid in the aerial photographs.

In the letter, he invited them to a public meeting about the plan, which he said would put pressure on parking and other infrastructure. And:

There is also a chance that some of the future residents will have social and mental health issues who will need to have special support measures in place.

Housing minister Phil Twyford has leapt on the letter, and rightly so. It's nasty, ignorant and stigmatising. Its message is that people living with mental health issues are not welcome in a wealthy suburb (where, presumably, such things are properly kept behind heavy curtains).

But the video from the meeting suggests that the local residents are quite capable of scaremongering themselves. Neighbour Clare Turner assails Housing NZ's Neil Adams with what she thinks she knows about "P contamination", as if methamphetamine consumed by future residents was likely to prowl along the street to her house. It's perfectly fearful.

The irony is that Epsom is not going to get crazed meth-heads living in its new social housing development. The 25 shiny, new apartments are, says Housing NZ, destined for occupation by retired people and small families. Of course they are. The agency isn't about to buy a fight and its more difficult tenants will be kept well clear of leafy suburbs.

But Auckland has a housing deficit and a social housing deficit. Housing NZ is building to address those, and it plans to more than double the number of properties it has under management in the city. As I wrote in The Spinoff earlier this year, that's what happening at the corner of our street in Point Chevalier, where an old bungalow and a 1950s duplex are making way for five new family dwellings being built by Housing NZ. The kids who move in will have access to a new kindergarten and excellent schools – the latter of which are also feeling the squeeze on capacity.

We've lived alongside social housing for nearly 20 years here, and once or twice over that time, it's been a bit hairy. – much as it was, presumably, in the now-derelict properties that Housing NZ wants to develop in Banff Avenue. A number of our neighbours have had long-term health issues, and fewer than a handful have been mentally ill, too much so, in the end, to sustain tenancies. But people need homes. We all deserve that chance.

If it wasn't already clear, it is amply so now that the leader of the Act Party's role in the electorate he was engineered into is to sustain entrenched privilege and validate fear and prejudice. Perhaps the party should just surrender its founding conceit and be done with it.


Budget 2018: The broadcasting shambles

During last year's election campaign, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern pledged an additional $38 million – annually, it appeared – for a public broadcasting sector whose budget had been frozen for nine years of a National-led government. It was welcome news and in keeping with past Labour rhetoric. It came packaged with a new, multimedia vision for Radio New Zealand.

"Public media, backed with sustainable funding, is essential to ensuring all New Zealanders are engaged and heard. However a commercial market cannot deliver all of this," she said. 

"RNZ has consistently provided an incredibly valuable service to New Zealanders, despite a nine-year funding freeze from the Government at a time of massive change to the media sector, Labour will build on RNZ's solid foundation and transform it into something closer to Australia's ABC."

A couple of months later she was Prime Minister Ardern and her new Broadcasting minister Clare Curran was the guest of honour at NZ On Air's annual Christmas function for stakeholders in Auckland. Curran fairly basked in the appreciation of the audience as she reiterated the promise that there would be $38 million in new funding, to be shared between RNZ and NZ On Air. But, she said, beaming as if it was a feature not a bug, she couldn't tell us what the split would be.

The kind explanation would be that, per the policy, funding was to be distributed by a new Public Media Funding Commission, whose shape and composition was yet unknown. But the minister's inability to say how much the two country's two major public broadcasting organisations would receive has meant that those two organisations have been unable to properly plan their year ahead.

As Duncan Greive noted in February, the nature of the split had significant implications for the whole broadcast sector. And it was understandable that the two organisations directly involved would be jousting for their share. Around the same time, the names of the people appointed to a an advisory group to advise on the formation of the Public Media Funding Commission were announced, in a messy execrcise involving redacted documents that hadn't been properly redacted.

In the past week or two, the buzz has been that perhaps the new funding wouldn't be $38 million at all – perhaps only $25 million – and maybe TVNZ would get a look in. Still, at least everyone would know what they had to work with after Budget day.

If only.

As delivered today, the Budget contains only $15 million in new funding for public broadcasting services – and it's still not clear where the money will go. Curran's press release today read in full:

The importance of well-resourced public media to inform our democracy has been acknowledged in Budget 2018, says Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Clare Curran.

“Quality New Zealand programming and journalism are crucial to our national identity and need ongoing, sustainable resourcing. In all democracies the media has a critical role in holding public and private institutions to account,” says Clare Curran.

“That is why we have set up a ministerial advisory group to advise on how to support the contribution of public media to an informed democracy,” says Clare Curran.

“Budget 2018 sets aside $15.0 million operating funds in 2018/19 to implement any of the advisory group’s recommendations that the Coalition Government accepts this year. There will be further funding allocated for full implementation in future Budgets.

“The ministerial advisory group may recommend increased Government investment in Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and NZ On Air to support public media and programming.

“Over time we want RNZ to have the ability to turn itself into a multi-platform provider dedicated to quality New Zealand programming and journalism, and we want NZ On Air to be able to better support content that is valued by Kiwis,” says Clare Curran.

Now, hold on. The advisory group is going to determine where the new funding will go? Wasn't the advisory group established to advise on the goals and composition of the Public Media Funding Commission, which was going to allocate the funding?

One problem here is that the advisory group quite evidently isn't constituted to allocate funding itself. Of its four members (industry stirrer William Earl having mysteriously dropped out as a fifth), two have those skills: Josh Easby, a former RNZ board deputy chair who has notably broad experience in various media sectors, and Irene Gardiner, who has pretty much the perfect cv. But why would former deputy state services commissioner Sandi Beatie and corporate receiver Michael Stiassny be making what are essentially operational decisions about broadcast funding?

The other problem is that you don't need a working group to decide, at some future point, that RNZ needs some more money to do the job it's tasked with. That information was made clear, via its board, to the last government and will have been made just as clear to the new one. As Jacinda Ardern herself said back in September when she announced the policy, RNZ "has been chronically under-funded since 2007."

I fully expected this Budget to be a relatively conservative one, and that Grant Robertson would use it to demonstrate his capacity for restraint and responsibility. So maybe we write off the missing $23 million to that. But offering RNZ nothing in rescue funding until an advisory group has decided something, some time in the next year, is not competent, prudent, fair or in keeping with Labour's rhetoric.

And suddenly, there's another wrinkle in there: the implication that this is not only a matter for Labour, but for the whole of the coalition government. Whose policy was this again?

I really don't know whether this is the upshot of Curran's chaotic interactions with RNZ in the past six months – and her consequent loss of sway – or simply a result of the minister's fixation with a particular model, but a Budget day should not leave the country's only public broadcaster unable to determine its own strategy.

In the circumstances, RNZ CEO Paul Thompson's public response was an impressive act of diplomacy:

RNZ welcomes the injection of $15m to the public media sector in Budget 2018, says chief executive Paul Thompson.

“This is good news and signals the Government’s commitment to investing in a stronger, multimedia RNZ that provides freely-available, high-quality journalism and programming.”

“While we have yet to receive detail of RNZ’s share of the funding we are preparing our plans to ensure the public benefit from any increase.

“RNZ is the nation’s commercial-free public broadcaster and we will play a growing role in ensuring New Zealand is a connected and informed democracy.”

“We are also encouraged by the indication that further funding will be allocated in future budgets for full implementation of the Government’s public media policy.”

NZ On Air will be miffed as well, but it is not in danger of not being able to carry out its statutory duties. The broadcasting element of this government's first Budget really is a shambles.


Budget 2018: The final tick

When Grant Robertson stands up to deliver his first Budget today, he will already have won a battle that's gone largely unremarked: the battle for his image as a credible Minister of Finance.

That might seem a low bar to meet. But when Robertson was appointed as Labour's Finance spokesperson in 2014, having lost a leadership contest to Andrew Little and then sworn off any future leadership ambitions, his qualifications for the role were a matter of debate. That was still the case going into last year's general election, when Steven Joyce loudly alleged an elementary $11 billion oversight that, had Joyce's claims been borne out, would have marked Robertson as an absolute buffoon.

But while Joyce may have been able to generate a short-term sense of uncertainty with all the shouting, his "fiscal hole" gambit had the effect of foreclosing the debate on Robertson's ability. It invited a chorus of denials from data nerds and economists that depleted the credibility not of the accused, but the accuser.

On the other hand, Joyce's fallback position: the considerably less dramatic assertion that Labour had left itself relatively little room to move in its first Budgets, was actually true. And the challenge of that fairly tight fiscal margin has been accentuated by the need to meet the demands of its coalition and support partners.

So Robertson will be bound to disappoint some of his own voters. Indeed, he has already disappointed them by repeatedly confirming his determination to adhere to the Budget Responsibility Rules Labour set itself going into last year's election. Doing so will be seen in other quarters as the last remaining tick for his credibility. He gives himself more room to move in 2020 by staying resolutely in his lane in 2018.

There's a well-worn template, established in the Clark years, for the run-up to a Budget: two months of Budget-related announcements leading up to the re-announcement of all of them on Budget day. Labour hasn't really done that – in part because it had already committed to a lot of big (and in some cases costly) policy initiatives in its first three months, and in part because it still seems to be working out its comms game.

Ironically, it's one announcement it hasn't made in advance that has become a clusterfuck. That being the ostensibly fairly straightforward information on how the $38 million in new spending for public broadcasting services will be divided between RNZ and NZ On Air. Clare Curran's games with RNZ have irretrievably politicised that decision, which is, to put it mildly, unfortunate for a Labour government. In recent days we've heard that it might only be $25 million, or that TVNZ could be a late beneficiary of the public broadcasting policy. Someone, somewhere will be howling by 3pm.

Still, after nine years of looking at the Budget line for public broadcasting services and seeing a whole lot of nothing happening, it certainly adds a bit of excitement.


Loops and Diamonds

So I wrote a guide to buying an e-bike (and a look at how the market is evolving) for The Spinoff and it was more than 2000 words and even then I left some things out. For instance, that the AA will offer roadside asssistance for members' stranded e-bikes, which is a good thing, because removing and replacing the rear wheel on a hub-drive bike is almost impossible at the roadside.

Something else I might have pointed out is that an e-bike will help you at the lights. Most light-controlled intersections have these cuttings which mark the location of the induction loops that detect motor vehicles.

If you're pulled up at the lights and there are no cars around to trigger the loops, what you need to is line up your bike along one of the cuttings and wait there.

In truth, this should work with most bikes, but the extra weight of metal in an e-bike makes it more reliable.

I've been doing this even since I learned the trick. If there's a cycle stop-box and no car in sight, I'll pull up short of the stop box so I can trigger the lights.

But then this happened recently: the engineering consultancy Tonkin + Taylor was running a little "ask the engineer" thing on social media and appeared to say that the stop-boxes themselves have sensors for bikes. I'd never heard this, so I checked that I'd understood:

This would be marvellous if it were true – but unfortunately, it isn't true.

This applies in Auckland. Things vary from city to city, but if you see a little strip of diamonds like this in your stop-box in Wellington (pic: Hayden East), you can line up along it and feel confident that your bike has been detected.

There are some diamonds used in Auckland, but they're different. Kit again:

Just to make it more confusing, there are some intersections in Auckland where the Wellington-style diamond symbols were used to indicate the presence of an induction loop. 

But everyone sort of forgot about them at some point. The symbols here, same lights, have since worn away, but the loop still exists.

Some diamonds are clearly not forever.

So, to be clear:

• If you're in Auckland, there very probably isn't a detector loop under your stop-box. Although there might be.

• If you're in Wellington and you see the diamonds, they are your friend.

• There are some diamonds in Auckland, but they're different. Although there used to be Wellington-style diamonds in some places but the paint wore off and you can't see them any more. But mostly, there are no diamonds.

This, of course, is not the only confusing thing about cycle infrastructure in the city. The conventions around bike lanes seem to change every year or so. It's hard not to conclude that if motorists were subjected to this sort of confusing inconsistency there would be stories in the paper about it.

PS: Tonkin + Taylor seem to have first changed the photograph accompaying the original article and then quietly deleted it altogether. But it's still here in the Google cache.


Hey one more thing: you may have gained the impression that the government's recent announcement of a bold new transport vision for Auckland will, along with the additional income from the regional fuel tax, lock in a great 10-year plan for walking and cycling infrastructure. (Yes, that's the business case put to the Auckland Transport board that the Occupy Garnet Road people insist is a UN conspiracy to dissolve sovereign governments and confiscate private wealth. That one.)

Turns out it ain't necessarily so. About half of the $640m cost of the business case is actually missing (or, rather, going to projects outside its scope). By Greater Auckland's assessment, that probably means a wait of as much as 20 years to get the Waitemata safe cycle route through to my suburb, Point Chevalier, and a similar wait in various other parts of the city.

You can do something to help, today. Bike Auckland has a post explaining the issue and linking to the feedback form for the Regional Land Transport plan. Feedback closes at 8pm tonight.


Friday Music: Recalling the Rascals

It would be wrong to say The Androidss were part of my childhood, but I wasn't all that long out of short pants when I entered the ambit of that bunch of rascals back in the day in Christchurch.

We'd sneak into pubs to see them play, share joints with them at the parties afterwards and generally find ourselves welcomed into the local freak fraternity. We saw them play their epic version of  the Velvet Underground's 'Sister Ray' at the British Hotel in Lyttelton, an environment that seemed to me then, and still does now, not so far from the scenes described in the song.

On one of their infamous trips home from Auckland, they became the very first band I ever interviewed, after the Christchurch Star's music editor Rob White kindly told me to do what I wanted and he'd put it in the paper (they took me to the pub and fed me depth charges). At Sweetwaters in 1982, their guitarist Neil Spence encouraged me to drink so many cups of kava that I had something of an out-of-body experience.

Anyway, I've written a new version of the Androidss article on Audioculture, which is up today. It contains some great stories: from the riotous launch party for their only single, to the making of the video for 'Auckland Tonight' and the night they played for Iggy.

I talked to a number of people for the article, but it also bears a debt to Stuart Page's wonderul oral history interview with former Androidss guitarist Mark Wilson. It was shot in 2016 with financial help from Phantom Billstickers and published a few weeks ago. Have a look at that too:


Julia Deans' long-awaited follow-up to her Modern Fables album is out today. It's called We Light Fire and it's a whole lot more than the "little country songs" she talked about at the showcase that began the long run-up to the album last year. While her first album was full of indoors thoughts, this one looks outward. The sonic pallete is varied, she's singing better than ever and I'm looking forward to seeing her open for Marlon Williams at Auckland Town Hall at the end of the month. (She's playing the whole tour)

We Light Fire is on your favoured streaming service and if you want to buy high-quality files (and directly support the artist) here on Bandcamp for $15


The clever and thoughtful Anthonie Tonnon is taking his thing to the stars. Well, okay, to the Planetarium at Otago Museum, where he'll present five shows from Thursday July 12 to Saturday the 14th. The performances, centred on the New Zealand-made Synthstrom Deluge he uses in live performances, will take advantage of the Planetarium's surround sound and celestial display to present what's being billed as a 360° experience. Tickets go on sale on Monday from the museum website.

If you can't get to Dunedin, you can always stare at this cheesy promo pic and dream of the stars.


More music industry data journalism from Gareth Shute: he listened to a whole bunch of radio stations during New Zealand Music Month and wrote up what he found about how much local music they played for The Spinoff.

The results probably won't surprise you too much, but I was impressed by The Edge managing 25% local content (around a lot of blathering by the hosts) in the hour that Gareth logged and disappointed by The Rock. 0%, The Rock? Really?


John Baker, who released the wonderful Heed the Call compilation of Aotearoa funk and disco, has been back to the crypt and emerged with a refreshed version of Wild Things, his 1992 garage rock compilation. The centrepiece and totem of the whole thing thing is The Bluestars' 1966 'Social End Product', which John rightly tags as "New Zealand's first punk rock record".

This had the affect of reminding me that I interviewed The Bluestars' John Harris in 1999 for an Unlimited magazine story on rockers who'd gone into business (he was a co-founder of Greenstone Pictures). So here's that:


Now: Co-founder and executive producer with Greenstone Pictures.

Formerly:Singer, guitarist and songwriter with Auckland garage band the Bluestars, 1964-67, the first New Zealand group to sign to the mighty Decca label. "I was working as a reporter on the Auckland Star at the time. But my real life, my all-consuming passion, was the Bluestars. I burned the candle at both ends for four years.

"About a third of our repertoire was our own songs, which wasn't very fashionable in those days. Everyone wanted covers. And we were fastidious about them - we even listened to the intake of breath by John Lennon in the middle of the chorus of 'Girl', for instance. It was ridiculous. But we were really interested in our own songs."

Fondest memory:"Just the closeness of the group. I always say to people what I remember most is the tap on the top of the cymbals - one-two-three-four-CRASH … and this wall of sound going over the stage and shooting up your body and through your instruments. That's a buzz."

How has rock 'n' roll helped what you do now? "What I learned then was the value of teamwork - and of knowing that you're there for an audience. They're the ones who pay for you. You need to listen to them. That relationship can be a buzz - and it's the same with what I do now, making television programmes. The audience is who we're doing it for."

Do you play now?"No. I recently bought a black Fender Stratocaster, and it sits in the spare room and the strings have gone rusty. But it's nice to know that people care about what you did - it's a sort of validation. The people I feel sorry for are the ones that don't have a present, only a past."

There's more on the compilation in the official promo video:


John Baker will be on 95bFM's Dirtbag Radio from 7pm on Monday, where they'll be joined by members of several of the bands on the record.


Kody Neilson's new album Birthday Suite, is out today – and today and tomorrow it's available for $40 from the pop-up store in St Kevins Arcade, Auckland. The vinyl is white and so is the shop.

And yes, that is Mr Matthew Crawley on the retail counter there.


Some other things ...

Graham Reid has been vsiting his own archives and republishing past gems on his Elsewhere website. This 1998 interview with Patti Smith is still a great read.

New Zealand Musician is doing its 20 bands in two hours things for Music Month again this year. This time it'll be streamed live with the asssitance of the film department at SAE Institute Auckland and Depot Sound Recording.

Aaaaaaand ... Bill's back!



How about a sweet High Hoops mixtape to keep you company in the kitchen this rainy weekend? Hey, here's one! And it's a free download!

Loving this from Mark Rae. It's from his fifth volume of hip hop soul and disco edits, which is here on Bandcamp and a very groovy thing indeed.

And finally, this rib-rattler from Auckland's Dub Terminator, which comes from an entire album of crucial cuts compiled by Dr. StrangeDub (Michael Rose) and DJ Baby Swiss (Elmar Romain), hosts of the long-running (22 years!) Minneapolis radio show the Echo Chamber. The album is here on Bandcamp, it extends to 35 tracks and it is completely FREE to download. You really cannot moan.