Hard News by Russell Brown


How clever of Metro magazine to stage a major power cut last night as a marketing device for its cover story on Auckland's ailing infrastructure. Or possibly not. Anyway, shortly before 7pm, the lights went out in Pt Chevalier, Grey Lynn, Westmere, Morningside and Kingsland - and stayed out for more than two hours in our case.

We are, as you might expect, a fairly electricity-focused household, and I think we were all momentarily dumbstruck at the sudden withdrawal of computers and the television, and the younger boy was quite frank about having The Fear. We zipped around the block in the car to check the rest of the area, which probably didn't help his nerves: it was dark all over, and burglar alarms were going off.

It was pleasing to discover quite how many torches and candles we had to hand, and dinner was just ready, so we ate by candlelight. We all agreed on a family game of Scrabble, which proved to be a thriller. We were all delighted when the lights came back on just in time for us to watch the latest episode of Doctor Who, which I'd downloaded during the day. Episode Six: The Dalek. Brilliant.

It's the curse of Opposition that you can only ever promise things, while the government of the day gets to make real commitments, and spin them to best advantage. The 10-year $4.6 billion commitment to fixing personnel and recruitment problems in the New Zealand military being a case in point. Don Brash went on Checkpoint yesterday to criticise the announcement, seemed poorly briefed and got what amounted to a bollocking from Mary Wilson. He later announced new promises on roading spending in the Waikato - but it was perhaps unwise to so frankly admit he was making it up as he went along.

Rodney Hide had a better angle, pointing out that if the economy continues to grow robustly, the military spending commitment may not yet increase our military budget as a proportion of GDP, although he did his numbers on the figure of $3 billion rather than the $4.6 billion subsequently announced.

Of course, even the best-laid spending plans of governments don't always work out. Congratulations to Public Address's Keith Ng for his bona fide scoop on the unexpected outcome of the government's promise to boost funding for student allowances. Typically, it took some good work by someone else for the government to actually acknowledge it has a problem.

I think Colin Espiner pretty much gets it right in his comment on the affair of Peter Doone and the Prime Minister:

The charge is that Clark co- operated with, and supplied "false" off-the-record information to, the Star-Times. All politicians - not just John Tamihere - talk to the media in confidence. Most, like former Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel, leak information when it suits them. So the question is, should the Prime Minister be above such a thing?
At the time, Clark was relatively new to the premiership and at that point had not shaken her habit of returning reporters' calls and sometimes sharing off-the-record information, as she had in Opposition.
She should have known better in this case, given that she was effectively involved in employment proceedings with the commissioner. No doubt she never expected the Star-Times to blow her cover.
There's no way of proving Clark knew anything she said to the paper was false. She did have then deputy commissioner Rob Robinson's as- yet unpublished report on the Doone incident in front of her at the time. But knowing it would be made public shortly afterwards, she would hardly have bothered lying to the Star-Times when she knew the facts would be out shortly afterwards. Would she?
The Opposition will this week argue that Clark gave the phrase "that won't be necessary" to the Star-Times to seal Doone's fate. But this argument relies on the fact that, as Doone himself seems to believe, it was that article - and those words - that sank him. Yet Doone was surely doomed from the moment he stepped out of his partner's car that November evening.

Of the other players in the saga, it's easy enough to work out Fairfax's motivation for making it known that it had called Helen Clark in evidence: it immediately made the whole thing go away, without even the bother of having to reveal the evidence itself (which Clark says would show that she emphasised that the leak the paper was seeking to confirm was "disputed" information). Messrs Sue, Grabbit & Run are even now preparing a claim for costs from the Doones.

The Doones themselves are a bit harder to read. Given that Doone agreed as part of his settlement not to take legal action against the government and that the time limitation on defamation action has long expired, he would seem to be pushing it all up a very steep hill. But he said in Leah Haines' HoS story that had the Star Times not published its story claiming that he had told a constable seeking to do a breath test "that won't be necessary" he would not have been minded to resign. In which case, it seems clear enough, he would simply have been dismissed.

Doone continues to insist that he did not behave inappropriately on the night (he told Haines he just "followed my natural inclination when I met constables to say 'gidday'"); the effect of which is to make a liar of both the constable involved and the current police commissioner, Rob Robinson.

What does seem clear is that the leaks on which the Star Times was acting were fairly gushing out of the police organisation itself: it's easy enough to see how "we'll be on our way then" could Chinese-whisper itself to "that won't be necessary".

This might be instructive to many of the people getting fizzed up on the more lurid rumours about Dover Samuels' incident at the Heritage Hotel. The only real evidence available so far - the hotel log - indicates that Samuels was angry and "not sober". He may well be due sympathy if he (again in the words of the log) "had an accident" because he couldn't get into his room, more so if he really does have a medical problem in that respect - but ministers aren't supposed to get themselves in such a pickle in the first place, and he shouldn't have initially denied the incident. Yet some of what's being said on the right-wing blogs is, frankly, way out there on the perimeter. Get back onto policy, folks.

Got PowerPoint? Try this fascinating analysis of where Britain's political divides really lie. It makes a fairly compelling case that "left" and "right" don't suffice any more, and it would seem to have some application to New Zealand. Thanks to PA reader Andrew for the link.

The moral reasoning in the US administration after September 11 continues to astonish. The New York Times has a story revealing that under the then-secret "extraordinary rendition" policy, suspects were sent to Uzbekistan for interrogation. Let's not fanny about here: interrogation in Uzbekistan means torture. And the administration could hardly claim it didn't know that, as the Times points out:

Seven months before Sept. 11, 2001, the State Department issued a human rights report on Uzbekistan. It was a litany of horrors.
The police repeatedly tortured prisoners, State Department officials wrote, noting that the most common techniques were "beating, often with blunt weapons, and asphyxiation with a gas mask." Separately, international human rights groups had reported that torture in Uzbek jails included boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers. Two prisoners were boiled to death, the groups reported. The February 2001 State Department report stated bluntly, "Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights."

Information Clearing House has a copy of the previously-secret Downing Street memo (July 23, 2002), in which possible ways to justify an invasion of Iraq, and sell it to the public, were discussed.

The New Zealand Music Month launch in Aotea Square was fun on Sunday. I went along to the launch function at the Aotea Centre, where 42 Below were serving cocktails which seemed to consist of feijoa vodka, Chi (yes, the sweet fizzy water stuff), ice and a long slice of cucumber. I'm not normally a cocktail drinker, but they were delicious and refreshing.

Anyway, Helen Clark turned up, not long off the plane from Germany, and gave the obligatory ra-ra speech. Then Shihad played to several thousand people out in the square. As you may have read in the newspaper, the rain arrived at the same time the band did. It lasted about half an hour, but the crowd proved remarkably plucky. I don't think they would have noticed in the mosh pit anyway.

I ventured down once the rain had eased, and was really impressed. The New Zealand Music Month organising committee certainly didn't stint on the production: it was essentially at Big Day Out level, and it looked and sounded stunning. Shihad are unquestionably back to being Shihad again (God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, etc) and when they came back and encored with 'You Again' it was just thrilling.