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HARD NEWS 07/09/01 - The Refuge

Subject: HARD NEWS 07/09/01 - The Refuge

HARD NEWS is first broadcast in Auckland on 95bFM around 9.30am on Fridays and replayed around 5.15pm Friday and 10am Sunday on The Culture Bunker. You can listen to 95bFM live on the Internet. Point your web browser to http://www.95bfm.co.nz. You will need an MP3 player. Currently New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of GMT.

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... it is Spring. The days are longer, the light is stronger and there is, in the words of the great sage Murray Mexted, "a tingle up the spine - a tingle in the loins!" Not that we want to talk about the rugby ...

Well, actually, I do. Spare me the national angst, please. The All Blacks just lacked the composure to hang on to the win they needed and deserved. The lineouts were a travesty and the ref was an idiot. But that 20 point comeback was stirring stuff.

The National Party, by some reckonings, also needs a 20-point comeback. But until they change the captain I fear they won't deserve much. Bluntly: Jenny Shipley was an embarrassment this week.

In trying to punch holes in the government plan to accept 150 of the Afghan refugees stranded on the Tampa, she used parliamentary privilege to claim that Dr Najibullah Lafraie, who was accepted here as a refugee last year and is now working in Christchurch, was an Afghan terrorist. It took me about 10 minutes on the Internet to satisfy myself that this was an outrageous slur.

Yes, Lafraie was associated with the Mujahadeen - who, if I recall my late 20th century political orthodoxy, were the good guys. Battling the Evil Empire and all that. He doesn't appear to even have been a soldier, let alone a terrorist. As Afghani Foreign Minister from 1992 to 1996, he was generally first stop for UN and friendly government representatives.

When the Taliban overthrew his government, his brother - an aid worker - was imprisoned and he went into hiding before escaping to Pakistan. He wasn't safe in Pakistan because he had criticised that government's support for the Taliban.

During his time as minister, he was also officially received at a dinner at Australia's Parliament House. Which made it all the more embarrassing when the Australian Immigration Department refused to consider his refugee application last year.

The Melbourne Age ran a story headed 'Inquiry call over Afghan exile bungle'. His brother died of cancer waiting for a new home; his brother's wife died of an asthma attack. Lafraie and his family were eventually accepted by New Zealand. I hope they are happy here.

When an Australian professor declared this week that Shipley's slur made her unfit for office, she just dug herself deeper. Her information came from "independent sources", she insisted. Try "flat-out wrong and scurrilous", Jenny. Even than she didn't have the grace to withdraw: instead she told Parliament that in 1995 his *government* was "allegedly" the instigator of a mob attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul. Oh, really ...

Shipley wasn't the only one trying to make cheap political mileage out of refugees, of course. Winston Peters, tickled up the dimwits at his party conference with a re-run of his old sly slurs against Asian immigrants. The people on the Tampa were "essentially queue jumpers" he said.

This is not only an astoundingly arrogant and smug statement - I'd like to see Winston Peters biding his time in Kabul - it is also wrong. Many of the people on the Tampa have already been declared refugees by UNHCR. They just need a home.

Peters also implied that New Zealanders would miss out on medical care because of the money spend on the Afghans. This is a flat-out lie. They come under our existing quota of 750 refugees annually. There is a budget and there is a place for them to go. Winston Peters knows that.

This makes it all the more weird and worrying that the erstwhile bard of the left, Chris Trotter, spoke at the New Zealand First conference. Or maybe not: after lamenting the Wellington policy elite's "snobbery" towards New Zealand First's back-of-a-fag-packet policies, he launched into a warning about the anti-democratic instincts of Maori, noting that in three decades Polynesians would be the ethnic majority. In running the line of New Zealand as the new Fiji, he didn't explain why one form of nationalism was so good and the other very bad.

The perils of economic nationalism have, of course, been amply illustrated by the Air New Zealand debacle. Perhaps we can't just let the national carrier go to blazes - or to a firesale - but it is tempting.

It emerged this week that the Air New Zealand board's whole recap strategy was based on the spectacularly unlikely idea that Richard Branson would sell it his cut-price airline Virgin Blue. Branson's public rejection of the deal was as hilarious as Air New Zealand's strategy was dismal. For once, I'm agreeing with Stephen Franks here: the Air New Zealand directors should hang their heads in shame.

Anyway, there wasn't a whole lot of news to read about in the Herald this week, on account of most of its journalists being out on indefinite strike. The management got a fright and offered a belated compromise, but it apparently wasn't enough. If they hadn't spent the past couple of months being obstructive and evasive, it might have been. Even before the strike, morale at the Herald was apparently as bad as it's ever been. And for what?

At least Alliance mayoral candidate Matt McCarten injected a bit of levity, by trying to place a full-page ad complaining that the strike had meant "zilch" coverage of the local body election campaign. This was rejected; as was a follow-up featuring John Banks' head on the body of Stalin. I think they're up to six alternative versions now, none of them acceptable to the Herald.

To be honest, I've been relatively happy with Christine Fletcher, and I'm a bit wary of party presidents as mayors since the Bob Harvey business, but I do like McCarten's campaign style. Have a look at www.matt4mayor.org.nz. There'll be a bit more this weekend at www.mediawatch.co.nz too - you can even vote us into an Internet Award if you like.

And, finally, as we approach one weekend, a word for the last. The GE-Free Rally was as big as I thought it would be: 10,000 people up Queen Street, through steady rain, happy dancing. The question for the organisers is what they do with it all now.

Well, here goes: slogans won't do for ever and neither will some of the Very Simple Arguments that got people into the streets. Not everybody is going to read the Royal Commission's report, but I think it's really important that everybody tests their beliefs by reading, well, something. I was depressed to hear that a group of scientist counter-protestors was to be escorted away by police for their own protection. The last thing we need is scientists being assaulted in the streets.

Seek debate with your opponents - if your case is good it can only strengthen you. Actually, this strikes me as a sitter for a Citizens' Initiated Referendum. Go to it, then.

And, lordy, it's time for the B-net New Zealand Music Awards, all the way over in Takapuna City. Should be nice? Gotta be nice ...

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