Hard News by Russell Brown


Herself's Turn

Labour's policy speeches in government are oddly like its policy speeches in Opposition in the 1990s: dense, detailed, not entirely lyrical. The difference, of course, is that the Prime Minister gets to talk about things her government is doing, rather than what it would do if it got the chance.

Unlike some others, I'm not particularly inclined to rage over John Key's state of the nation speech yesterday; I think there was some genuine intent there. The question of what to do about the small groups whose failure harms and indicts us all is pervasive: not only in education, but in New Zealand society as a whole.

But I'm inclined to the view that it is less than what it seemed. Perhaps John Armstrong had been waiting so long for any policy that he erred in the other direction. I really don't think the speech was " overflowing with policy initiatives," and it took only a few hours to show up one fairly serious glitch.

The military officer in charge of the Limited Service Volunteer programme -- invoked by Key as a plank of his Fresh Start proposal -- made it clear this morning that LSV is a scheme for willing participants, not for young offenders. However good it might sound to the talkback hordes, the Army does not wish to take on the role of correction.

The train-or-lose-your-benefit idea has some problems too. "If you're on a welfare benefit we expect some obligation," Key intoned on Morning Report today. And yet there are young people on the invalid's benefit precisely because we, through government, have failed to fulfil our obligations. They may not technically be "too sick to work", but they are faced with schools and workplaces that have nothing to offer them, or simply cannot cope with them. Short version: I don't see a disability strategy in there.

Nor, it must be said, in the Prime Minister's speech. The extension of the Gateway programme, extending the right to structured education or training to the age of 18, is real, but, like Key's slate, it's largely more of the same only -- trust us -- better.

Clark also said she'd be promoting "the role of our creative people in expressing what is unique and special about New Zealand". Does that mean a revamp of policies around the creative and cultural sector, which Labour is in danger of taking for granted?

Ironically, the most impressive figure has been the politician who didn't make a speech. Phil Goff emerged from the Fortress of Solitude and appeared relaxed, well-briefed and convincing in the course of his media appointments. Key, on the other hand, contrived to fritter away my remaining personal sympathy as he whined through his talking points on Morning Report.

I'm somewhat relieved that at least one news organisation has a memory that stretches back more than three weeks. Yes, the cluster of killings this January has been disturbing. But that's the case nearly every January. Annually, we kill each other in the height of summer and, in the absence of other news, we dominate the headlines by doing so. Basically, murder in January should never be taken as evidence of a trend.

Family Integrity, like all the pro-smackers, has faithfully, even romantically, relayed the account of Jimmy Mason over how he was accosted by police over "flicking" his son on the ear in public. You hardly need to read it: good, loving father, malicious bystanders, evil law, etc.

Unfortunately, the police have interviewed witnesses and found sufficient discrepancy between Mr Mason's widely-reported tale of woe that they have now charged him with two counts of assault on a child. The police inspector responsible spoke to the media this morning:

Police hope people will see there are two sides to every story as a Christchurch man is charged with two counts of assault on a child ...

Mason will appear in court next month and Inspector Garry Knowles says he probably would have been charged even before the anti-smacking legislation was passed. He says the new legislation has not influenced the decision to lay charges.

"We've taken a pretty realistic approach to the new legislation. In each of the cases that come across my desk, we look at it based on its merits. We look at the severity of the assault, the circumstances surrounding it and then a decision is made."

The more sensible end of the smacking brigade might now see fit to STFU until we hear evidence in court.

And finally, a local blog posted an obscene photoshopped image of a political figure yesterday that went beyond the usual petty misogyny of the wingnutosphere. A handful of the usual suspects gathered to snicker. Would they be proud to show that image to their mothers, wives and daughters? Or to the parishioners of the conservative church where one of them holds a position of responsibility?

I guess Rodney Hide is still too busy with his taxpayer-funded journey of personal discovery, but it might behove Heather Roy to ponder the behaviour of the rabble that remains of her tragi-comic party. Of one thing you can be sure: if the "other side" had done a tenth of this you wouldn't be able to hear yourself think for the screaming from Kiwiblog. But that, of course, would be different.

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