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HARD NEWS: Prostitutes, Thieves and Gold-diggers

HARD NEWS 26/5/00 - Prostitutes, Thieves and Gold-diggers

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... what didn't happen: democracy hasn't been overthrown by an out-of-town con man and a few hired goons. Not here, anyway.

It's hard to feel at all good about the prospects for Fiji as George Speight and his gang hold out for a racist capitulation they seem entirely likely to get. Speight's reward for holding the country's elected leaders at gunpoint will be the dissolution of democracy. Fiji's economy, wounded in the past week, will bleed nearly to death. Uganda comes to mind.

About the only cheery note is that it has drowned out the rather embarrassing and neurotic kvetching from elements of our own business community. Even the chief economist of the BNZ felt obliged this week to suggest that business snap out of and get on with life.

Much bleak cheerleading has come from, of course, the New Zealand Herald, which last Thursday cooked up a wilfully illiterate front page leading declaring the economy to be in a "nosedive".

The Herald treated the sag in the New Zealand dollar and the rise in interest rates as if it were the government's fault. What it forgot to say was that many other currencies, including the pound and the Aussie dollar, fell against the greenback last week, largely because Alan Greenspan of the US Federal Reserve has raised American interest rates.

There is upward pressure on our interest rates because of that. And because our economy, far from nosediving, is, in the opinion of our Reserve Bank governor, in danger of growing too fast.

None of this is anything much to do with the government - and the Herald would have been the first to declare an attack of creeping socialism if Michael Cullen had actually tried to hold interest rates down. Which he can't because there's a law against it.

The story eagerly quoted a spokesman from the Hospitality Association in Auckland, who said business was down and blamed the tax hike on incomes over $60,000. Pardon? Like the lunching classes actually pick up the tab out of their own salaries? Would not the more logical explanation be that Auckland is, post America's Cup, absolutely glutted with bars and restaurants?

Frankly, the thing that's really nosedived is the quality of the Herald business section since its editor Rod Oram was shown the door for being unable to keep to the script. Just what is the agenda at that place anyway?

Every business I'm involved with is growing and looking to new opportunities at the moment - and most of the neurosis seems to be over things that haven't actually happened yet. Like the Employment Relations Act, subject of many fanciful press releases from the Act party. I can't help but think that if everybody calmed down a bit - and if minor trade union officials could avoid using words like "utu" on television - there wouldn't be much there to shout about.

Still, robust debate which encourages a government to better define its intentions is a good thing. What really gives me the shits - what scares me - is the way social knee-jerks are catching on.

Corrections Minister Matt Robson said this week that he would be studying other countries' experiences with allowing conjugal visits for some prisoners, and with allowing very young children to remain with their mothers in prison. He said there were arguments against the kids idea in particular, but that he was interested in both ideas as a means to aid rehabilitation by enhancing family stability.

Cue canned outrage from the reactionary right - and a somewhat unfortunate scramble for cover by the government. It is, of course, much more important to really punish people, to twist them and screw them down and deprive them of contact with their loved ones, than it is to try and prevent them offending again.

Inevitably, Robson's musing was decried as an outrage to "the victims of crime" by politicians who feel qualified to pronounce on their behalf. The real insult to the victims appears to me the assumption that they're as venal and stupid as some National Party MPs are.

In the state of Victoria, carefully screened prisoners are granted contact with their wives and girlfriends for six hours every six weeks. According to National's Tony Steele, this would turn jails into prostitution dens. So any woman unfortunate enough to have a partner in jail is a prostitute. Thanks, Tony.

This of course dovetails nicely with Jenny Shipley's recent depiction in Parliament of Maori and Pacific Islanders as people who climb in white folks' windows and steal things. And with Act and National's dismissal of the women who have sought the changes pending in the Matrimonial Property Act as "gold-diggers".

Act's assault is being led by its MP Stephen Franks - you might think a tax lawyer calling anybody else a gold-digger was a tad rich, but I couldn't possibly comment.

Well, I lie. I could comment. In fact, I am appalled by Shipley's weird reinvention of herself as a social conservative, by her "separate but equal" rationale for not letting gay couples even be regarded as ordinary de factos, let alone allowed to pollute the "holy institution" of marriage.

At the PC end of the dial, the smoke police at the Ministry of Health decided Internet censorship was a good idea this week. Auckland's Havana House has been required to prevent New Zealanders from viewing its Website, which happens to be hosted in the US.

In case anyone at the ministry is listening, let me explain how stupid this is: there are hundreds of sites on the Internet from which cigars can be bought. By preventing New Zealanders from buying cigars from Havana House, the ministry is only depriving the government of tax and duty. Not one less stogie will be smoked.

I suspect the ministry officials regarded the Website as an advertisement - which wouldn't be surprising, given that they have expressed the same opinion about news stories in the Listener. That was unenforceable - I refer you to Steve Braunias's love letter to Peter Stuyvestant Mild in this week's issue - and, of course, those filthy cigar magazines are back on shop shelves now too.

Local people have used the Internet to breach court suppression orders this year; there are New Zealand sites that sell prescription drugs into the US in breach of FDA regulations; there is copyright piracy - which is against the law - and there is pornography.

So why pick on someone selling a legal product in a legal manner? Frankly, at the price Tony Hart sells cigars, anyone who finds themselves addicted to his products is wealthy enough to look after themselves.

Anyway, there are two magazines you need to buy this week: Grace, which under Linda Clark has become what it always ought to have been in just one issue. And Loop, which has such a choice cover CD that it's worth buying even if you're illiterate. I haven't laid eyes on the Remix with the Havoc interview, but I'd wager that's worth a flutter too. Save the economy: buy local culture - G'bye!

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