Random Play by Graham Reid

Clear and Present Danger

A hoax 111 call yesterday had police, emergency services, the Westpac helicopter and army units mobilised and rushed to an area of native bush 30 kilometre west of Dargaville.

The anonymous caller -- who identified himself as Stephen Bainbridge, a 23-year old horticulture student from 27 Lone Pine Rd, New Plymouth -- alleged that a kauri tree had been illegally felled in the remote area of bush. He further demanded his student loan of $12,000 be written off or he would reveal that another kauri might have been felled in August 1972 in the Hokianga.

“The prime minister’s department was immediately informed of the hoax,” said the Commissioner of Police Mr Robert Robertson, “and we were very pleased with the speed at which emergency services and Victim Support groups swung into action.

“Although it was clear from the outset that this was a hoax you cannot take such pranks lightly and so we wanted to present a clear and united front in which all emergency services would act in concert.

“Within two and half hours of the call being received at our call centre in Bluff we had identified which island and which region the caller was referring to, and then it was just a matter of following a series of clues -- like the name of the forest which he gave and the actual track up which the kauri was located -- so we could get our people to the scene.

“It helped that he also faxed in a map with the tree clearly identified and we are grateful to New Zealand Post for couriering a copy of it up to Dargaville so quickly, along with some questionnaires about the appearance of houses in a few streets in the district which would seem to be in need of a lick of paint.”

The value of the New Zealand dollar took a slight dip after the prime minister’s emergency address to the nation on television and radio simulcasts, and when there were suggestions an official state of emergency be declared.

“That was just loose talk, but understandable given the seriousness of the hoax,“ said a deep-voiced woman in the prime minister’s department last night.

“The dollar has steadied again after some slow overnight trading,” said Theresa Van Gelding of the New Zealand Stock and Station Exchange,” but an incident like this just proves how fragile our clean, green image can be. International investors -- and those locals who will dump their dollars at the slightest sign of anything untoward in the New Zealand economy -- are very sensitive to such threats to our eco-friendly image.”

While police and other emergency services today count the cost of responding to the hoax -- believed to be in the region of $12 million -- there have been calls for more research into response times.

The Minister of Police said yesterday that the speed at which the army in particular came to full alert was emblematic of how much response times had improved under a Labour government.

“A hoax like this tests the mettle of our brave people in the services who would otherwise be doing nothing but sitting around, or maybe building bridges on rural properties.“

The speedy involvement of 237 police personnel, including members of the Armed Offenders Squad, however left many other emergency cases unattended.

Clarence Matthews, a 73-year old pensioner of Matakana, lay injured on the front step of his home for seven hours after a brutal beating by an Immigration Officer.

“I had been having a good chat when he suddenly wanted to know why I had two tea-towels on my washing line. He wanted to know if they were some kind of foreign headwear and if I was harbouring illegal immigrants in my home.

“Then he started lashing out. I lay there for a long time and my wife kept ringing the police 111 number repeatedly, but we were told they were all busy attending a hoax in Northland.

“I was pretty sore about that initially, but when we found out how serious the hoax had been I thought that was fair enough.

"My problems are pretty minor when you think about what a threat to New Zealand’s image it would be if a kauri tree was cut down illegally. Or not, as it happened.”

Tonight Simon Dallow will host a special one-hour discussion about the danger to New Zealand’s economy and international image such hoaxes can be and guests will include representatives of most iwi, the remaining members the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and Sean Plunkett who will speak about the number of e-mails Morning Report received over the issue.

He will also read all 4,529 e-mails the programme has received about the intended scrapping of the bird call, and will say something flattering about Linda Clark.

The prime minister has indicated she will be unavailable for comment as she has other really important things to do.

Contacted last night she said even though this incident was clearly a hoax and it been identified as such right from the start it was imperative that the Labour government act in the best interests of the country and the economy, and act quickly.

“And we did that. There have been calls for further investigation into this, but that won’t be necessary. And you can quote me on that.

“And now we’ll be on our way,” she said.

Or words to that effect.