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HARD NEWS 24/11/00 - Genoa? No, Not At All ...

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... no, I am not on my way to Italy. I will see the All Blacks play from my couch and not the grandstand in Genoa. I'm now off to Europe in February. All very last-minute. It's a long story ...

While I was packing my bags and clearing the credit card, the Property (Relationships) Bill passed its final Parliamentary hurdle. There is more good than bad in it, but the three-year benchmark at which de facto relationships take on the legal status of marriage is just too short. Five years is commitment. Three years is moving in with your girlfriend while you find a flat.

I am not very concerned, however, at the increased leeway given to judges in settlements, or at the perceived loss of legal distinction for marriage. And I welcome the law's recognition of relationships between people of the same sex as a great and belated step forward in our social legislation.

Some tribute is due to the National MPs who, while opposing the bill as a whole, voted on their consciences to bring same-sex couples under the law. They included Jenny Shipley - who has been absent on the issue since she promised such law two years in a row at the Hero Parade - and the man bFM listeners know as "Secret Smile" Tony Ryall.

Another source of much Opposition effing and blinding - the Closing the Gaps policy - actually came to something of material, as opposed to philosophical, concern this week.

The Ministry of Maori Development Te Puni Kokiri, which has an utterly pervasive role under the policy - not just in its own right but as an overseer of other government departments - admitted it has no means of measuring the effectiveness of what's being done. And, apparently, no intention of developing one. This is simply astonishing.

Meanwhile, the government was obliged to briefly withhold the final $13 million instalment of Tainui's Treaty settlement until it had some idea of who was in charge at Tainui, putting the tribe in danger of being foreclosed by its banks. Now, the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank says it doesn't want the $4 million instalment offered by the tribe and is demanding the entire $14 million it is owed. To achieve that, Tainui may have to sell the property which constitutes its income.

As if that weren't bad enough, this week Craig Beecroft, the former CEO of Tainui Corporation - the arm of the tribe that is, in theory, supposed to make money by investing in property - was in court on fraud charges.

Testimony regarding Tainui's "all-powerful boss", Sir Robert Mahuta, was not flattering. Sir Robert, who provided a vision for his people when none was apparent, might wish to seriously consider what quality of leadership he provides now. And, instead of waving around the Kingitanga like it was the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, retire and leave the job to someone who can halt the flow of money down the gurgler. Fat chance, I fear.

Obviously figuring things weren't sufficiently controversial in Maoridom, the government announced an official entrenchment of its view - or is it the Prime Minister's view? - that Waitangi Day ought to be celebrated the length of the country and not just in Waitangi itself.

The organisers of the commemorations have lost their special funding and will have to apply alongside everyoneelse, and no Crown representatives will attend ceremonies on the Treaty grounds. In a sense, this is a bit like the invitation list for the Business to Government Forum - a deliberate attempt to change the shape of things and to deal with different people, even at the risk of looking petulant.

The same old faces, however, continue to paddle around in governance of our public companies. Paul Hyslop, a director of Wilson Neill, finally gave up his attempt to have his name suppressed in connection with his insider trading in Fletcher Challenge shares. The Securities Commission reported that series of events - which I must say I am not entirely convinced is a true and complete version of what went on - helped Hyslop manipulate the market and pocket $40,000.

Hyslop has resigned his directorship at Wilson Neill, but says he'll seek to be elected a director again next year. Apart from that, his only punishment is shame - and it's tempting to suspect that people like him don't have a whole lot of that. How many times does this have to happen before we get insider trading laws that aren't weak and vague and a Securities Commission that is prepared to enforce them?

But one calamity rears above all others: the knives are out at Shortland Street. According to the Herald, Minnie, Moira, Dean, Tamsin and Al are all to go and the national soap will be made more family-friendly. So the strategy of stacking the thing with 22-year-old characters and having them take turns rogering each other hasn't worked, then.

Perhaps that's not fair. After all, I haven't watched Shortland Street for a long time - and neither has the Prime Minister, going by her comments to an Australian newspaper that she didn't watch much TV back home because there wasn't much on since Backchat got canned.

Her suggestion that what's on offer on New Zealand TV isn't much good caused a brief flap amongst the local programme production community, but, hell, it's true. The near-farcical situation at the recent TV Awards, where a good many of the winners had either been cancelled or buried by broadcast bosses was just yet more evidence.

The new TVNZ charter might make a difference, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that a few people need to depart before the system truly works well.

That, presumably, is the thinking of the All Black selectors, who have benched the golden boots of Andrew Mehrtens, putting Carlos Spencer in his place against Italy. Filo Tiatia comes in at blindside instead of replacing the increasingly poncy Ron Cribb at No.8 and Troy Flavell gets a deserved run at lock. Pita Alatini has been rewarded for showing no form at all and picked in the midfield. The selectors move in mysterious ways.

But, in the words of John Toogood, we'll just have to wait and see.

Another weekend of entertainment beckons in Auckland, but it won't be quite that same as the last one. Yes, the Grey Lynn Park Festival happens only once a year. The weather held off and 25,000 people turned up - most of whom at one point seemed to be dancing like happy fools in front of Nice 'n' Urlich. Remarkable. They are stars - G'bye!

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