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HARD NEWS 03/11/00 - Bad News, Good News

Approved: hardnews.kiwifruit
Subject: HARD NEWS 03/11/00 - Bad News, Good News

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... unemployment drops below 6% for the first time in 12 years. 22,000 new jobs. More full-time jobs than there have ever been in the history of the country. Welcome to the bad-news-good-news economy.

This week's employment figure is so out of keeping with some other perceptions of the economy - and not just those of Rich Poole and his dim, rich friends - that it has already been suggested that it's a bung number. If it is genuine - and logic would seem to dictate that it should be more robust than your average business confidence survey - then it's extremely significant.

It also calls into question exactly what it is that business confidence surveys measure.

Employment minister Steve Maharey responded to the news with a sober there's-work-yet-to-be-done statement, but must have been fighting the urge to dance in the streets.

Good economic news is always tricky for Opposition parties, but National received it with some grace. Act's Muriel Newman, however, went through the extraordinary contortion of finding bad news in the numbers by highlighting the slight rise in Maori and Pacific Island unemployment.

That that number should rise while overall unemployment falls is indeed cause for concern. But to see Act sounding the alarm over the Gap it has spent all year insisting doesn't exist and therefore doesn't require closing is a tiny bit rich, don't you think?

The government can also count this week's e-commerce summit as a substantial success and, curiously enough, has the most unprepossessing of ministers to thank for it.

At number 17 in Cabinet, Paul Swain is hardly one of the in-crowd. But, along with a group of highly motivated officials at the Ministry Formerly Known as Commerce, he has won the government more credibility than a year's worth of smoked salmon offensives. Not bad for a man who 10 months ago was so gravely ill he nearly died.

Neither the summit or the government E-Commerce Strategy unveiled there were free of waffle, but it was not lost on the suits present that a government had never done this before. Certainly we've never had a Prime Minister get up and tell an audience that Web design is "crossing the boundaries between technology and art".

By the same token, it's hard to imagine Max Bradford namechecking Shihad, which Swain did on the final slide of his presentation on Wednesday - along with Karen Walker, WebMedia, Sir Angus Tait and someone called Courtenay Place.

And Cullen? He didn't offend anyone at the summit, but has made a rod for his own back by referring everything to do with tax back to the tax inquiry that won't report back until 2002, in time for the election. There may well be sterling work going on, but it tastes like fudge every time.

As the summit was wrapping up - and with a distinct whiff of stage management - Research, Science & Technology minister Pete Hodgson was on hand for the announcement that Ericsson and the local software consultancy Synergy are to establish a mobile internet applications development centre here, with the promise of 150 sexy, knowledge-economy jobs.

Ericsson-Synergy paid tribute to the "enthusiastic support" of ministers and agencies at its announcement. Given that Ericsson has no intention of demanding the kind of favours sought by Motorola for a similar venture - which would have bordered on official corruption, had they been granted - you bet they're enthusiastic.

To cap it off, the price of petrol dropped. Well, in Auckland, anyway. BP has announced it'll be knocking off three cents a litre for "competitive" reasons. Goodness. Just as they're all telling you they're barely breaking even, Mr BP has three cents a litre in his back pocket. Go figure.

There was bad news for the government, of course - in the highly unlikely shape of Ruth Dyson, who got busted driving home after having a few wines over the paperwork late on Monday night. She came up nearly twice the legal limit and, given that she might have either summoned a crown car or paid for a $10 taxi ride, she was extraordinarily stupid to have driven. What was she thinking?

Within hours of blowing in the bag, she had resigned all her ministerial warrants - before anyone had a chance to demand that she did so.

National's Gerry Brownlee had to satisfy himself with demanding that the paperwork she processed be recalled owing to her apparent intoxication, which was astoundingly hypocritical from a man who served in a Cabinet that was - by the testimony of Jenny Shipley herself - run over a whisky bottle.

The truth is that, with its long hours, wheeling, dealing and time away from home, Parliament has always been a bit of a problem drinkers club, and Dyson isn't considered one of the big boozers. BFM listeners will know what I mean when I say, "Ev'ry day, we got hammered ..."

So the PM provided a bulletproof shield for Dyson, taking all questions and inevitably inviting comparisons with her treatment of Dover Samuels.

But Dyson resigned at lightspeed, Dover didn't. And unlike Dover, Dyson does not appear to have withheld any embarrassing details from her past. Which is just as well, given that somebody, somewhere knew that Dyson had a teenage pot conviction - and anonymously mailed that information to the media.

You have to suspect people are getting sick of this stuff, but the test will presumably come some time next year when Helen Clark tries to rehabilitate one of her most able ministers in some portfolio where she won't be seen as setting a bad role model.

And, judging by the documentary on TV this week, the youth of today needs all the good role models it can get. Apparently permanently crazed on free alcohol, the flatties swore and bitched and played mind games with each other.

And their guest were just as bad - pigging out on the sponsor's product, vomiting into rubbish bags and staggering around bathrooms.

One flatmate's father proved to be rock 'n' roll reviver Tom Sharplin - the man who gave Russell Crowe a hand up into show business, ladies and gentlemen - and they quite bizarrely ended up taking turns drinking out of his artificial leg. And they panicked about a bit of dope arriving in a taxi? Please ...

Even the media couldn't help themselves. Space's Jacqui Brown went to the bathroom and flashed her tits at the Webcam there. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: "So you can see more of yourself on air," doesn't it?

Remarkably, I am reliably informed, what we saw wasn't the worst of it, and one or two people can count themselves lucky not to have been well and truly sprung. I'm not fan at all of jack-up Survivor-type shows - they're all shite, frankly - but this one was so bizarre it was almost worthwhile.

There were grown-up disturbances this week when Fletcher Challenge shareholders gathered and gave their board a bollocking. Which was good. Not that the board had nuked a whole bunch of shareholder value - a regrettably familiar event in the past decade - but that small shareholders are standing up and saying they're not going to take it any more. The times may well be changing - G'bye!


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