Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Another Naughty Athlete

More bad news for Cycling NZ today with a conviction handed down, and name suppression order lifted, on high profile cyclist Hayden Roulston.

Roulston, who signed a lucrative contract in September to ride for Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team, was convicted by Christchurch District Court Judge Bisphan on two counts of common assault. The incident occurred late at night in a inner city bar in Christchurch earlier this year. This was well before Roulston represented NZ at the Athens Olympics. A substantive hearing was held last Friday where evidence and for and against Roulston was submitted. A large part of his defence was that he was only peripherally involved in the assault and had been mistakenly identified as the main offender. In his ruling today Judge Bisphan found that on the balance of evidence presented he was confident Roulston was guilty of the charges brought against him.

Roulston was fined $400 dollars on both counts along with $260 court costs and a $150 witness fee. Sentencing was delayed for several hours as Judge Bisphan sought clarification on what impact a conviction would have on Roulston's international career. Police went to the US Embassy in Wellington which advised since the conviction was at the lowest order of the assault scale it would not compromise his visa chances. Though the truth of this will only be confirmed when Roulston makes his visa application. If he encounters troubles there may be scope for him to appeal his sentence as Judge Bisphan did indicate he did not want Roulston's punishment to be disproportionate to his offence.

So far there's no word from Cycling NZ on what disciplinary action, if any, it might take against Roulston. A statement may be issued tomorrow.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Here's a first for this blog. Three days and three posts!. You can blame this burst of creativity in the fact I've been off work all week with the flu. I had intended to go back today but the boss wouldn't let me. How nice is that? It's certainly never something that's happened to me in any of my previous workplaces. In fact the opposite was usually the case. You got a day off if you were lucky and even then had to put up with jibes about mental health days and veiled accusations that perhaps you weren't really ill and you were just slacking off. (Note to the people I used to work for at Carters; you were right, I was faking some of the time just to get out of that hellhole for the sake of my sanity). Anyway for the first time in my working career I've had four consecutive days off and it's been great. I've got the bug, and most of the mucus, out of my system and hopefully will be raring to go on Monday.

Right time to talk local issues again. It is supposed to be the point of this blog after all.

There's been another blow for local TV content with regional broadcaster CTV axing its news services as of Christmas. As someone who used to work at the station I have to admit I'm not surprised. The station's been through a succession of owners over the years and has lurched from one financial crisis to another. It's sort of been a an annual event for workers have arrived at the station of a morning to find both their program and their position no longer exist (Chris O'Malley knows what I'm talking about here). The station's current management claims they're now breaking even. But I'm a little suspicious of this as CTV's news operated in a stronger format several years ago when the station's financial state was parlous. Those were the days when Dennis Chapman (of Switchtec fame)owned it, when it was losing 60 to 100 thousand dollars a month. When the margins are slim the accountants immediately cut the most expensive arm of the business and that invariably means the newsroom. It's a real shame and not just for the people that work there. You see the strength, or advantage, of local TV is its news. It gives locals the chance to see stories they'd never see on the Aucklocentric One News and Three News bulletins. If it's removed then it's inevitable some of the audience will go with it. Programs like Marketplace, or Shopping With Jo, may be good moneyspinners but realistically who really enjoys watching them? Needless to say my commiserations go to the newsroom that closes as of Christmas.

The Adventure Air inquest has been dominating the past fortnight however I'm not going to dwell on it here just yet as I've not been covering the hearing. Anyway it's been pretty well covered in the papers. I have dug up some interesting information on the CAA director, John Jones, but I'll wait until the coroners findings are out before I'll elaborate further.

Canterbury had its first Seabed and Foreshore occupation today. A group calling itself Te Mangoroa occupied the New Brighton Pier this morning protesting the recently passed legislation. While I don't wish to be critical of the protesters, who're perfectly entitled to protest, I would like to make a salient point about their place of protest. If you're going to occupy a beach why would you choose New Brighton? Sumner would have made more sense (financially that is). Anyway only bout a dozen people turned up so it can't really be described as a groundswell movement.

The Christchurch City Council's sorted out its new payrates for its councillors and community board members. The hefty payrise is due to the recent downsizing of the Council. 12 members were cut at the last election after it was decided there were too many of them for the city. However the Higher Salaries Commission doesn't allocate council salaries on the basis of the number of elected members, but rather on the size of the city. This means the same amount of money is now being split among a smaller number of councillors. The contentious point is that the council's downsizing was sold by the Mayor and his supporters as a good move. Promises were made at the time the new political system would see extra powers and responsibilities devolved to community board members. This was a pretty significant promise as councillors have traditionally been very reluctant to let powers slip from their hands. Anyway the end result of the reforms has seen increased workloads for all parties and more money for councillors. What it hasn't done is see community board member payments go up and they're understandably a little annoyed about this. Doing more work for the same money isn't exactly a win win situation as far as they're concerned. Expect to see a few political tizzies as a result.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Given all the debate that's now brewing about raising the drinking age back to 20 this is kind of appropriate.

This is a story about the unfortunate circumstances that befell some old school friends of mine during their first year of flatting at Canterbury University. I guess everyone has a horror story or two of their own and this is probably one that'll strike a few chords with one or two of you. This was recounted to me by one of them and if the passing years mean this tale has become a little exaggerated then I apologise.

The year was 1991 and the senior year of Motueka High School, at least those with some degree of sentience and academic ambition, descended on Canterbury University like a rampaging horde. They hunted in packs and congregated everywhere, be it on or off campus. At parties they'd gather in in their dozens in riotous confusion. There was many a flat kitchen filled to capacity with the ubiquitous "Mot people" in varying states of disorder late of a Friday or Saturday night. It got to the stage when there were those at parties, who were not from Motueka, that would shrug in wearied resignation at their overwhelming presence and sigh; "Dear God, not more bloody Mot' people". Meanwhile the alcohol flowed, the teenagers puked, and all to the wistful notes of the Violent Femmes.

Moderation in drinking isn't the norm among the majority of University students and those from Motueka were no exception. Which is probably, no definitely, why the following event unravelled the way it did.

Nic', Ky' Rodney, and Maria decided to stage a party in their flat one weekend. As was the norm everyone from Motueka was invited along with sundry hangers on. One of those hangers on was Maria's cousin (who for reasons of discretion I shall not name). The party unfolded as those sort of events normally did. Heavy drinking, loud music, angry neighbours, the occasional casual vomit, and probably a fair bit of flirting. Unfortunately Maria's cousin went a little to far overboard with with the alcohol. He'd arrived with a full bottle of vodka which he proceeded to demolish in short order It had the result that you might expect in a 17 year old. First he got loud, then he got physical (not violent .... just all over the place), and then motor dysfunction set in.

The flatees first noticed a problem when Maria's cousin was spotted heading down the hallway with a box of soap-powder heading for her bedroom. He was discovered strewing said powder all through her bedroom, though mainly in the vicinity of her now very battered wardrobe. He'd mistaken it for the toilet and had pissed in it. The soap powder was his way of cleaning it up. Or as he phrased it "aw wuzzz tring to cleaagh urr fuck". His vodka intake had reduced his speech patterns to one long vowel movement. It had also affected his gastric areas as well and made its presence felt in a energetic bout of projectile vomiting. Fortunately most of this happened outside the flat. Once Maria's cousin's stomach was settled and he was cleaned up to a certain degree the consensus was he should be put to bed to sleep it off. This was done and then the party continued.

The partying wound down in the small hours with those who were staying the night choosing to crash in the lounge. So picture this, the house is dark and quiet but for a few drunken snores. Then Rodney hears someone open the hall door and walk in and lie down on the floor. Along with the person came an overwhelming stench and while Rodney admits to being drunk that night, he wasn't so drunk that he could sleep through that level of smell. So up he gets and turns on the light to find out what is going on and is greeted with a vision of absolute horror. There was Maria's cousin lying on the floor, semi-snuggling up to one of the female flatmates, and covered head to toe in shit. Activities got a little frenzied at that point as Rodney and a friend of his hurriedly tried to awake drunk and sleepy people before they accidentally rolled in something they'd later regret. This was made a little challenging as drunken sleepers normally don't like being roused, however they moved pretty damn quick once they saw what was lying next to them.

Maria's cousin was unceremoniously hauled off the floor by Rodney and his friends. Clad in rubber gloves and wearing teatowels over their faces to dull the smell they hauled the poo monster out side where he was stripped down and hosed off with the fire hose. His clothes, which no-one really wanted to touch, were gingerly consigned to the rubbish bin. Now you may think that things were bad enough at this stage but they got worse as the flatmates discovered just how he'd managed to get himself in such a state. Being a student flat it was definitely budget accommodation and it had the bathroom to match. As you walked into the bathroom the toilet was on the left and the shower was on the right. It seems the alcohol had so befuddled poor Maria's cousin's brains that in his drunken and desperate haste for a dump his sense of direction got confused and before he realised he was in the shower, not the toilet, it was too late. His dire state was further confounded that he obviously knew he was doing wrong and tried his utmost to salvage the situation by trying to capture the turd in mid-descent in one of the girl's shower caps. As you already may have guessed his equilibrium wasn't up to it and down he went in a sodden sewage ridden heap. There was shit everywhere, on the walls, on the floor, on the ceiling! That's not to mention the copious amount he managed to smear all over himself. The morning after saw the rubbergloves and teatowels out again and the most strenuous cleaning a student bathroom ever saw. Though to be fair it can't have been that good as there was a vicious rumour that later that year mushrooms were found growing happily in poo residue under the sill of the shower.

Naturally the cousin was told off in a big way but it pretty much fell on deaf ears as the vodka had removed his entire memory of the night. He was very irate at not being able to find his clothes convinced he'd been the victim of some sort of set-up and departed in a bit of a huff. For the very great fortune of that flat's residents and furnishings he never darkened its doors again.

Finally, for those who are curious as to what relevance the title 3PO has to this tale. Well it became the nickname Maria's cousin has been labeled with ever since. Piss, Puke, Poo - 3PO.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tales from the Tours.

I'm going to go away from my usual style of writing about the latest happenings in Christchurch and instead post a little part of my history. The following story is all true. The mists of memory, and the necessity to protect the reputations of others means some of the names have been changed. In the early 1990's I spent two years working in Japan helping to manage a showjumping team for an obscenely rich businessmen. This is just one of many interesting interludes that I experienced.

Evey summer the showjumping team would go all around the country as a part of the national championship circuit. The team I was working with was pretty decent. The boss's son was one of the most naturally talented riders I have ever seen and has subsequently represented Japan at the Olmpics. Anyway there was a lot of money and prestige involved which is why the boss hired foreign workers, such as myself, to provide the expertise that the locals simply couldn't match. Our set up was two Japanese riders, one foreign rider (who was also coach to the two Japanese riders), myself , and two stable hands. Generally when we were at a show we'd have upwards of a dozen horses competing so it made for a lot of hard work. With competition running from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon I'd be starting my work day at four AM and finishing sometime around ten at night ..... as you can imagine it was pretty intense stuff.

The thing was that the foreign staff, like myself and our French riding instructor Andre, only got to get together with our other gaijin colleagues at these events, and when we did we made the most of it socially. So by the time you've worked a 16 hour day and then spent upwards of 16 hours of socialising it didn't leave a lot of time for sleep. This conundrum was fixed courtesy of some wonderful little pills, speed to be exact, which kept the motor running during the day and enabled us to do what had to be done to keep things running smoothly. Unfortunately after three or four days of competition, little or no sleep, and a headful of drugs our collective judgement tended to be a bit wanting. Which probably explains the really dumb things we got up to!

It was the end of a spring show in Sapporo, we'd done well, and had got well and truly trashed at the formal event afterwards. But because we were well and truly buzzing all the gaijin decided to carry on. Anton, the French riding instructor, was in his element as he'd come across a couple of fellow countrymen and he finally had people he could talk to with no language barriers (he spoke no English or Japanese and no-one could speak any French .... which left him in a very solitary predicament). Anyway Anton was in his element and in the mood to party, so he and his two French friends (Jean-Paul and Jacques), along with myself, an Aussie called Craig, and an Irish girl (Melanie) decided to hit the town. To be honest we sort of had to leave the official celebrations as Jacques had fucked his boss's wife in a toilet somewhere and all sorts of suspicions had been raised by those that had heard the noise of passion emanating from the aforementioned cubicle. So in the true French tradition Jacques decided a hasty retreat was called for and we all just sort of got dragged along.

We ended up at a little bar somewhere in the city. I don't recall what it was called, just that it was dark and had stunningly attractive bargirls (as most Japanese city bars do). It very soon became obvious to those of us of non-gallic persuasion that there are certain dangers in socialising with Frenchmen when they're in a pack. Now I'm no angel, and upon occasion my behavior towards women has been somewhat wanting, but I have never witnessed such a scene as I did that night. Their treatment of the bargirls was outrageous, demeaning, and despicable. Then their personal habits hit new lows. Instead of getting of their backsides to go to the toilet the trio decided they'd just flip out their willies and piss under the table. We discovered this when one of the bargirls discovered it wasn't a drink that had spilled, but it was Jean-Paul pissing on her leg. Needless to say we were unceremoniously kicked out.

So after a few casual car vandalisms and the occasional sidewalk urination later, it was back to the show venue and the acommodation that had been set aside for us. The night was still far from over. Anton and Jacques amused themselves by spitroasting some poor female Japanese groom while the rest of us continued drinking. it was about this stage the real trouble began. Fresh from his tag team episode with Anton and the Japanese groom Jacques decided he now had a fancy for Irish Melanie. A fancy he declared had to satisfied through mutual passion. Needless to say Melanie told him where to go in the way only an Irish girl can which left our Froggie friend in a very miffed state. The problem was Melanie had decided if she was going to bonk anyone it was going to be Jean-Paul, who she'd taken a fancy to (me and Craig were left right out .... Antipodean accents just don't work that well on foreign women). As it turned out it was not a wise move on her part as, while she was briefly out of the room, the spurned Jacques cooked up a nasty revenge plan with Jean-Paul. Their strategy was that Jean-Paul would go along with Melanie's advances, get her in a state of undress, and then take a heap of revealing photos of her which then could be used to humiliate her.

The plan was put into effect and off to a secluded room went Melanie, Jean-Paul, and the camera. The moment the door closed Jacques told the rest of us what was going on and we waited for the flash of the camera and the expected squeals of female rage.

Sometimes fate takes some funny twists.

On cue the camera flashed ..... silence. Then it flashed again ...... more silence. No angry feminine outcry whatsoever! There was a collective exchange of puzzled glances in the living room, then out strode a fully clothed and happily triumphant Melanie. We made a rush for the bedroom to see what possibly could have happened and were greeted by the sight of a naked Frenchman bent double, whimpering in pain, and clutching his gentitalia. It turned out Melanie had been onto their game from the start and made plans of her own. She got Jean-Paul into a state of arousal, using methods I'm almost positive aren't approved of by the Catholic faith, and when he was almost in a state of bliss she bit down hard on his fundamentals, grabbed the camera and had a Kodak moment or three.

French pride was battered, and Irish eyes were definitely smiling. Meanwhile two young Antipodean lads were left wondering if this was what people when people went on about the sophistication of European culture.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Shit of a Week.

Sometimes being a journalist you have those periods when all the stories you write seem to have a common thread, or seem to be on or vaguely connected to the same topic. Well this has been one of those weeks.

It started on Tuesday when I came across against an interesting technical development created by Agresearch. The scientists there have come up with a bolus (that's a big pill to you lay people) that can cut greenhouse gas emissions and soluble nitrate problems in dairy herds by 60 percent. That was followed on Wednesday by covering the farming sustainability study published by the Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams. In a nutshell it slams the increasing use of fertilisers and the effect intensive farming practices (eg dairy) are having on our waterways. Today I get a call from a friendly enforcement officer from Environment Canterbury who tells me about a spot check they did yesterday on waterways around the Lake Ellesmere Area to see if there was any "unauthorized effluent" (ie cow shit) in them.

You'd think that would be about as many cowshit stories as one person could cover in one week but I fear it's not over yet. I confidently predict that tomorrow the Department of Conservation, Ngai Tahu, and the North Canterbury Fish and Game Council will lodge an appeal in the Environment Court. Can you guess what it's about? I won't hold you in suspense. They're challenging resource consents granted last month to Corllea Cows Limited to dispose of effluent from a 750 dairy cow herd onto land adjacent to Lake Ellesmere!

And you thought you'd had a shit of a week.

Post Script (for the media nuts):
Tomorrow is the last day at TRN for Radio Sport host Martin Devlin. He's been picked up by Radioworks for a handsome sum. Expect to see him as the breakfast host on a rebranded Radio Pacific due to launced some time in the New year

Friday, August 13, 2004

The Sounds of Silence

If there's anyone reading these ramblings that I post then they've probably noticed I've not written much of late. Part of that is technical issues with the blog. For some reason the body of the posts were getting lost in the internet aether leaving just the title for your delectation. I may be a man of few words but headlines with no explanation is just a little too much. Even for me.

All of the big news of late has all been pretty depressing in this neck of the woods. Three really depressing coroners hearings (2 infant deaths and a case of a mother and son dying in their home. He died of illness and she starved to death because she was agoraphobic and couldn't leave the house), a really gruesome murder depositions hearing, and to cap it off mid-week was that awful training accident on Banks Peninsula that killed those two soldiers.

Death, death, and more death.

Christchurch Polytechnic remains very much over its Cool IT scheme. In essence CPIT found a way to manipulate the system to score 14 million dollars in funding by signing up thousands of people to a very tenuous course which required no tuition, all they had to to was get a computer CD. Apparently by getting it they would boost their computer skills, though how this could be checked remains a mystery.

Muddying the waters is the fact former city mayor Vicki Buck is both a director in the company that provided the software (Brylton), and is contracted to CPIT as well. She says she declared her interests but no-one's been able to find any record of it. Vicki Buck claims a recently released report vindicates her (even though it never examined her actions, nor addressed the conflict of interest issue) but I think she'll be a bit nervous about what the Auditor General says when his report is finished.

Nominations for the mayoralty have to be in by the end of next week. So far there's no major competition for the incumbent Garry Moore. However last time round the cat was put among the pigeons when ex-broadcaster George Balani entered at the very last moment, so nothing's being written off just yet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

We'll Fight Them on the Beaches.

It appears I spoke too soon about things petering out between the Christchurch City Council and the Government over the Seabed and Foreshore Bill. The Council may not want to pick a fight but there's a group of Government MPs who're more than happy to oblige.

Today 6 Government MPs based in Canterbury (Ruth Dyson, Clayton Cosgrove, Lianne Dalziel, Tim Barnett, Mahara Okeroa, and Jim Anderton) put out a joint statement rubbishing the processes used by the Council in making its submission. Anderton was particularly strident saying it was a bit rich the Council was puporting to present a submission representing its ratepayers when it hadn't even gone to them to seek their opinion. Woeful seems to be the theme of this tit-for-tat dispute as that's how these MPs are describing the Council's processes. They were also very aggrieved that Councilor Dennis O'Rourke had leaked a draft of the Council's submission passing it off as policy (yes he is politicking madly!) Dalziel believed the Council had gone beyond its original intent. Okeroa reckons their focus is too narrow. Dyson says the matter should have at least gone to the full Council, and Cosgrove is venting his spleen at O'Rourke (in his words "Dennis the menace O'Rourke).

It's an unusual response as for the life of me I can't recall anything like this happening in recent history. Ruth Dyson seems to accept that as well. To an outsider it looks like an attack on the Council and it'd be fair to say the Council will be seeing it as such. I understand the Mayor Garry Moore was a little surprised when he learnt of it and is considering it an over-reaction on the part of the MPs. It's certainly playing into the hands of the National Party which is already labeling it, through local government spokesman Nick Smith, as a case of a paranoid Government using strong arm tactics to get its own way. Needless to say this is something the MPs emphatically deny. Apparently, in the words of Clayton Cosgrove, it's not an attack its a democratic process. So following that argument it's democratic for Government MP's to criticise a local Government body for observing its legal right to comment on proposed legislation that impacts on its operations.

You see this is what the Council has been doing. According to Mayor Garry Moore at least 30 council land areas would pass into the hands of the state should the Seabed and Foreshore Bill be passed. They're imagining the can of worms that could eventuate over the city's planned ocean outfall wastewater pipeline. How would that be affected if the Bill became law?

Other issues are the ones raised by the MPs about the Council not consulting with the community and allowing a sub-committee to handle the submission without allowing it to go to the full Council for approval. I'll deal with the consultation point first. The Government proposes new legislation all the time and in many cases (where it affects Council business) the City Council will make a submission. Do these MPs seriously expect the Council to consult with the entire community every time the Government proposes a new law? When would anyone find the time to do anything if we got into a perpetual merry-go-round of consultation? With regard to the submission not going to the full Council for approval, well that's a decision the Councilors made when they voted to give the sub-committee delegated authority to make the submission. Due process seems to have been obeyed ... hasn't it?

All in all it's a little bizarre to see a liberal council with strong Labour Party ties get lambasted by 5 Labour and 1 Progressive MP. You would have thought they could have sorted their differences through back channels without letting it spill over into what appears to be a very public spat. However that doesn't appear to have been an option, as Helen Clark was aware of the actions of her MPs before they made the release and didn't stop them from proceeding. National's Nick Smith reckons it's a deliberate strategy on the part of the Government to attack anyone who criticises the policy. For this to happen to a Council that's traditionally been Labour friendly doesn't contradict his theory. It certainly can't do the Government any favours in pushing the seabed and foreshore Bill.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Early Thursdays.

Before I get into the topic I'll get onto that update I promised regarding the Christchurch City Council and its opposition to the Seabed and Foreshore Bill. It all ended up a bit insipid really. The Council had its tail tucked firmly between its legs muttering that it didn't want to get into a "confrontation with Government" and what it was seeking "meaningful dialogue". Typical local government lolly-gagging really. Note to the CCC; if you don't want to get into a confrontation with the Government then perhaps you shouldn't describe its consultation as "woefully inadequate".

Now on to the fun stuff.

I heard an interesting story from a local copper the other day which just illustrates how the low income nature of Christchurch can affect the nightlife and determine what nights prove to be the busiest for the boys in blue. Yes Fridays and Saturdays are nights when they make a lot of arrests, no surprise there. But I was a little shocked to discover Wednesday night/Thursday morning is also a busy time ... especially in some of the city's more insalubrious establishments.

It works like this. Christchurch is a low income city and we have our fair share of beneficiaries. Their benefits get paid at midnight on Wednesday, but the automatic payments (eg fines etc) don't go out until 6 am Thursday morning. This means they have 6 hours to spend up large before it disappears, and apparently this is exactly what they do. The policeman told me the early hours of Thursday morning is one of the busiest times of the week for the city's prostitutes and bars (definitely not frequented by the Chardonnay set) do a roaring trade as well.

This point was rammed home in emphatic fashion when the beat section decided to do an early morning walk around on a Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago. The officers walked into an inner city bar, which my policeman friend described as one of the rougher joints in the inner city, and discovered around 300 people inside. This at 5.30 on a Thursday morning. Needless to say the officers back pedalled rapidly and made a hasty exit. "They would have been eaten alive" was the description I heard. Anyway they went back to the central police station and then (following the theory that there's safety in numbers) the entire night shift was called out to go back to the bar to make sure it, and its occupants, were on the straight and narrow.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

By-election By-Blow

As predicted it was a cakewalk for Tariana ... or as Paul Holmes describes her; "a confused tub of lard".

You can see the official result here. No-one got within cooee of her, not even the inestimable Peter Wakeman. Further reinforcement to the argument that the whole thing was a complete joke is that none of the other candidates even managed to get 200 votes.

And before I go ... a copy of the Christchurch City Council's submission on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill has been leaked. For a lefty Labour dominated authority they're pretty scathing and have effectively rubbished the Government's position. I'll post more details tomorrow once the Mayor, and other city officials, are prepared to talk. It seems they haven't seen the final draft of their own submission yet!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Who Bloody Cares?

So there's a by-election in the Maori seat of Te Tai Hauauru today. Is this a significant moment in NZ's political history? No, not really. The result's a foregone conclusion with former Labour rebel Tariana Turia assured to sweep to victory under the banner of the newly formed Maori Party. There's a bare half dozen candidates in the field and none are serious contenders as none of the major political parties are fielding a candidate.

This sorry excuse for a democratic process is part of the fall-out NZ is still suffering from the foreshore and seabed debate. I won't go into detail here as others can (and have) summed up the situation far more succinctly than I. Basically Turia had a fundamental disagreement with her Labour Party over its proposed legislation covering access and ownership of the country's seabed and foreshore. On a point of principle she walked out and forced this by-election. As she was always expected to win comfortably (her actions received rapturous support from her electorate and Tainui) the major parties didn't bother to contest the seat. Why waste the effort and money seems to have been the philosophy ... no point in battling a foregone conclusion.

The whole thing's been a damp squib with the foreshore and seabed issue barely mentioned in the weeks leading up to today's poll. Which is ironic considering it's what sparked the whole thing. The only issue that's been debated is the number of polling booths available. I guess the media felt they had to do something about the by-election, but even this has been a travesty of sorts.

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week TVNZ quoted the Maori party and its complaints about there not being enough polling booths available. Last election there were around 400, this time just 100. "Our people won't be able to get to exercise their democratic right" was the cry from Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia. The funny thing was the exact same complaint had been made two weeks previously by independent candidate Peter Wakeman but at the time (other than a brief bit on Newstalk ZB) nobody seemed to give a damn. Three days out from polling day though it was a different story. The major news rooms were falling over themselves covering the story but attributing it to a "new" concern made by the Maori Party. Newstalk ZB apparently forgot it had already run the story and did it all over again (I know radio is immediate, but I didn't know it also had short term memory impairment). One can only assume poor old Peter Wakeman must be feeling a little peeved. The one semi-decent idea he came up with ended up being hijacked and credited to someone else.

Is it just me, or do others find it a little trite that the only issue in this whole by-election has been an argument over access to polling booths?

Actually I'll add in a little more about Peter Wakeman as he's one of those eccentric types that constantly stands for election without any hope of ever being elected. His affiliations appear to be with the Labour Party but he's probably not stable enough for them. I suspect even the Greens would run a mile from him as he's probably even too off the wall for that bunch of yoghurt knitters. I guess the nastier types would call him a political loon but I think that's a little unfair. His ideas are often vague, his arguments disjointed, and policies non-existent but at least he has the conviction in his beliefs (and I haven't figured them out yet) to have a go. Peter's well known in Christchurch circles as a regular political candidate (he got 904 votes last time he ran for mayor in 1998 finishing about 36,400 behind the winner Garry Moore). He's also been a bugbear in the past to Air New Zealand accusing them of all sorts of shenanigans. This latter predilection may have something to do with his past career as an airline pilot. Peter seems to have had all sorts of fun with this by-election and much of it at the expense of TVNZ. From what I've heard he's taken several Broadcasting Standard Authority complaints against them. One involved Te Karere running the Maori Party's phone details in its items, and I think another was against One News for not giving the independent candidates the same sort of air time as what they were allowing Tariana Turia. And you know the funny thing is I think he actually may have got to them as he made it onto One News at least twice this week!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Power Plays.

Well's here's a surprise ... not! Meridian Energy is increasing the price of power. Again. Yes the lucky customers of that State Owned Enterprise (for overseas readers an SOE is Government owned but acts like a private company, confused?) will now have the privilege of paying more for their electricity. The price rise varies. Here in Canterbury it's around 10 percent, but for some North Island customers the rise could be double that.

Meridian's explanations for the increase are as follows:
1) The Maui gas field is running out so we're facing an energy shortage which mean power is going to cost more.
2) It's because of increased lines charges.

It's an interesting argument from Meridian considering it generates all its power from hydro lakes which, at last report, are full to capacity. It's puzzling to learn the gas shortage in the North Island somehow affects Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki's ability to provide power. Setting that aside there's another problem with Meridian's argument, the gas shortage isn't happening now. All the predictions are Maui will run out of gas in 2007-08 which suggests to me that they still have gas now. Why are we being billed in advance for a shortage that hasn't happened yet? Surely in a deregulated electricity market the laws of supply and demand would result in prices going up at the time when generating capacity is deficient. I'm no economist but this forward billing schtick that Meridian's pulling is more reminiscent of a planned economy, isn't it?

Lets have a look at Meridian's second argument that increased lines charges are driving the price increase. Yes it's true that in Canterbury lines company Orion did raise its lines charges by 1.1% earlier this year. However that was the first time it's been raised in five years so in real terms, over that period, lines charges have actually dropped about 3%. Coincidentally over that same five years energy generators and retailers, such as Meridian, have actually raised electricity prices by over 40%. It makes you think doesn't it?

Also let us consider a few past events that have affected the electricity industry and see how things stack up. It was over a year ago that the Maui Gas shortage was announced and that we were put on notice that the cost of power was going to increase. So what's different between the situation then, and the situation now?

1) Solid Energy has done a 10 year deal with Genesis to ensure the Huntly power plant has a regular supply of coal (good for power generation!)
2) In the past week or so a new generating station has been brought on line in Auckland (good for power generation!)
3) Investigations have revealed the Kupe gas fields are better than anticipated good for power generation!)
4) The Government's cut taxes and royalties to encourage more oil and gas exploration(good for power generation!)
5) Power generators are investing in wind technology(good for power generation!)

Looks to me if the situation now is better than what it was a year ago. Which begs the question; why raise the price? And of course we must remember Meridian took advantage of the situation last year and upped power prices by 15 percent. Could we accuse them of double dipping?

And what about all those ad's Meridian, Contact and Trustpower are running on TV at the moment. You know the ones that extol the virtues of power saving, that warn of the problems besetting the industry, and the ones that warn of price rises to come. They look pretty flash don't they? I bet they cost a buck or two and I bet that cost is being transferred straight onto our bills. Isn't it nice that we're paying more for our power and part of that price rise is probably being used to tell us the bad news in a 30 second Saatchi and Saatchi created wankfest.

Mind you you've got to appreciate the wonderful irony of the situation given the complete state of disarray our power infrastructure is apparently in. We're being billed more for a product we might not even get. Perhaps Meridian's been smarter than I thought ... they've factored in the power savings needed to maintain the integrity of our powerlines and have upped the price to maintain its profit margins. After all it'd be wrong if a State Owned Enterprise didn't return a healthy dividend to its masters in Government ... wouldn't it? (Actually does anyone remember when Meridian, or any other SOE power company, didn't make a profit)

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Pownceby: Boxer or Beat Up?

Soulan Pownceby boxes in Christchurch tonight and no doubt will be the centre of media attention. For those of you who don't know the story have a quick squizz here.

The guts of the story is Pownceby was recently selected to represent NZ at the Athens Olympics. On the day he was selected One News (that's TVNZ) led their 6pm bulletin with the fact he'd been convicted for the manslaughter of his five month year old daughter back in the mid 1990s. The angle was, given Pownceby's past should he be allowed to represent his country? On the face of it, it was a fair story.

But something the public didn't know. TVNZ had been well aware of Pownceby's past for some time (at least 4 weeks) as he'd already confessed his part in the TVNZ documentary "Road to Athens". It seems strange that One News chose to wait until Pownceby's selection was confirmed before running the story. I would have thought it would have been just as valid when he was still just a candidate for the Olympic Squad? Or was it a case of One News wanting to make as big a splash as possible?

A day or so later Pownceby appeared in an "exclusive" on Tonight on TV1. Having already done one soul baring confession on the "Road To Athens" documentary he was forced to do it again. This time after he'd been put through the mill by TV, newspaper and radio. Naturally the guy was a mess and was virtually destroyed live on air. Nice one TVNZ. You manufactured the hype and the frenzy, then took the opportunity to finish the guy off in what can only be described as a cynical and callous manner.

Now before people start labeling me as a Pownceby apologist, let me make it abundantly clear I'm not. The crime he was convicted of was absolutely terrible and he deserved to be punished for it. However the vast majority of people who've been moralising over Pownceby's past probably have little idea, or any, of the details that led to his manslaughter conviction. One thing I've learnt from sitting through Court trials is circumstances aren't always so black and white and unless you've heard both sides of the case it's better not to rush to quick judgments. I didn't sit through Pownceby's case, I haven't seen transcripts of the trial, I also don't know the full details of the assault convictions he received after he got out of jail. So I can't really tell if he's a bad person or if he's genuinely reformed.

Finally for those who are up in arms about the whole thing it might pay to remember some of our most public figures have checkered pasts. Cabinet Minister Ruth Dyson has a drink driving conviction ... she's still a Cabinet Minister. NZ First MP Ron Mark had a sexual relationship with a 15 year old girl back when he was in the Army ... he's still an MP. Paul Holmes (TVNZ and TRN) made racist comments about the secretary general of the UN ... he's still a broadcaster. The list goes on.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Just a Little More.

Two posts in one day! I know this is unusual but I thought I'd give an update on a few things I raised a few posts ago.

The PR person charged with making an obscene phone call pleaded not guilty. An interim name suppression is still in place so his/her identity can't be revealed. However a recording of the call in question is apparently raising mirth at the offices of The Press.

More drama for local body representatives! One (and again I can't say who because of a Court suppression order) has been before the Court on charges of threatening to kill. But before you get carried away this is a private prosecution, not a police one, and there's a fair chance it'll come to nothing.

And one for the sports fans. This is a really good blog if you're a Kiwi sports fan. Check it out.

The Glory of Local Government

I realise, given how most people have absolutely no interest in city council or district council business, the title of this post probably has many of you fleeing screaming but permit me this rant.

This week the Christchurch City Council set its budget for the next financial year. We're talking a sum total of several hundred million dollars worth of ratepayer money so it's fair enough to say the decisions our councilors had to make were reasonably weighty and serious.

Had you been there you might have been excused if you thought you'd somehow been whisked off into some weird parallel universe where the elected officials had somehow been magically replaced by a group of adolescent teenagers in the throes of hormonal turmoil. Their behavior was nothing short of appalling.

To be fair this is an election year so some tub thumping was to be expected. However it was the political rifts that became the focus of the 10 hour meeting (imagine having to sit through all that .... never mind home detention for criminals, send them to council meetings I say!). A bit of background is probably in order here so I'll give a brief explanation. The Christchurch City Council has been dominated in the recent past by the 2021 party which has strong affiliations with the Labour Party and other left wing parties. This year it's had a bit of a melt-down courtesy of a major downsizing of the Council by the Local Government Commission. Where there were 25 there will soon be 12 (depending on the outcome of a pending legal challenge), so things have become a bit fractious. A couple of months ago Councilors Dennis O'Rourke, Megan Evans, and Ingrid Stonhill quit 2021 and made sure they fired a few shots across the bows of the mayor, Garry Moore, as they left. The defections caused a bit of a fuss as they timed their announcement to the media for immediately after a caucus meeting (ie they somehow neglected to mention the fact they were leaving at the meeting but managed to release it to the press 20 minutes after the said meeting had finished). Since then there's been a bit of sniping but at the budget meeting on Wednesday the gloves were off.

Dennis O'Rourke made the first play by suddenly revealing at the last moment a sweeping range of economies that could save over two and a half million dollars and cut a projected rates rise from 3.59% down to 2%. He wanted to debate it there and then. The Mayor and city manager immediately got into a huddle and then said no this couldn't be done, it'd be inappropriate so O'Rourke would just have to debate his points at the right times during the meeting. O'Rourke lived up to his Irish ancestry, claimed his democratic rights were being trampled on, and threatened to take the Council to Court. At this point the media were pricking up their ears at the thought that finally there might be something vaguely interesting to report. An adjournment was called and attempts were made to soothe ruffled feathers over a cup of tea and a biscuit. With a live report of the shenanigans going out on the local radio station it very much appeared if the Council was trying to get things smoothed over before they looked like complete idiots. The Council's spin doctor Bryn Somerville was noted for his swiftness (very swift considering he's recently had both hips replaced) in approaching the press bench and "advising" what angles they should be covering. So too was the Mayor.

Anyway a compromise was reached, the legal threats were withdrawn and away they went. But it wasn't pleasant. The 2021 hierarchy, most notably Mayor Moore and Councilor Alister James, made full capital of having a go at councilor O'Rourke at every opportunity. Their line being that O'Rourke's cost saving ideas were no more than a blatant election year sham. Given some of the areas O'Rourke wanted to trim were projects he'd supported and voted in favor of when he was a 2021 member, they may just have had a point. Even more so when one recalls O'Rourke only scraped in by 100 votes at the last election! So there was a lot of screaming, shouting and gavel banging going on. The budget was really a mere sideline.

In fact things ended pretty badly as the political bunfight hit a crescendo. Part of the problem was the way the meeting had been scheduled. Normally standing orders restrict the duration of a meeting to 8 hours and it can only be extended if a majority council vote is passed. In the past this has meant the Council could adjourn and resume the meeting next day if necessary. Unfortunately some genius had scheduled the meeting for the last day of the financial year meaning it all had to wrapped up in one sitting. Well after 10 hours blood sugar levels were inversely proportional to the rising tempers. Councilor Alpers claimed the meeting was illegal (as an extension vote had been missed by a minute or so). He and others were fed up with the exchanges between Councilors James and O'Rourke. At least one was heard to describe the meeting as "crap", and another say she was leaving as she "wasn't putting up with this shit any longer".

Aren't you proud of your elected representatives Christchurch?

For the record this is what the Council achieved in its 10 hour meeting:
1) No money saved (in fact they added an extra $30,000 of costs to the budget).
2) Nude swimming areas ruled out on New Brighton Beach (heaven forfend!)
3) Resolved the Regional Council should match the 10 grand it was setting aside to deal with stray cats (this actually got a 10 minute debate)
4) Decided to spend 53 million dollars on building themselves new offices (strangely this wasn't debated at all)
5) Gave another 3 million dollars for boating facilities in a harbor it doesn't even administer (that's on top of another three million they set aside 3 years ago)
6) Set aside 11 million dollars for a rowing lake (though nobody's sure exactly where it's going to be built)
7) Managed, by the skin of their teeth, not to investigate instituting a shade policy for residents (the Council's going to save you from skin cancer!)
8) Completely reversed the way they charge rates for people living in a residential situation in rural zones (this despite only just recently voting the original method in. Some, particularly Councilor Helen Broughton had trouble recalling this)

Unanswered questions:
1) Why did Councilor Ingrid Stonhill leave so early?
2) Why was the Mayor winking at the media bench?
3) Why does Councilor Pat "I'm not racist" Harrow always raise the issue of either Maori representation, or funding for Maori issues at every annual plan meeting? (could it be he doesn't like them?)
4) Is Councilor Sally Buck mentally challenged? (I mean walking back into the chamber, after disappearing God knows where, and asking what she was voting on, and how she should vote doesn't instill a lot of confidence in her abilities)

1) The end of the bloody thing.
2) The fact that next year there'll only be 12 of the buggers left so hopefully it should only be half as long!

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Claims We Make.

Here's one in the eye for TVNZ and One News. One of its big stories of the week has been about an Iranian overstayer that the Immigration Service has been after for 18 months. The other night our state broadcaster took apparent glee in leading its news with an exclusive interview of the wanted fugitive (well just his mouth really but you get the idea). While the authorities had been seeking him for a year and a half we managed to find him in just two hours was the overweening cry made by One News. If we found him this fast does this not make immigration staff a bunch of incompetent no-hopers they trumpeted (well not in those exact words but that was their clear meaning). Initially my reaction was fair enough, a little arrogant and over the top perhaps, but you found him and the authorities didn't. Fair enough.

Today my attitude changed somewhat when I discovered the reason TVNZ found the errant Iranian so quickly was because Winston Peters told them exactly where to look. Apparently the local Inland Revenue Department Office had been doing the guy's taxes. Winston referred One News onto them who in turn provided them with the necessary details (which is a bit of a worry really ... what ever happened to our privacy laws?) Strangely enough TVNZ somehow failed to mention the NZ First connection at all.

That aside, it's a point of interest the IRD can point a politician and a news crew in the right direction but somehow fail to inform another Government Department.

Back to stuff I mentioned earlier this week regarding the Canterbury District Health Board and its communications problems. More evidence of that little issue this week as the Christchurch Star led with a full photo front page feature this week on a battle between ZB host Mike Yardley and CDHB CEO Jean O'Callaghan over the DHB banning smoking on its grounds outside Christchurch Hospital. There's nothing quite like taking the media head on is there?

Monday, June 14, 2004

STV, Apathy and Should We Really Give a Damn.

I got a few extra details today about the upcoming STV elections for District Health Boards later this year. For those of you who are wondering STV is not some sexually communicable nasty. It stands for single transferable vote and is the system that's going to elect members to district health boards (yes NZ does have a few socialist hangovers in allowing the people to hold the reins of power in our hospitals). A few concerns were raised in last week's issue of Molesworth and Featherston about what sort of complications might arise if voters had to rank, in preference, fields of candidates possibly numbering over 50. If you think that's far fetched bear in mind the Canterbury DHB had around 80 candidates at the last election. Their argument went that people would be so frustrated at the prospect of ranking 50 or more candidates they'd wash their hands of the whole thing and simply not bother.

Well the good news from the powers that be is we don't have to rank every candidate, just the ones we like. Nevertheless I anticipate, as usual, sod all people will bother voting anyway. Usual turnout for these events is around 30 to 40 percent and I see no reason why things will be any different this time round. The Government is going to do its best to persuade us of the joys of democratic participation and is spending $1.2 million dollars on an advertising and education campaign. It's due to start soon so lets hold our collective breath and see what they come up with (anyone remember the little orange man from the last general election?)

While I'm on matters health I'll have a little dig at the Canterbury District Health Board. They finally had some good news today ... they're not on an intensive monitoring regime by the Ministry of Health. 4 other DHBs are and I think there are a few people a little surprised to see that CDHB wasn't among them. I say this because the Christchurch Hospital is haemorrhaging financially and is set to stuff up the DHB's budget to the tune of around nine million dollars. Naturally management has indicated it'll have to make "adjustments" (english translation - cuts) to cope. Clinicians have looked at this sideways pointing out if you reduce services you logically risk compromising patient care. Management denies this. Hmm I wonder whose opinion I should respect on this; the doctor who provides my treatment, or some individual with a business degree?

Compounding the CDHB's problems is its woeful public relations abilities. I understand its relations with local media have been on a downward slide ever since former communications Alannah James was headhunted by Telecom about two years ago. Apparently her replacement, Vivienne Allen, has a less than stellar reputation with local journalists. In fact the word is she now outstrips the Police's communications person as the most ineffective, obstructive, and blatantly incompetent PR person in Christchurch.

Technically when the DHB holds its meetings it's obliged to make the agendas of those meetings publicly available two days before they're held. Strangely there have been two meetings when those papers haven't been available until the day they were held. Coincidentally both meetings involved financial and staffing issues that could have been construed as damaging to the DHB. Official Information Act requests are commonly lost, forgotten, or "not received". The more cynical among the local reporters reckon that just perhaps something fishy is going on. And further regarding stories written lately about the DHB's budget problems I understand Vivienne Allen's rung one organisation threatening to withdraw DHB advertising because of them. Sounds like true professionalism to me.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Rugby, and other things.

Well NZ's heaving a collective sigh of relief today after the All Blacks convincingly beat the world champion Poms 36 - 3 at the 'Brook last night. I'm not going to dwell on this too much as there are others far better qualified than me to comment on all matters rugby. The plus side to it all is that our national psyche has got a much needed balm after the devastation of last year's World Cup performance. For those of you who don't know much about NZ, rugby is to us what Islam is to certain fundamentalists who get their jollies out of flying aircraft into skyscrapers. It's taken very seriously. A loss sends the nation into despair, a win into rapture. Economic confidence can be affected by a test result and our politicians have been known to schedule elections to coincide with a hoped for All Black victory (the rationale being a test win will get them more votes). There's also a theory that domestic violence rates increase after a loss ... yes we are that fucked up!

Now permit me, if you will, to vent a little regarding all this unmitigated bullshit that's been spouted this week about the late Ronald Reagan. Great statesman of our age my arse! The guy was a half-witted geriatric who's administration was responsible for the largest amount of bungles, malpractices, and abuses of liberty seen in decades. (though the "Shrub" appears to be giving him a run for his money). Have we all forgotten about the US trained and sponsored death squads in Central America? The arms for hostages nonsense in Iran? (the Gipper literally lost the plot on that one ... remember his "I don't recall" line at the Senate enquiries?) The hasty exit from Beirut? The heroic invasion of Grenada? And all those wonderful informed comments he was so prone to making (eg "Where would this great country be without this great land of ours"). Yes Reagan was witty, yes he had a presence. But for God's sake that was more due to his abilities as an actor than to any gifts of statesmanship. I guess the chances of seeing a balanced critique of his achievements are about as likely as the Warriors winning this year's NRL.

I'll be talking about a few local happenings soon. I've been away from work from a bit so I've been out of the loop. Mind you there's a wonderful bit of gossip at the moment regarding a local PR hound, the bane of many a local journo', who's in trouble for making a obscene phone call. For legal reasons I can't name him yet, but rest assured once the name suppression is lifted all will be revealed.

I'm also waiting for the shit to hit the fan as the countdown to the local body elections continues. So far no strong candidates have come forward to challenge Christchurch's incumbent Garry Moore. There's still speculation as to whether former media personality George Balani will have another crack though I suspect he's more likely to run for Council as he'll prove more of a nuisance to Mayor Moore there. There's a huge amount of antipathy between the two which is being furhter exacerbated by ongoing legal action between them. Balani is suing Moore for $250,000 in a defamation action regarding comments the Mayor is supposed to have made about him after the last election. Mayor Moore has responded with a countersuit and after more than a year of toing and froing it's almost about to hit the Courts. It should prove entertaining.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Budget.

I don't know why I'm even bothering posting on this as Budget Day is no longer the event it once was. I'm sure the older among us can remember huddling around the TV or radio on budget night waiting for the fateful words from the Minister of Finance that would see the price of our cigarettes or booze be jacked up another notch. I recall my uncle being beet red and spluttering in an incoherent rage as the cost of his Friday night expeditions to the pub made an even bigger dent in his pay packet. I also remember my parents listening in to see what would happen to their family benefit entitlements. In a Labour Budget they were generally happy, in a National one less so. I could never figure out whether this had anything to do with the actual budget or their slightly left of centre political leanings.

However those days are now long gone with the Government dishing out its secrets and strategies well in advance. Sure there's still a lock up for the media and an embargo on the advanced copies, but there seems little point to it as the interesting stuff is already out there. The Government has taken all the fun and anticipation out of the event which is a real pity.

On the plus side it has removed the need for journalists (such as myself) to madly find reaction left right and centre to the whole shebang on Budget night. Because, and let's be honest here, who likes writing business stories anyway?

Monday, May 17, 2004

What's Happening at The Hermitage?

When one thinks of The Hermitage Hotel at Mt Cook visions of luxury and grandeur are what spring to mind. How unfortunate it is when the reality does not meet expectations. Unfortunately that was my experience on a recent overnight stay there. My partner and I had chosen to visit Mount Cook as the last stop on a 2000 kilometre trip around the South Island. Because it was our last destination before heading for home we decided to treat ourselves and shell out that little bit extra so we could stay in an establishment we’d normally avoid for reasons of cost. As it transpired it was a decision we later regretted.

Getting a room was simplicity itself as it appeared to be the low season (May) and vacant rooms were available. Even though the Hotel wasn’t jammed it seemed to be doing good business with a substantial number of Asian tourists about. The desk service was good with staff friendly and helpful but that’s where the positives end. For just a tad over $300 we got a double room with ensuite. It would have been more than what we were prepared to pay normally but with dinner and breakfast thrown in we decided to give it a try. The reputation of The Hermitage was such that we were looking forward to the cuisine with keen anticipation.

The problems began when we got to the room. The view from room 443 in the Wakefield Wing was spectacular, however the state of the room was less satisfying. The bathroom was quite frankly a complete disgrace. The bath had at some stage been cracked and subjected to what can only be described as sub-standard repairs. Traces of mould were clearly evident between the bath tiles and a crude attempt to make the bath non-stick had been made with rough strips of roughened tape laid crookedly along the bottom of the bath. It is the Kiwi nature not to complain (part of our British Heritage perhaps) but in this case I have to go against all my instincts. The night before we’d stayed at the Radford Alpine View Motel in Te Anau and for the price of $130 we’d got a double room with fully modern (and clean!) bathroom complete with spa-bath. It is a little disappointing when a motel can quite comfortably outstrip what’s regarded as a premier hotel in such a basic area. In a nutshell The Hermitage’s $300 plus room left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless my partner and I chose to shrug off our initial disappointment. Surely, we reasoned, the dinner that awaited us would make up for it. How wrong we were.

Our expectations of the dinner were partially based on my past experience at The Hermitage. Well over a decade ago, during part of my varied and diverse career path, I worked in the hotel’s kitchen for a period of a few months. While the years have possibly left a rosy haze over my recollections I do emphatically recall the extremely high standard to which the kitchen operated. Different areas of the menu had their own specialist chefs. The level of expertise was high and the attention to detail and quality was extreme. The kitchen did have a large turnover in staff (mainly kitchen-hands and the lower trained) but the chefs were exceedingly competent in their craft. So imagine our disappointment when we went into the Alpine Restaurant and were confronted with a buffet service. The quality of food on display was roughly equivalent to that one might experience at Sequoia 88 or Valentines, not what you’d expect of The Hermitage. In fact I have to apologise to the aforementioned establishments and say while I’ve only dined at them very infrequently I’ve never known their chicken to be undercooked. Not only was the chicken pink but also the lamb was tough and the King Prawns appeared very near their use by date. Most of the food was either tired, poorly presented, or just not that appetising. It was not just the mains that weren’t up to par, the dessert, normally the highlight and most looked forward to part of the meal, proved less than satisfactory. The fruit tarts were bland and the melon slices were so hard one risked bending a spoon while attempting to dismember them. I don’t know what changes, if any, have been made in the kitchens since I worked there. Nor can I speak for the quality of food is in the hotel’s Panorama Restaurant. But what I can say is this; it was a distinctly forgettable meal.

Disheartened and very disappointed, and not a little upset, my partner and I then retired to our room to soothe ourselves with a hot chocolate before turning in for the night. Even this seemingly simple pleasure was quite literally soured. Upon sipping the beverage it just tasted wrong, something my girlfriend also remarked on. It turned out the milk left in the room’s fridge was one day short of its expiry date and the fridge it was in hadn’t been turned on so it had gone off. The milk was sour and so too was our opinion of The Hermitage.

The problem is simple. For the money we paid the experience simply wasn’t good enough. Such shortcomings shouldn’t be present in any hotel let alone one that has such a prominent reputation. With thousands of overseas tourists coming through its door every year what sort of impressions are they taking away? While costs and value are a relative thing if what we saw was the norm it’d be fair to say those frequenting the Hermitage are not getting value for their money. Location alone cannot be used as an excuse for its tariffs when it falls down in so many areas. I’ll happily accept a buffet service is an appropriate option. But surely if guests are paying $300 a night it makes sense to make it an exceptional buffet, and not something any local budget restaurant can achieve. If one was to write a report card for The Hermitage the concluding comment wouldn’t be “can do better”, it’d be “should be doing better”. I hope that will be the case in the not too distant future.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Stroking, Back-patting, and Other Industry Misdemeanours.

Well the NZ Radio Awards have been and gone with the creme de la creme of our broadcasting industry congregating in Auckland over the weekend. Having taken part in this year's event here are a few of my observations.

Firstly; damn we are a scruffy bunch. The awards coincided with a NZ music month conference at the Carlton Hotel. Some guests at the 5 star establishment could have been forgiven for thinking the management was undertaking some sort of community service initiative and had invited the homeless in off the streets for the weekend. Shabby was definitely in vogue (which was fine by me as I freely admit to having no sense of style) with disreputable radio types lurking around every corner and forming a virtual barricade at the bar. Some of the Asian and American guests appeared somewhat bemused by it all. To be fair there was a remarkable transformation around 4.30 pm. Gone were the cargo pants, Indian shirts, Megadeath T-Shirts (I spotted 2!), tank-tops, and the eponymous black dresses of lengths varied. All of a sudden ball-gowns and suits literally sprung from the woodwork as the awards deadline approached. At least we can scrub up well when we so choose (though I understand opinion is evenly split on the crushed velvet as sported by Mike Hosking).

Second; I don't know who else but Jeremy Corbett and Willy De Wit could have carried off the awards ceremony in the way that they did. Congratulations to them for making what could have been a turgid evening very entertaining. Their staged one upmanship for the category they were competing against each other was spot-on. They were only acting, but it was an accurate depiction of some of the undercurrents among the staff of the competing networks in the audience. The knives were well and truly flashing and no spine was safe. One real positive from the night was the acceptance speeches. Short, to the point, humourous, and by and large done ith the right balance of pride and humility.

I'm not going to pass judgement on who won what other than to say I had no problems with the decisions and this is from a finalist that didn't win. If you want to see that little drama I suggest you go here, I'm sure it will prove entertaining. One thing I will query though is why did the Auckland Radioworks mob up and leave the moment Classic Hits won the last award of the night? Was it a case of sour grapes, or were they just in desperate need of a cigarette?

Third; and this is a note to the organisers. Access to alcohol could have been improved. Nothing gets the goat of a broadcaster more than impeded access to booze. Having waiters running around with trays was a nice idea but 1000 or so broadcasters have a mean thirst and there was no way in hell they were ever going to meet demand. Having to band in groups to hunt down waiting staff, while sort of satisfying, cut into some serious drinking time. Mind you maybe that's what Skycity had in mind. If we couldn't get plastered we couldn't do too much damage. (though I hear there was a mahogany tabletop that ended up much the worse for wear)

Fourth; NZ Broadcasting School pay attention!! I know you guys are really proud of the achievements of your graduates and it's nice that you recognise them. I just feel you went a little far with all the posters you were putting up all over the place. Tony Simons (don't deny it, I spotted you with a great sheaf of them), was it really necessary to put one up in the men's toilet?

I have to say I'm not sure if I really enjoyed the event. It was good to catch up with some people I hadn't seen in some time and have a bit of a chinwag. But once that was done it left little to do but sitback and observe the industry in action. I'll be honest and say it wasn't such a pretty sight. Shallow, vacuous, egotistical, petty, false, back-stabbing, self-righteous. These were just some of the more base characteristics that were on display. Why is it we come across so nice on air but can be complete pricks off it? Don't get me wrong there are genuinely nice people working in radio. But is it my imagination that their numbers are rapidly thinning.

I vaguely remember getting back to the hotel somewhere around 3 or 4 am after a somewhat unusual cab ride. It was only a short walk but as it was bucketing down (I understand it was the same downpour that fucked up the Westies) and I was wearing a rental suit I chose to take the lazy option. The problem was my driver couldn't locate the hotel despite it being only 2 blocks away and located right behind one of Auckland's more prominent features, the Aotea Centre. I endeavoured to give my Hindu cabbie directions but there was a communication issue. He didn't speak a lot of English and I speak even less Hindi. Matters were not helped by my state of insobriety either. Fortunately after some discussions with his despatcher, who spoke both English and Hindi (yay!), I made it to the hotel. By the sounds of things so had a few of my industry colleagues. Either that or there was a tribe of Waikato rugby supporters on the rampage somewhere in the corridors. The last sounds I heard as lapsed into a coma was the thunder of feet and that immortal Mooloo chant "Ole ole ole ole, mooloo mooloo"

Has anyone heard the damages bill for the Carlton yet??

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Project Aqua; or How to Lose $4 Million a Day.

New Zealand's hydro scheme that wasn't has been the news that's been dominating the airways for the past two days. Depending on who you listen to Meridian's decision to can the project is either; a victory for the environment and sustainability (the environmentalists), or the biggest disaster since the All Blacks got bundled out of the last Rugby World Cup. Today's been all about the chilly power-cut ridden future that is looming just around the corner. Carter Holt Harvey is making veiled mutterings about heading offshore if they can't get a regular and stable power supply and it seems they're not the only ones in the corporate world with that attitude. In fact the consensus from the so called experts is we're fucked. If we can't come up with a cheap and easy way of generating power we can confidently anticipate huddling around our woodfires in total darkness just a few winters from now (except not in Christchurch of course where for smog reasons fires are being done away with ... you poor buggers are going to freeze to death!).

So what does it all mean? Essentially we seem to be paying the price for two decades of sitting on our collective chuffs and figuring that because the light came on when we flicked the switch it'd always continue to do so. Well maybe it might have had we actually planned for a growing energy demand. Unfortunately a gentleman by the name of Max Bradford decreed that when it came to electricity the free market reigned supreme and if more generation was needed then the market would see it done. The market had different ideas to Max and was adamant it wasn't going to spend billions on building dams, windfarms or whatever. Especially not when for the previous 100 years or so that had been the job of the Government.

Then we had a government change and to further add confusion to the mix an interesting little piece of legislation known as the Resource Management Act began to make its presence felt. There're a couple ways to view the RMA. In one universe (Marion Hobbs) it's a finely balanced and wonderful mechanism that allows everyone to have their say on issues/projects/proposals that affect them. In the real world it's a right royal pain in the arse if you want to get something done quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. While I believe the RMA was never meant to do this it has in fact (and I'm sure Meridian won't argue) is make it extremely difficult to get developments up and running. If everyone has a say (and they invariably do) any planning process becomes a long drawn out ordeal as anyone and everyone puts their two cents in. And it doesn't just apply to hydro schemes either ... if you don't believe me just have a chat to some Canterbury farmers who're trying to renew water consents at a time when the regional council has flagged their area a "red zone" as far as water allocation is concerned.

Meridian's put a fair amount of the blame on the RMA and given the costs of planning the project was costing it 4 million dollars a month one can possibly understand the sentiment. However what did they expect? I mean seriously, they were looking to take 60% of the water out of the Wataki River and they claimed environmental values wouldn't be affected. I'll tell you this, if I took 60 percent of your bathwater out of your bathtub your environment would be most definitely affected. Furthermore the Project Aqua premise is not exactly new if the Forest and Bird Protection Society is to be believed. Apparently it's been tried and failed in one guise after another since the early 1980's. What's Meridian thinking? If at first you don't succeed feel free to fail again!

In a way the crisis we're in (if we are in one, it depends who you listen to) may not be a bad thing. Who knows maybe it'll encourage us to use more solar power, insulate more efficiently, and generally use energy resources better. Hell maybe our parents had the right idea in the 70's with their hippy philosophies.

Or just maybe we'll go back even further. Anyone want to place any bets on coal's future role in keeping NZ's lights on?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Dealing With/To the Elderly.

I know election time is still a way off but I can’t resist this one as I know there’s probably a political party or two that would love to do this if they thought they could get away with it. I refer to that eternal election topic; healthcare.

NZ, as like many western nations, is burdened with an aging population that is placing increasing pressure on health services and superannuation. Around 30 years ago there were 25 taxpayers for every beneficiary. Latest figures put that ratio at around four to one. Scary stuff if you happen to be one of those four taxpayers, and even scarier if you’re the beneficiary as your money tree is beginning to look a little wilted. The scenario is pretty simple as the population gets older it needs more care. The larger this population is the more expensive it becomes. For decades politicians have known about the problem, now it’s on us and they are struggling to come up with a solution.

Well I have one. And what’s more it’ll resolve both health costs and superannuation at the same time … neat eh! I’ll confess the idea isn’t entirely mine. A former US State Governor who delivered a lecture at Canterbury University last year inspires it, to a certain degree. This gentleman (who actually came across as quite a placid and pleasant individual which was bit of a surprise given the concept he was promoting) espoused targeted healthcare as a way of saving money. His philosophy was both simple and stark. Spend your health dollars on the people that will benefit the most. In effect this means no more heart transplants for the over 70s, I mean what’s the point? They’re only going to die soon anyway. Instead spend that money on a hip replacement for a 30 year old. At least he’s got more chance of having a job and contributing back to society if he or she is fully able. Ruthless stuff, in fact I believe it was trialled in a certain central European country during the 1930s and 1940s.

My concept goes a step further. Instead of practicing targeted health care on the over 65s let’s cut it off entirely. In fact why not institute mandatory euthanasia at the age of 65. Pretty soon (in fact immediately!) you’d have hugely reduced health budgets and no money to pay in superannuation meaning there’d be tax cuts and more cash left for the rest of us.

Admittedly it does have a few drawbacks. Christmas would be pretty bad for the grandkids with no Granddad or Grandma to spoil them with lavish gifts. It’d also destroy a potential supply of babysitters meaning parents would be stuck with their offspring for at least 16 years (I maintain you can kick them out at 13 but my significant other disagrees). Mind you the days of adult diapers and the faint odour of urine that’s common to rest homes would also be over too so maybe it balances out.

Now I’ve floated this theory and it’s garnered its fair share of gasps, concerned stares, and the occasional slap. But it’s also got a few knowing nods which I freely admit is a little worrying. I even got a call from someone in political circles who demanded to know how I’d obtained ACT’s health and super policies. That same person also indicated the National Party has policies which follow a similar philosophy only they’re directed at Maori and the unemployed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Judge of Character

Part of what I do involves covering Court. By this I mean Court proceedings. Here I get to see the detritus, the lowest members of my community, in all their dismal glory. Obviously there are times when you come across good people who have done bad things that are out of character but predominantly it's a continual procession of the same sort of offenders. Drugs, drunks, thugs, and thieves sort of sums it up. Every day the District Court is submerged in a tidal wave of shoplifters, drunk drivers, drug possessors, wife beaters etc etc. Most of them have offended before and most will offend again regardless of what penalty the Judge hands down.

As an example there was a young man the other day that admitted stealing three jackets from a local store. The value was about $150. He was 18 years old (looked about 14) and had only just got out after serving a six-month prison sentence. His lawyer made the usual request for the matter to be dealt with by way of a fine. That's what he got but only after the Judge questioned the value of imposing a fine on someone who already owed $5000 in fines. She also pointed out he had an unenviable record having regularly appeared before the Youth Court and was now ending up in adult jurisdiction on a regular basis. The only thing that saved him was a favorable report from his probation officer. That's what life is like everyday in District Court One. That story could be applied to many of those that appear; lots of priors, outstanding fines, and promises that they're committed to changing their ways. Odds are that young man hasn't had his last Court appearance.

It's a bleak and depressing environment and one can only wonder at the resilience of the duty solicitors that have to deal with this endless depressing parade every working day. I'm lucky, I just report on it and can escape easily. They don't have that luxury.

Now let's deal with the so-called "popular opinion" on what to do with these offenders. It’s no secret that there’s a large body of the public that are of the attitude “lock ‘em up and throw away the key”. An understandable sentiment but is it one that would return a net benefit to the community? I think not. From what I’ve observed (and a lot of lawyers will probably back me on this) what our prisons are best at doing is breeding worse criminals. Offenders come out much nastier than they were than when they went in. Spend enough time observing the goings on in a District Court and you’ll see what I mean. Put a person in a cage and he’ll behave like an animal. Studies have been done that prove it’s actually cheaper to rehabilitate an offender than just let him rot in a cell. A prison stay is quite costly to the taxpayer so if you can stop the buggers from offending you actually end up saving money in the long run. Don’t get me wrong I’m not preaching a liberal attitude towards all offenders, as there are some genuinely evil people who do need to be locked up. What I’m saying is let’s just dial back a little on the knee-jerk reactions.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

State of the Nation

If you'd asked me a year ago what I level of maturity my nation had achieved I problem would have given you a pretty positive response. This time last year NZ was like a teenager in late adolescence. Sure it was a bit splotchy, over-eager, brash, and prone to the occasional outbursts. But it had gone beyond the stages of squalling and drumming its heels fitfully upon the bedroom floor every time the ethnic neighbour next door was mentioned.

My, what a difference a few weeks makes. Thanks to the sterling efforts of the National Party we have managed, as a nation, to regress to about the stage of a two year old. Right now we're sitting in the corner, sulking, with a earthy aroma of discontent wafting invidiously from our collective nappy. Basically we're in the shit and if the opinion polls are right the vast majority of us actually enjoy that smelly squishy sensation that is the racist poo we are sitting in.

I refer of course to "that" speech made by National leader Don Brash in Orewa. On first examination his platitudes about "one standard for all NZers" comes across as trite and shallow electioneering. It's been done before and I can handle it. Then the references to the Treaty and special treatment for Maori started appearing ... you know the usual redneck bullshit you'd expect to hear from the likes of ACT. I assumed that most people would see it for the shallow vote-grabbing shite it was and dismiss it accordingly. Boy was I wrong! All of a sudden a party that was dead and buried in the polls has risen Lazarus like from the grave. The fact that this Lazarus happened to be jumpstarted back to life on a unhealthy jolt of bias, racial hatred, twisted information, and out and out lies (I refer here to the infamous "tangi leave" remark) doesn't seem to bother all that many people. It doesn't say a lot for us as a nation that an appeal to our baser side has evoked such a response.

I won't debate the whole Maori rights issue here. Those who know what I'm talking about will have heard all the arguments ad infinitum ad nauseam so I won't bore you with a repeat. I will say this though; next time Doctor Brash opens his mouth to talk about race issues consider these few points:
1) He's the guy who made a former woodwork teacher from St Bedes the Minister of Maori Affairs. (a white middle class Catholic no less)
2) Where's Brash's previous connection with Maori and Maori issues. (Maybe his role as Reserve Bank Governor was more diverse than I thought).
3) When dealing with issues of race always consult a financial expert (and next time you're arrested by police may sure you get a plumber to represent you in Court!)

Finally for the Brash supporters who're probably dismissing me as one of the loony left right now. In his defence, at least we know where we stand with him. I'll give him that. Unlike Bill English (who was all over the goddamn place) we know where Doctor Brash's position is. I'll respect him for that but not for the message he's pushing. A message based on fear and jealousy can only breed festering hatred.