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Gordon Campbell on Gerry Brownlee & Christchurch recovery

Gordon Campbell on Gerry Brownlee, the Christchurch recovery and Jafar Panahi

Famously, Winston Churchill once described one of his American political allies as being “the only bull I know who carries his own china shop around with him.” Alas, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee manages the same trick – hello Finland, just kidding – and his exchanges this week with Labour MP Lianne Dalziel offered more evidence of the man’s unique ear for political tone and nuance. To be fair though, a Cabinet that also contains Murray McCully, Paula Bennett and Judith Collins means that Brownlee has to break quite a lot of crockery these days, merely to be heard.

Brownlee has done his sterling best to offend almost everyone in his tiff this week with Dalziel. Dalziel had made a simple, serious charge:

Christchurch democracy is to be "discarded" with the Government poised to take control of the central city rebuild, Labour says. Earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said that Cabinet will approve a proposal to create a new unit within the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) to manage the rebuild.

Brownlee managed to call this claim a ‘ crazy rant” and then – simultaneously – refused to confirm or deny whether it was true. This, in a city chafing over the length of time it is taking to rebuild the city, fix its core services and save as much of its heritage as humanly possible, amid a region where local democracy has already been put to the sword by central government. Dalziel, at least, has been listening to those concerns :

Under the proposal the Christchurch City Council would be stripped of all planning responsibilities in the central city, Dalziel said. The new unit would also be involved in encouraging outside investment in the city.

"It is the last remaining vestige of local democracy and it is about to be discarded in favour of a ham-fisted response from the earthquake tsar," she said.

Dalziel first raised these concerns in Parliament on Tuesday night but hey, Brownlee wasn’t having any of this accountability-to-Parliament nonsense:

Brownlee responded saying that he was "not reporting to the House discussions Cabinet might or might not be having".Yesterday, Brownlee told The Press: "I'm off air on this one. It's just ridiculous."

No, reporting to Parliament would be… ridiculous. But ah… discussions about such matters were apparently ongoing:

[Brownlee] said discussion about how the central city plan would be implemented, including the distribution of responsibilities, were ongoing with the council and Cera. "Because we are having these discussions I think Lianne has got out a little bit ahead of things.

Right. She’s got ahead of things, Miss High and Mighty Dalziel, with her talking about matters affecting the city’s future before Cabinet has finally decided how that future will pan out. Because democracy is all about people doing what they’re told, when they’re told. And when they’re told should be left to people who know better, so they can get on with it. And he, Brownlee, wasn’t going to let anyone score political points off him, because of course, that was the most important issue in all of this:

I've got no interest in confirming her as the person running out with the flag in front of the parade."

So there. Get back in line, missy. Watching from the sidelines at that very same parade has been Christchurch mayor Bob Parker who evidently, has not been told anything about anything. But goodness, what a ‘superb’ contribution he could make if only anyone ever bothered to ask him!

Mayor Bob Parker warned last night against any attempt to take the city council out of the planning process. He said it would be tantamount to a takeover of the entire organisation. However, Parker said he had not been informed of any "dramatic announcements" about the council's role in the central city rebuild. He described the council's draft plan for the rebuild of it as a "stunning" document. "I think the plan and the vision we have is superb, and it has been embraced by everybody."

Fabulous. Meanwhile, Brownlee charges on, regardless. Churchill had another description that neatly captures the political style routinely displayed by Cabinet’s Mr Big: 'He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.' Christchurch will just have to bide its time until he’s good and ready.


This Is Not A Film

The persecution of artists has been an ugly feature of Iran’s crackdown on dissent in the wake of its last, fraudulent national elections. Scoop has written and campaigned before about one of the repression’s most prominent victims, the Iranian film director Jafar Panahi. Panahi is still awaiting the outcome of his final appeal against the six year jail sentence and 20 year ban on making films imposed on him in late 2010. The sentence was handed down as punishment for the public sympathy he had expressed for the victims of the repression, and for his plans to make a film about the impact on their families. Instead, he became another victim.

The harsh sentence is not something he has accepted lying down. Last year, Panahi used a birthday cake to conceal a flash drive that contained a film shot in his home (where is under house arrest) and he and friends subsequently smuggled the cake out of the country. Later this morning, again tomorrow night (Good Friday) and on the dates cited below, this courageous act of defiance – it is called This Is Not a Film – will be screened in Wellington and elsewhere around the country as part of the World Cinema Showcase. I urge you to see it, in solidarity with this brave, humane and talented artist.


This is Not a Film screens in Wellington at the Paramount at 11.15am today and on Good Friday at 8.15 and again on Tuesday 10 April at 2.30pm. This Is Not a Film also screens at the Regent Theatre in Dunedin on Sunday 22 April, 11.15 am and Monday 23 April, 8.30 pm. Finally, in Christchurch, Panahi’s film will screen at Hollywood 3 on Thursday 26 April at 6.15 pm and Thursday 3 May, 8.15 pm.


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