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HARD NEWS 05/10/01 - A Letter from Wellington

Approved: Kiwifruit
Subject: HARD NEWS 05/10/01 - A Letter from Wellington

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... just a short bulletin this week, on account of the fact that I've been away from my desk and doing a few things in Wellington. Or, as I like to think of it, wandering the corridors of power looking for the toilet ...

Well, you and I now own an airline, again. A Labour government sold Air New Zealand in 1989 and, this week, a Labour government announced its intention to buy back 83 per cent of it in return for an injection of $885 million. It's nearly a billion dollars that could have gone somewhere else, but there really was no choice. Wrapped up in Air New Zealand was not only the brand but a whole mess of air rights we wouldn't have got back if they'd been lost.

The government got its shares for 24 cents each - below the market rate - suggesting that the impact of the Prime Minister's gaffe last week may have been fairly modest. And if I read another whinge about how if the government had just let Singapore Airflines put in $650 million in July things would all be lovely, I'm gonna hurl. Look, that was 10 weeks ago. Singapore wouldn't even have finished due diligence by now, and Air New Zealand would still be gushing money. It just would not have happened.

Anyway, so the government's secret weapon - Jenny Shipley - is back from her travels. Apparently, Americans are deeply disappointed with New Zealand's response to the War on Terrorism. This would seem a bit odd, given that we were one of the first countries in the world to offer troops.

But Shipley reported on her return that some prominent New York businesspeople she'd spoken to regarded us as a bloody disappointment. Unfortunately, in a spectacular interview with John Campbell, she was unable or unwilling to name any of them. He bounced around at his desk, becoming increasingly excited, and she sat there looking like the roaring in her ears was getting louder and louder. She's great, she really is. Don't change a thing.

Shipley, presumably noting that it worked for Winston Peters, also tried for a bit of cheap traction on refugee issues; demanding that we set up detention camps like they run in Australia. Australia's refugee detention camps are, of course, an international disgrace - violent, desperate places without hope. It would be a betrayal of what New Zealand stands for to even think about going in that direction.

War is, unfortunately, a license for a great deal of babbling nonsense. People who have no idea what they're on about insist we should invoke the article in the Anzus Treaty that declares that an attack on one partner to be considered an attack on the other two - unfortunately, there is no such article. And what there is relates explicitly and specifically to an attack in the Pacific. Read it.

This, of course, won't stop Richard Prebble and the boy soldiers at our major daily newspapers talking crap. Did you know the Herald has set up a war desk? Gosh, that must be exciting. Expect an editorial calling for our nuclear-free policy to be rolled back in this time of crisis. Act and National are already bandying that one about.

On the other hand, the America leadership is acting in a reassuringly measured fashion. The Colin Powell view that carpet-bombing Afghanistan might be a bit counter-productive appears to have won the day. If there Americans really can go in and fetch bin Laden or simply kill him - and you'd have to have your doubts - then good luck to them. We'll see.

It appears relatively simple compared to the Auckland mayoral race. An Alliance poll puts Matt McCarten in late teens support, Christine Fletcher in the mid-20s and - please God make it stop - John Banks around 40 per cent.

There's time to change that yet: if every bFM listener sent back their voting forms. But who to vote for as the anti-Banks? Fletcher has run a useless campaign - she's thrown it away herself. McCarten has campaigned very well. But if his crack after Fletcher claimed the support of Auckland Central MP and Minister for Auckland Judith Tizard - he described it as "a rat swimming towards a sinking ship" - is indicative of his likely style as mayor then I'm not very impressed with that either. I don't know. Just vote - G'bye!


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