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Gordon Campbell on Paula Bennett’s gaffe and Luna in Newtown

Gordon Campbell on Paula Bennett’s gaffe, and Luna in Newtown

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett’s statement of support for cutting red tape in the building industry was probably self-certified as being politically OK, but it has blown up in her face. Self-regulation can be like that: its OK until it isn’t. In Bennett’s case, the incident has been a rare case of political systems failure. What caused it? Yesterday, something called the Rules Reduction Taskforce issued a report calling for (surprise, surprise) a reduction of rules in the building consent and approval process. In New Zealand, local government tends to be the last resort and guarantor of quality and (not surprisingly) this crucial role can become a bottleneck for developers in a hurry. The task force’s suggested solution? Scrap those pesky rules. Let certified builders regulate themselves on at least some (undefined) levels of the approval procedures.

Enter Paula Bennett from stage right, cheering.

She said she understood there would be some nervousness, because many people would point to the problems with leaky homes.

"But actually products have moved on since then. The country's moved on since then and we have to make sure we're getting sensible rules that are necessary and getting rid of the ones that are not."… Too many rules and regulations were frustrating, particularly when it came to building work..

Bennett’s blithe phrase “the country’s moved on” turned out to be the pin in this particular grenade. She made the government look callous – hey, that was then, this is now – and bone-headed. In how many crises caused by de-regulation should the solution be (five minutes later) a call for further de-regulation? Plainly, this government has learned nothing from the pain and suffering that went before. Not only have the people affected by the leaky homes crisis not moved on, but the system hasn’t done so either in any significant sense. Yes, the risks of using untreated timber are now known – but at every level of the process of building and approval process, serious problems remain. This morning, even the representatives of the certified builders were backing off at speed from any suggestion of wholesale de-regulation, and the scrapping of peer review.

On RNZ, Nick Smith rode in to Bennett’s rescue. Nothing has yet been decided, Smith babbled, the report was issued only yesterday, the de-regulation would be selective and conditional once it's been worked out where and how etc etc. Too late. The political damage has been done. Maybe the country has been deemed to have ‘moved on’ from Pike River too, given how the government has watered down the workplace safety recommendations of the Pike River Commission. And since the country has ‘moved on’ from the Christchurch earthquake… do we really need all those pesky rules and recommendations about the need to strength buildings? They impose a cost and delay on developers, too. So let’s get rid of the red tape – and yellow stickers – there as well. What could possibly go wrong?

Luna & Homecomings

Last night’s gig in Newtown by 1990s semi-legends Dean Wareham and his beloved indie band Luna was a perfect fit for the neighbourhood’s tiny Moon Bar… in name, as well as in execution. Wareham is Island Bay’s native son, a lad from the ‘hood who made good. Why, he went off and carved out his niche for himself and his musical accomplices in New York, the biggest baddest challenge of them all. Robert Christgau once depicted Wareham as the archetype slacker of independent means, the romantic artist trapped by his own indolence. Luna’s songs can be like that. They’re about the yearning to change the world – or your girlfriend - if only you had the energy and focus to get up off the couch.

The loveliness of Luna’s songs were spun out one by one last night, like pearls on a string. It seemed perfectly unreal to be hearing – in Newtown ! – all those tracks from their finest album, Penthouse. “ Chinatown” “Sideshow By the Seashore” and the great one two punch of “Lost In Space” and “23 Minutes in Brussels”. In this tiny venue, Wareham’s speak-song croon took on cabaret levels of intimacy… over the years, Luna has built itself a place of its own on the sadder, gentler, “Pale Blue Eyes” slopes of Velvets Mountain. Lord knows what it felt like for Wareham to be playing such a tiny venue almost within shouting distance of the place he grew up. Homecoming or perfect circle? Down the years, Luna’s music have paid constant homage to the beauties of the drone, but I hope the continuities in the situation last night didn’t seem oppressive to him. 23 years in Newtown…?

All praise to Moon Bar as well. Last week, the local Dominion-Post carried a ridiculous front page story about the alleged need for ratepayers to fork out millions for a purpose built 10,000-12,000 seat concert venue for the Capital. With a straight face, promoter Manolo Echave was quoted as saying that such a venue would be “useable” all year. Note: useable, not used all year. While some people sit around waiting for ratepayers to build their business venues for them, the folk at Moon Bar are doing it themselves – by their own efforts, and on the bones of their collective asses. Hopefully, the Luna gig marked the point where the venue moves up to a whole new level.

A couple of years ago, Dean Wareham and his wife Britta were here as part of the NZ International Arts Festival, curating their musical take on the Warhol neo-celebrity photograph series. Further back, Wareham also wrote Black Postcards, one of the best, most laconically amusing books ever about musicians on the road.

More than anything though, Wareham is a great guitarist. The gig last night was a masterclass in technique, without ever once seeming bombastic or self –indulgent. The melodic lines headed out for the skies time and again, but always seemed to be grounded in the melodic structure of the song. And the liquid tone…it was as lovely as anything by the likes of Mike Bloomfield or even Mr Tambourine Man himself, Bruce Langhorne. Great night out. Too bad, if you missed it. Yet since Wareham will never truly escape from south Wellington, chances are he will be back.

So here’s “Lost in Space” from the Penthouse album:

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