Hard News by Russell Brown


Well, that does change things. The best thing John Banks has had going for him in his campaign to be re-elected as Mayor of Auckland has been his rivals. Whatever their legitimate claims on the job, neither Christine Fletcher or Bruce Hucker - who in the only robust poll so far had more combined support than the incumbent - have seemed in danger of creating any great excitement amongst the public. The mayor, on the other hand, appears to be in a permanent state of personal excitement: a sort of headline-generating emotional priapism.

Now, cereal king Dick Hubbard has announced his intention to stand for the mayoralty, and would seem in a position to trump virtually any hand Banks could play: public profile; demonstrated business expertise; independence; affinity with Auckland.

I can appreciate his declared reason for standing, too: that Banks has simply become too much of an embarrassment to the city, most notably in the case of his recent fit of abusive press statements about the V8 racing. The Herald ran an editorial declaring that Anybody But Banks was not a proper basis for the selection of a mayor, but I'd have to differ. For quite a few people it's going to be the principal basis for their decision.

Now, of course, Hubbard will have to answer some questions. He says he supports a "scaled down" version of the Eastern Transport Corridor, but not exactly what he means by that, what his "scaled-down" plan might cost, or - and this remains the big one - how it might actually be paid for. His idea of developing and partially undergrounding the city's public transport network warrants scrutiny along similar lines.

But perhaps the key to a Hubbard candidacy lies in the part of his full page-ad in today's paper that talks about the "feeling of civic pride that has been fostered under the Mayors Vicki Buck and her successor Garry Moore," and the "Absolutely Positively" atmosphere nurtured by Wellington's recent mayors: the mayor as inclusive city cheerleader.

Banks fancies himself to be such a figure, but is too alienating, and far more obsessed with himself than he is with the city. He habitually says things that aren't true, or stupid, self-aggrandising things (an on-air promo using clips from Wallace Chapman's recent audience with the mayor is often taken by 95bFM listeners to be a work of satire, but, scarily, isn't). He routinely claims credit for things he didn't do. He has made a mockery of his declared "independent" status by virtually living in the CitRats' pocket.

In Christchurch on the other hand, I met Garry Moore at a civic function one night this year, and then bumped into him in the street the next morning, whereupon he walked with me through the arts precinct and up to Cathedral Square, enthusiastically pointing out elements of the city's civic plan, pausing only to bid a cheery greeting to the passing tram driver. It's a not-unattractive vision of civic leadership.

Hubbard's emergence presents an interesting quandary for the local Labour Party organisation, which has officially backed the City Vision ticket and Hucker's candidacy - but now finds itself opposing a noted Prime Ministerial confidant. I wonder if there will be discussions.

At any rate, Hubbard's platform looks a lot more like City Vision's than it does the CitRats' (and it should be noted that on important measures such as control of unbudgeted expenditure, the council performed better when CityVision held the reins). Fletcher's new "Team Fletcher" ticket ought to be treated as a bit of a joke until there is evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, as Alison Annan's last stand in Cambridge shows every sign of developing into full-blown Christine Rankin Syndrome, a couple of readers have chipped in with some interesting observations, not least from a former principal who dealt with Annan some years ago as part of an inquiry into relativity in principals' salaries.

We asserted that the professional demands were equal but different, but we conceded that the greater size of secondary schools, notwithstanding the additional support staff which could be hired in the high schools, did give them the edge salarywise at the top of the scale.

Alison would have none of it - she wanted the supremacy of her patch built into any new salary structure as a cornerstone. And then I noted her dismissive tut-tutting whenever we made a counter point in the discussions. She wouldn't debate the case.

Now this all came back when I heard Linda Clark interview a dissident parent who described the same characteristic when his son was about to be expelled. She hasn't got good people skills but she can massage a trustee's ego. And she tells good fibs. She referred to Cambridge as a rural school. Bollocks. Cambridge High serves a dormitory suburb of Hamilton, NZ's fourth biggest city, complete with its own university of which she is pro-chancellor.

The tragedy about the redoubtable Alison is that she could have been a truly great principal had she turned her energies into making Cambridge a good school using legitimate methods.

Don Brash's comment piece in the Australian Financial review is here (it's free, but you'll probably need to register).

In it professes his fear that New Zealand will become "just another Pacific island state - larger than most, to be sure, but potentially suffering some of the same kinds of problem." Well, much larger than all of them, actually, with the exception of Papua New Guinea - and I don't think even the most dedicated Jeremiah is really about to compare us with them - and with an economy so much more open, modern and transparent as to render the comparison farcical.

It's also pretty rich to be lamenting our race relations environment for the benefit of an Australian audience - and our labour laws too, for that matter. Anyway, read it for yourself, but I can't help but wonder is this is an error of judgement. Running down New Zealand to an Australian audience (and that's already how it's being reported) is not generally considered politically astute.

PS: And this is hilarious: National MP engages in reflex Maori-bashing, only to discover that the iwi she is vilifying has made its agreement with a property developer in which Brash is a minor shareholder, and which is emphatic that it was never "held to ransom" and simply had "amicable" discussions with Ngati Maru. Cue rapid withdrawal of statement - and then the withdrawal of her original claim to reporters that her first u-turn had nothing to do with discussions with the party's media unit, after the unit unwittingly told reporters something quite different. The fact that Goudie made her allegations in the first place says something about the current culture of the parliamentary party.