Hard News by Russell Brown

Spinning the rates rise

I haven't yet discovered how many hundred per cent my Auckland Regional Council rate will rise by this year, but I'm already amazed at the way the ARC has been able to foster the myth that the rise is the result of unprecedented largesse on transport. Because it just isn't.

The ARC has been running ads on 95bFM - and, I presume, other radio stations - telling us all what a mighty bang we're getting for our vastly increased bucks. And yet, the staggering rate rises across the region have very little to do with spending on transport or any other service.

As this story makes clear, the overwhelming factor is an abrupt and substantial shift of the rates burden from businesses to residents. The next influence is a shift in rating methods - from land value to capital value, which, according to a report prepared for the Papakura District Council, disadvantages the region's poorest households.

Neither of these moves was foreshadowed in any way before the last local body elections, and the two most left-wing regional councillors, Sandra Coney and Mike Lee were among the five regional councillors who voted against them. Yet somehow, according to the Herald's Jim Eagles, it's all part of some gross socialist assault on the productive sector. Go figure.

Auckland City residents are, of course, used to being told one thing then seeing another done. We were promised a zero rate rise - and, thanks to another unprecedented and unheralded bout of relief for business and the most wealthy households, some people will be paying 20 per cent more this year.

None of that was in the manifesto of John Banks, but, inevitably, he was quite unabashed last night on Face to Face with Kim Hill. He blithely claimed to have "no hidden agendas", and to have campaigned on the sale of pensioner housing, even though no media organisation has a record of such. He does not, he declared, tell lies, but "I don't have a very good memory". Indeed.

He had an opportunist crack at the ARC, declaring that public transport across the region should be run as a Local Authority Trading Enterprise like Watercare Services. But Watercare sells a resource by the cubic metre; what exactly would a transport LATE be selling, and how would it make a profit? Dunno.

He declared himself concerned about the legalisation of prostitution, because criminal gangs will hijack the industry to "launder money" - actually, they do already, and in theory at least, the Prostutition Reform Bill contains new provisions to prevent it - "just like they have with the drugs trade."

But the drugs trade is illegal. The whole friggin' point of money-laundering is that you do it through legal businesses. It was almost the most deranged argument you could possibly make in the subject.

Kim grimaced at the end of the show, as if she knew she hand't quite cracked it. But I wouldn't blame her. It wasn't like she wasn't well researched. But Banks is hard to pin down because he constantly makes such sweeping statements and won't even blink if he contradicts himself. It's just as effective as the Brian Edwards Teflon media training thing, and it didn't cost him anything to acquire.

Anyway, in other news in the city, a mystery arsonist sets a dozen fires up Queen Street just before a woman self-immolates in Aotea Square. But all is not what it seems. It actually comes across like something happening just beyond the narrative of Chad's novel, Shirker.

And, for your weekend, edification, finally a real Republican scorns the bug-eyed flight from orthodoxy that is the neoconservative political-religious cult in What Happened to Conservatives?, and a withering look at Dubya's track record.

Reader Jeff LePoidevin objected to my referring to Ann Coulter's silly cult tract Treason as a "comic" - on the basis that that was defamatory of comics. Fair call. As the owner of near all the Alan Moore-era issues of Swamp Thing, I ought to have known better.

Craig Ranapia of NZPundit wants people to write to Phil Goff to protest the death of journalist Zahra Kazemi, who died after being arrested at a protest and beaten by Iranian police.

It's an outrage, and it falls into a pattern of suppression of press freedom that currently sees Iran holding 15 journalists in detention, according to Reporters Without Borders (on the other hand, the fact that western TV correspondents can still walk down a city street in Tehran getting vox pops about the government and the protest movement suggests that there are worse places for public dissent).

But Craig's anger might be more convincing had he or his buddy ever expressed a jot of concern about, say, the Israeli government shooting, intimidating and detaining journalists, amid "an assortment of press freedom abuses" noted in the 2002 report of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Or the British journalist killed by IDF fire in May this year, while he was waving a white flag. (An Israeli army investigation later claimed the journalist has been shot by unknown Palestinians, in direct contradiction of eyewitness reports and an autopsy finding. At least the Iranian government has the decency to appear contrite and promise an investigation.)

Then again, Craig did write up the Israeli government's recent decision to withhold press passes and visas from BBC employees where possible as, um, a victory for free speech. Even his handful of readers found that a bit hard to work out.

Then, of course, there were those unfortunate accidents involving journalists in Baghdad. Couldn't be helped, presumably.

By the way, I think it's a bit rich for anyone who appears to regard phoning Newstalk ZB talkback as a career path to call anyone else a "funny little chap", let alone a "fool". Over here on Public Address we're all rather successful, but I'll let Chad tell you his news when he's ready…

Anyway, it's been a week of 6am starts (and one day, a 9pm finish) and I don't think I'll make it to the Family & Naval Tavern on K Road to see the D4 play tonight, but you should, really. I'm saving myself for Goldenhorse at the Masonic tomorrow night, then the Alhambra, to watch the test match live from South Africa. I fully expect strange eclectic pop and rugby to be the winners on the day…