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HARD NEWS 12/5/00 - Convincing, Evasive, Likeable

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... well, it's finally happened. Like so many of the great and good, and like the Prime Minister herself, I'm to be sent off for "media skills" training.

Although it'll be a cold day in Hell when I go into PR - as much through a lack of talent as any moral blockage, I must admit - I shall learn to be convincing, evasive and likeable on camera. I think. There's an item on my agenda headed "belief systems" which worries me a bit ...

Perhaps I could aspire to be as good at these things as Fred Cockram, who parlayed his Fair Go brownie points into a job as the mouthpiece of TranzRail, and is currently working very hard for his money.

As anybody would, trying to come up for a reasonable explanation for the fact that TranzRail has by far the worst workplace safety record in the New Zealand economy. Five deaths on the job this year, three since March. And all this under a regime which exempted it from the usual health and safety regulations. But no more. TranzRail will now be playing ball.

The Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson has ordered an inquiry - yes another one - into TranzRail's practices, whilst probably feeling deep down a tiny bit grateful to see the industrial relations debate flow the other way for a change.

A string of politicians and business spokespeople - all, no doubt, the beneficiaries of quality media training - have begun to wobble the broader public opinion on the new Employment Relations Act, largely by exploiting a degree of uncertainty in the legislation.

The paradoxical effect of so tightly defining who is a contractor and who is an employee has been to sow confusion amongst the workers themselves. This is likely to have more impact than all the Bradford-style ballyhoo about big, mean unions beating up on poor bosses.

The key to the new employment laws will be how much and where the government chooses to compromise. It has been under no real obligation to do so so far, but at some point, the employers will win their concessions.

Ditto for the highly muscled smokefree legislation now being ushered through. This week's $1 a packet rise in ciggy tax was really just a bit of fun - the really gnarly part is going to be Annette King's plan to ban smoking in restaurants, cafes and bars. This won't work as currently billed. New Zealanders are not Californians. Much as I sometimes wish for smokefree pubs 'n' clubs I wonder who the hell is going to police these leisure smoking laws. And will they be even lower on the social scale than parking wardens?

So anyway, the Herald didn't publish the name of the cop who shot Stephen Wallace in Waitara and instead went completely mental, slapping not one but two tabloid headlines above yet another front page story: 'Facts from behind the gun' and 'Waitara shooting: what you need to know'.

Oh, please. The police account of events that formed the story was no more the "facts" than any other witness account. Calm down, for God's sake, Mr Davis. And after all that, the NBR, who take some pride in being a bunch of bastards, printed the name anyway.

Speaking of a bunch of bastards, will somebody sit the anti-Metrowater protestors down with a cup of herbal tea and suggest they stop being the most offensive people in the city? Last weekend, they pulled up outside councillor Phil Raffils' house in their fire engine, turned on their loudspeakers and started abusing him.

Now, I too have abused Phil Raffills through this forum. I have called him such harsh names. But the man is suffering from leukaemia. He has a bone marrow transplant scheduled next week and he was asleep at his home when they turned up. I'd have smashed their bloody windows too. Dicks.

Well, outta here.

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