Hard News by Russell Brown

As desperate as ever

It's not so much that ratepayers' money will be spent on the launch of Auckland's new Britomart transport terminal. Or even that the original launch budget has blown out five-fold to $100,000 - although half that would surely do. It's our mayor's plan to be the star of proceedings that makes me spew.

As the Herald reported yesterday, John Banks is planning to lead a procession down Queen Street, sitting, along with his wife, in a horse-drawn carriage.

We ought to celebrate the opening of a major new public space. The Australians - who do public space so well - certainly would. If Britomart was in Sydney it would doubtless be just about sent into orbit by the fireworks display. But the lavish festival here isn't really about that. It is about two things: John Banks' desperate need for attention. And John Banks' amazing ability to claim credit for things he tried, and failed, to stop happening in the first place. Remember the Parnell Baths restoration?

Banks has been railing against Britomart since 1999, when he made racist comments about the original developer, Jihong Lu. Back then, of course, he was actually right about the project.

The original Britomart scheme - as devised, in a secretive and seriously flawed process, by Banks' current buddies in Citizens and Ratepayers - was an absolute nightmare. It anointed a developer who later appeared not to have the money he claimed to have, and it exposed ratepayers to what ought to have been Lu's risk in a manner that can only be described as reckless.

The old CitRat plan failed an independent review, which described it as "sparse in technical detail" and "confusing, uncertain and in some cases contradictory". But the real cracker was Peter Cross, who created the project as the council's property development manager, evangelised it as a council consultant - and then, when he'd secured council approval, went and worked for the developers. This 1997 Hard News captures the flavour of the times quite nicely. Jeez, I was salty back then wasn't I?

It was Christine Fletcher and the City Vision councillors who got Britomart back on track, with a less grandiose scheme that cost ratepayers more up front, but didn't threaten to send the city finances down a black hole if the developer got it wrong - which, it appears, he already had.

Banks opposed that scheme, the one that will open in a month, all the way along. He repeatedly shunned it as a "temple" and he campaigned to divert resources into roads rather than public transport. In the week after his election he described the previous council's approval of the first construction contract as " a constitutional outrage and the epitome of arrogance that this lame-duck outfit signed that huge burden on to the backs of the ratepayers and future generations."

And now, of course, he will be at the front of the parade, smiling and waving. Along with him, smiling and waving, will be his deputy mayor, David Hay, who voted against the construction contract under Fletcher.


Anyway, one thing that gives cause for optimism about the new Iraq: the amazing flowering of new newspapers after decades without a free press. The US authorities appear now to be considering exactly how free they want the press to be - "incitement" is out, apparently. But free expression poses the same problems as democracy: it tends to be indivisible.

On the Media has a nice little interview with Slate's Peter Maas, who hired an excellent interpreter in Baghdad without knowing until later that his man was the wonderful Salam Pax.

So anyway, the UK press is frothing over tomorrow's big test match against the All Blacks. They really do seem to pull it out of their asses, though. Chris Hewett in the Independent wrote after the England second-string XV beat New Zealand Maori this week that " The sense of shock is tangible," among New Zealanders. Not round here it wasn't, mate. That was the worst Maori lineup in years - they needed a dry night to have any show and, of course, it pissed down in New Plymouth.

But it will be crisp and fine in Welly tomorrow night, and, on that basis, I'd back the All Blacks to win, although overcoming England's precise, rhythmic game won't be in any way easy. We have two real lineout locks, a great opensider, a pretty good front row and, of course, a backline that, given the chance, can tear up any defence. Within the first few minutes, expect Carlos to unleash a soaring up-and-under to wobble around in the treacherous air of the stadium. It will be chased by the fastest rugby players in New Zealand. And it will be game on.