Hard News by Russell Brown

A Summer Without Butterflies

The planes came over again last Friday. Low and repeated passes, starting from 5.45am. Outside, the cars and the clothes we left on the line were coated with a sticky soup of soy and bacteria. It's pretty gross.

I cleaned one car on Sunday, and confirmed my mild allergy to Foray 48B - a little sting in the back of the throat. But I don't doubt the need to eradicate the painted apple moth with aerial spraying. It is simply too dangerous a pest, our biosecurity too precious. I have read the research and I am extremely confident that MAF is not giving my family cancer.

But if it works - and even if it doesn't - this will be a summer without butterflies. The Monarch caterpillars clinging to out overstressed swan plant have done, because the BT bacterium does not discriminate between lepidoptera. The Monarchs will come back in time, from outside the spray area, but it's a little sad to think we won't be seeing any this summer.

So it looks like I'll be up against the wall after the revolution, when the Water Pressure Group is running things, on account of my posting from last week, about the council's plans to enforce a longstanding bylaw that is infringed by the forest of signs in Ike Finau's front yard in Warnock Street, Grey Lynn.

I don't really relish the thought of anyone losing a means of political expression. But the WPG is like a dog that specialises in chasing parked cars, then complains about constantly having a sore head. It's not any council putsch against freedom of speech that threatens the signs in Ike Finau's front yard, but an environmental bylaw.

Campaign to change the bylaw by all means, but please stop insisting that it ought not apply to one person. Alas, even in the event of a law change, to allow anyone to stick political billboards in their front yard - and I grant that that would have to wait for a different council to the current one - there would be some standards as to what could go on. And some of Finau's signs would not meet any standard likely to be in a new bylaw.

Penny Bright from the Water Pressure Group has posted a vigorous rebuttal of last week's Hard News posting. She accuses me, among other things, of failing to consult the Water Pressure Group before writing. True. I gave up trying to engage the WPG more than two years ago, when it became clear that any attempt to differ with them on the issues would simply result in yet more email abuse from Jim Gladwin.

Ironically, Bright didn't bother emailing me with her angry response. She sent it to two closed mailing lists, whose moderators declined my reply. That seems a little unfair, but, then, no one gets a right of reply in Ike's front yard either.

So anyway, I was wrong in saying that the police investigated a claim of assault against the terminally ill Phil Raffills after the WPG harassed him at his family home. It would have been intentional damage had he been charged, which he quite rightly wasn't.

I wish the WPG would just apologise for that sorry episode, but Bright insisted that "we did not know he was seriously ill." Presumably they don't read the front pages of newspapers. Anyway, I thought this bit was a bit rich.

"Brown is thus far, the only media person to write a view so
obviously attacking Ike's stance. One would expect a member of the Fourth Estate to be at the forefront of defending freedom of expression, 'of any kind, in any form' (Bill of Rights)."

Actually the Herald's Brian Rudman has several times criticised the signs, describing their attacks on Hucker and Sefuiva as "liars" as "wrong" and "defamatory". (In a nutshell, the WPG believes the two councillors should have persisted with a vote on Metrowater that they couldn't win - ie, run into a parked car - rather than seek the best outcome by voting strategically.)

For daring to express such an opinion, Rudman was taken to the Press Council by Bright, the great defender of freedom of expression.

It was, of course, yet another running-into-a-parked-car episode. To quote from the Press Council decision:

"It does not matter that some of that opinion was firm and disapproving of the water group’s stance. The group clearly disagrees with what Mr Rudman says. But that is not a ground for stopping him – or the Herald – from publishing the opinion. The complaint is not upheld."

I should note that Nandor Tanczos, who copped a bit of stick in last week's posting, did contact me, with an email headed 'A Gentle Criticism':

"The issue is not about how many signs he had, or whether you like the WPG. Clearly limitations on the number of signs, and to ensure that contents are not offensive, are acceptable. But I fail to see how you, as a media spokesperson with the ability to make critical comments about politicians, or express your personal viewpoint on any issue you choose, on a regular basis, can support a by-law which denies ordinary residents the same right, although in a less effective way. The by-law is not about the number of signs, or offensiveness. It is about the purpose of the sign. It would be like saying a radio station can play music and ads, but not have political comment."

I got back to him, explaining my point of view, which was along the lines I've written above. He replied - with a promptness I have never witnessed from an MP on a Parliamentary email address - to thank me for my reply and agree that "Ike's signs were unnecessarily aggressive. I also think it is strategically counterproductive to spend more energy vilifying the people closest to you, while leaving your real enemies alone."

Quite. Anyway, this is not the season for vilification. I'm more into celebration. So I do genuinely hope that Bright, Gladwin, Finau and their families have a happy Christmas and catch a little sun wherever they happen to be. I wish the same, of course, to the readers of Hard News.

This has been a momentous year for the bulletin. After 11 years of Friday morning rants, I changed the format to something more sustainable. The response from readers and listeners was unexpected and moving.

I am delighted with the way Public Address has gone, and I'm grateful to the other bloggers - Chad, Debra, Damian and Jolisa - and particularly to Matt Buchanan and Karl von Randow of CactusLab, who have created such a wonderful environment. Next year looks promising for all of us.

I can't vouch for the others, but I'll be blogging from the road - Wellington, Masterton, Nelson - this summer, so keep checking in. In the meantime, be sure to show some love.