Hard News by Russell Brown


Metiria's Problem

We don't really want our politicans to be honest. Not really honest, omitting nothing, because we all omit things about ourselves, especially about our deep histories. We simply don't want to know everything about the past when we vote in the present.

This is, of course, something that may be shifted along with the technologies that don't forget. It may well be that right now on Snapchat some future Prime Minister is doing or saying something that would be disqualifying for a political career in 2017. Perhaps we'll all become more forgiving in the future.

Sometimes, of course, we appreciate disclosures in a context where we might not have demanded them up front. When every MP on a recent Back Benches panel acknowledged having smoked pot at some point, in response to a direct question from the host, only a weasel would have lied. Even the tried-it-once-but-it-wasn't-my-thing response sounds a bit ropey these days. The strangest thing about John Key's insistence that he had never at any time dabbled in anything was that it was probably true.

There are also situations where a politician is found to have done something so odious in the deep past that it is untenable that they remain. Stealing a dead baby's identity to falsely obtain a passport did that for Act's David Garrett.

The revelation was, of course, compounded by Garrett's self-branding as a champion of the most unforgiving approach to law and order. And also by the fact that Garrett lied even as he admitted to the passport fraud, declaring his recent record clear when – as it transpired only a day after the first story broke – he actually had a 2002 assault conviction. Act's leader Rodney Hide stopped defending Garrett after that, even though the party actually knew about the assault conviction. Garrett resigned first from Act and soon from Parliament.

It's that last one the Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei might contemplate as her initial, bold admission to not being entirely honest about her accommodation circumstances has turned out to be less clear-cut than it appeared. It has transpired that for some time, her own mother was one of her flatmates as she raised her baby on the benefit. And that she was registered as living at the same address as the father of her child – but only because she'd falsely registered that address as hers so she could vote for her friend in an election.

Our lives aren't always lived within the clean lines of the rules, and the vote  she cast for a McGillicuddy Serious Party candidate was hardly about to change the balance of power. None of this is truly odious. But this was a topic Turei opened as a political act and it's on her that there is more to it than she told us at first. If you're going to confess, even for the purpose of opening an important debate, you'd best not be selective about the messy bits.

My friends on Twitter demanding that the Labour leadership rides in on a horse to defend its coalition partner are dreaming. This wasn't Labour's political gamble to take and two thirds of its own voters told a Newshub poll they didn't approve of her deceit (not to mention an even greater proportion of the parties it wants to take votes from and fully half of Green voters).

Of course, the poll question begged a certain response. Was it wrong of Metiria Turei to lie to get a bigger benefit? plays differently to Was it wrong of Metiria Turei to misstate her living arrangements so she could feed her baby? And no one – no one – is actually a stickler for the idea that past criminal offences should end present political careers. Were that so, we'd be howling for the heads of every member who has confessed to committing crimes under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

As I've been writing this post, the news has come through that Turei now says she will not take a ministerial role should Labour and the Greens be in a position to form the next goverment. That's a crying shame, because she has so much to offer politically and personally. But she and her party lost control of the narrative they launched themselves. If you're going to take a political gamble, you'd best best sure exactly what the odds are.


Friday Music: A beat is more likely to get things done than a ballad

During my mercifully brief period in music PR – and I emphasise that brevity was a mercy to all concerned – there was an NME writer who wanted everything on cassette.

It was a practical matter: he lived a fair way from the magazine's home in a South Bank tower and preferred to use his driving time to audition new releases. The great John Peel regularly did the same, once even quipping that "I've always imagined I'd die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette."

I raise these examples because it intrigues me that most of us, even the deepest fans, don't give music 100% of our attention when we enjoy it. This makes it different to other art forms. You can't do much else (except maybe  listen to some music) while you read a book. There's nothing else to do when you're in a cinema but watch that movie.

I love music: it's been a key part of my life since I was a kid. But I'm almost always doing something else when I consume it, and for years that's often meant something in the kitchen. Many a meal has been cooked, dish has been done and surface has been wiped while the music plays.

That in turn influences the music I listen to. A beat is more likely to get things done than a ballad, and I sometimes dance like the neighbours can't see me. Sometimes I find Nadia Reid or Lucinda Williams lend strength to my arm.

But subtle, detailed listening music? Not so much. Until such time as I win the lottery and get my dream kitchen with integrated speakers (also lights and a mirror ball behind a ceiling panel), I'm facing away from the music. Although I do have a comfortable chair that faces the stereo in my home office, it's a small and cluttered office which doesn't offer much of a sound stage.

Moreover, I'm the sort of mildly-ADD person who relaxes by doing something. I genuinely find it quite hard to sit still and face the music. The office is also where my vinyl lives, so that has a bearing on how, and how often, I listen to that. (Sometimes I'll DJ for myself on the turntables, but that's a squeeze too.) By contrast, I can send lossless digital music to both the kitchen and the deck, where I haul out the subwoofer on summer days and nights.

But it was different a couple of a weeks ago, after I'd had a few friends over to mark my birthday, for which I moved some furniture and put in the full DJ setup –  including the big old Wharfedale speakers for which there isn't room in the office –  in the nicest part of the house, the second living area we built five years ago, which adjoins the kitchen.

I left things in place for a couple of days afterwards – and, lo, I listened to the spacious, nuanced techno of my birthday Micronism LP and it was glorious. Chris Chetland's mastering of that album for vinyl really is magnificent. But it's something I might not have appreciated had I auditioned it in my usual setting.

The mode of listening matches environmental necessity. A month ago, I was on my own in a hotel room in Christchurch and it seemed like the Bluetooth speaker was the greatest human achievment of the 21st century. The music of William Onyeabor sounded objectively better on the big DJ rig at home, but also perfect in that room. I pulled down the hotel blinds and had a little dance.

Because I don't commute and I think wearing earbuds while cycling is extremely foolish, I don't do a lot of listening on headphones. But I did get some better headphones recently and I've enjoyed a couple of times sitting with the cans on by the open fire in the lounge while my darling gets through her TV watching .

There's also dinner music, which is about warmth and tonal quality. Sometimes it's the Phoenix Foundation, more often it's rocksteady reggae.

And, of course, to take us back to the top, there's the car. It's a modest motor with a cheap stereo, but the stereo does have a USB port, so if I don't fancy the radio, the phone gets plugged in. It's not so bad, but it's almost never where I have a revelatory moment about a piece of music.

So my music consumption is overwhelmingly the playing of digital files and primarily in the kitchen. It works for me – but I'm interested in what works you. How do you consume your music?

Edit: Duh, I left one thing out one important thing – my computer speakers. I bought the basic Bose Companion 2 multimedia speakers several years ago and it was $200 very well spent. I’d recommend them to anyone. They're what I hear most music first on.


Couple of new videos on the wires. First up, Nadia Reid's 'Preservation'. Port Chalmers is looking good ...

And Lorde's 'Perfect Places', a party-for-one in tropical climes ...


Variety has the story of the music in Kathryn Bigelow's new film Detroit.

Rippon Festival has a new name, Tuki, and a new location on the shore of Lake Wanaka. Next February's lineup includes UMO, the Phoenx Foundation and Marlon Williams.

Bill Direen and The Builders play Golden Dawn tonight – and you can catch Simon Ogston's lovely film about Bill in Auckland today at 1.45pm and tomorrow at 1.30pm. Also, there's a vinyl release party for the Chrysanthemum Storm album at UFO tomorrow night.



Just the one, but it's a goodie. A gqom-inflected remix of Ladi6's 'Royal Blue' brings a little Durban vibe to Auckland ...


Friday Music is looking for a new sponsor. It's very affordable and it doesn't have to last forever. It could be you! Get in touch ...


Orcon IRL at Golden Dawn: The Election One (Updated with runsheet)

Kia ora! We're staging one of our Orcon IRL talk events at Golden Dawn from 4pm to 7pm on Sunday, August 13 – and, as it says in the title above, it's about New Zealand's impending general election.

I'll be hosting as ever, along with 95bFM talents Ximena Smith and Jogai Bhatt. Here's the stream:

And here's the runsheet:

3.30: Doors.

4.00: Stream starts. Go to this page on 95bFM for the streaming links.

4.15: How we used to campaign: a video reel of election advertising and coverage from the 1960s to 2014. This will be on the stream and at the venue.

 4.30: RUSSELL, XIMENA and JOGAI say hi.

4.35: First-time candidates. Chloe Swarbrick, Kiri Allan, Stephen Berry – with JOGAI.

4.55: BREAK

5.05: Tracey Martin, Geoff Simmons, Louisa Wall - with XIMENA

5.25: BREAK

5.35: The Journalists. Matt Nippert, Susan Strongman and Keith Ng - with RUSSELL.

5.55: BREAK

6.00: James Shaw 1 + 1 with RUSSELL

6.20: Straight into the final panel. RUSSELL, XIMENA AND JOGAI on stage with all MPs and candidates, answering audience questions and more. Stream-watchers can submit questions using the #OrconIRL hashtag (include the word "QUESTION" in your tweet.)

7pm: ENDS


Much has happened since I started lining up our guests, but I can tell you today that we will be welcoming Green party co-leader James Shaw, New Zealand First's Tracey Martin, Manurewa MP Louisa Wall, and three first-time aspirants to office –  Labour's East Coast candidate Kiri Allan, the Green Party's Chloe Swarbrick, and The Opportunities Party deputy leader and Wellington Central candidate Geoff Simmons. There will also be a panel of journalists: Susan StrongmanKeith Ng and Matt Nippert punditing on political punditry.

We were originally also to be welcoming Jacinda Ardern, but her diary was wiped last week when she became Labour leader. And I'm still chasing a particular National Party candidate, who I think will be joining us. It's been a little difficult wrangling Nats, tbh.

So keep an ear to 95bFM and an eye on this page over the next few days. Of course, the venue isn't a big one and you might just want to trust us and get  in on your RSVP now.

If you do miss out, or you're not in Auckland, be assured that you'll be able to catch it all live on 95bFM's HD stream. On the internet.


That escalated quickly ...

A friend of mine who works as a broadcast soundie has always hated doing Andrew Little. Not because he dislikes the man personally, my friend explained, but because his voice is so hard to get right in the mix. No matter what you do, it just never cuts through.

It's a technical matter, but also a reasonable metaphor for Little's freshly-foreclosed term as leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.

In truth, Little could have faced down the filthy polls had he not blinked so hard on Sunday and then again yesterday. In declaring that he'd considered standing aside as leader, Little made made that departure all but inevitable. The conspiracy theory is that a machiavellian Grant Robertson advised Little to make his confession knowing it would do him in, but even if that were true, Little's decisions are his to own.

The irony is that one of the achievements of Little's tenure is that he seemed to have put paid to – or at least firmly curbed –  the factionalism that lay behind its last three leadership changes. I've heard more than once that his union background makes him a good internal manager. But to the world outside his caucus he struggled to project anything more than an excess of caution.

They tried to make him more marketable. Colleagues (and Robertson was involved there) steered him towards a better dress sense and persuaded him to surrender his spectacles in favour of contact lenses. These things are not immaterial: for all Helen Clark's formidable intellectual prowess, part of her turnaround was the grudging acceptance that she'd have to wear makeup and get a better haircut.

The curious thing is that Labour has actually done a lot right in the past year. Its party list was hardly a mass changing of the guard, but does include the promotion of Kiri Allan and Willow Jean Prime, two strong young Māori women, to winnable list places. Winnable, that is, if Labour could only claw its way to 30% of the vote.

The beginnings of Labour's disintegration on Sunday overshadowed the announcement of what looks to be an important policy announcement on Māori housing.

The party also presented a shadow budget that included an additional $2 billion in social spending that even the Taxpayers' Union had to admit added up. Many people, I know, believe that winning over self-styled fiscal hawks should never have been Labour's goal, but it is important for a centre-left party to be able to show its numbers work.

The Green Party's bold move to light a fire under welfare issues by having its co-leader confess to historic benefit fraud started an important conversation. At the very least, it hasn't hurt them. But even the Greens were worried last week that they'd lost control of the narrative. And it was a game that Labour just couldn't play – not only out of caution but because a non-trivial part of its membership, including the likes of Kiri Allen, wasn't comfortable with it. The worst-case scenario was that the Greens' tack would peel off some more liberal Labour voters at the same time as it deterred wavering voters on the centre. Which is exactly how that Colmar Brunton poll on Sunday looked.

So I'm not sure that a Corbynesque move to the left would have suddenly changed Labour's fortunes. It's an easy supposition, but Little took the leadership, remember, as the union man who defeated the urban technocrats. And it's not as if an education policy promising much more funding for schools (and teachers!) and a path to free tertiary study hadn't already signalled a commitment. Or the promise to introduce a living wage for public servants and raise the minimum wage to $16.50. Or the plan to embark on the biggest programme of public home-building since the 1940s. Etc.

Labour is already markedly left of where it was at the last election. Yet there's still a sense that it was consciously limiting its ambitions. Out went the capital gains tax. The scene was surely safe for a bolder (or at least more coherent) stance on drug law reform, but no, that wasn't a "priority". Labour has shied off the exciting policies and struggled to foster any excitement around some of the perfectly good policies it does have.

There are all kinds of ways in which politics aren't fair. The governing party is prospering even as it carries a fleet of no-name placeholders who barely had to campaign last time and will be thinking they're equally in this time. Labour, by contrast, has some very good electorate MPs – and seemed to have found the trick to getting them elected by tapping into the ground game of Auckland's newly purposeful and confident centre-left.

Further, the government's integrity was laid waste only weeks ago by the Todd Barclay affair. And last night's Newshub poll, which found Bill English on only 25% as preferred Prime Minister – that is, well less than either Key or Clark enjoyed going into the 2008 election – suggested the electorate wasn't that enthused about anyone. Support for the top four in the preferred PM poll – English, Peters, Ardern and Little – barely added up to 50%.

So Jacinda Ardern will lead Labour into September's election. She is charismatic, skilled – and underdone. It seems like only yesterday I was writing here that she'd only just secured herself an electorate and didn't need the additional burden of the deputy leadership. And now here she is. She may have had other plans, but this is what she's doing now.

The best case is that this becomes a turn to Labour's strongest suit – its women. That would be a compelling route to the kind of modernity Labour couldn't project under Little. But no electorate is going to find a change of leader eight weeks out from an election reassuring. Sure, anything could happen, but logic dictates that the hope of forming a government is a very faint one. But having a charismatic leader – and, ironically, being in the news even for the wrong reasons – might generate enough excitement to bring in some of the new talent the party really needs. That, presumably, is what they'll be telling themselves today.

Update: Jacinda Ardern just gave her first media conference as Labour leader and absolutely smashed it. Composed, authoritative and witty. Labour activists on Twitter say they're already getting calls. What an extraordinary day in politics.


With regard to place

When we use the word "infrastructure", we often do so with some idea of magnitude unspoken in our heads. Infrastructure is big, not human-sized, utilitarian rather than merely handy. It is about things, not people; serious rather than delightful.

And yet, last Friday, something different raised its head. Two bridges were opened: one high over Oakley Creek, connecting Great North Road and the Unitec campus (officially, it's an extension of Alford Street in Waterview).

And the other, Whitinga, tracing a great swoop over State Highway 20 in Mount Roskill. They are infrastructure for people.

The irony, of course, is that they exist because of the Waterview Connection and its vehicle tunnels, the biggest and most expensive work of civil engineering in Auckland's history. They could not have existed had Steven Joyce's ghastly plan to cut a surface route through Mt Albert carried the day, and might not have existed had Joyce's Board of Inquiry not told a reluctant NZTA that it jolly well was building a people-path over its tunnels.

The Southern Shared Path is the more developed of the two. It runs from New North Road to Maioro Street, through Alan Wood Reserve, which for decades was a rough, boggy stretch of green waiting for a purpose – and is now host to the southern portal of the Waterview tunnels. What has happened there is a little miracle.

This isn't a cycleway grudgingly squeezed in alongside a motorway, it's a designed public precinct which connects to its surrounding neighbourhoods with style and even whimsy.  The big flourish is the Warren and Mahoney-designed Whitinga, but its real joy is in the overall design directed by Boffa Miskell: the paths that loop playfully along the creekline, the brightly-coloured bridges, the skate park sitting up the hill on Valonia Reserve. It all feels designed with regard to place.

At the north end is the beginning of the Waterview Shared Path, which will eventually trace a line that – as anyone who battled along there in the old days would know – always wanted to be drawn. All the way to the western rail corridor by the Pak 'n' Save. By Spring, the final bridge will be built – the one over the rail line – and there will be a safe path for riding and walking from the Waitemata to the Manukau, all the way across New Zealand.

There will be some squeezes and compromises. The steep northbound climb on the exsting SH20 cycleway to Hillsborough Road is still a serious impediment for casual users – and  I'm not sure how this nasty little bit of footpath can be improved at Waterview ...

But I rode the new paths on Friday and yesterday and I got a strong sense that we're past the era of people-sized infrastructure as a mere afterthought. Moreover, the playfulness introduced to walking and cycling by the "pink path" may start to become a keynote of Auckland's ground-level design. Meet you by the purple bridge, people will start saying.

While I was paused on the Alford Street bridge yesterday, I got talking to one of the people using it – a woman who had lived in Waterview for 15 years and felt sad because she was having to move just as this was happening. But you're moving to Te Atatu Peninsula, I said: you'll be able to ride straight here, safe as you like.

"Oh," she said. "I've thought about getting a bike. Where would I get a bike?"

She didn't have much of a budget, so I suggested she look in on Adventure Cycles for some second-hand wheels. But the main thing is, she could see riding as a safe, appealing thing to do. I think she won't be alone.