Hard News by Russell Brown

Maori Idol

Could we please just cut to the chase, Tariana? Labour's rebel Maori minister has finally confirmed that she'll vote against the foreshore legislation - but still won't say whether she'll resign when she is, inevitably, relieved of her ministerial responsibilities as a consequence.

I've met Turia a couple of times, once well before she became an MP and, like others, have been impressed by the quiet strength of her personality. Mana, if you like. Which makes it all the more odd that she hasn't been able to come to a decision, or, frequently, say the same thing from one hour to the next. It doesn't bode well for her prospects in leading a proposed Maori political party.

Indeed, I wonder if the people backing the phantom party really have the fortitude to follow what will be a very hard road indeed. Willie Jackson talks a good fight, but he's been a political gadfly before. At the moment, it feels a bit like a reality TV show.

David Cohen appears to have put down his poison pen for the moment (John Pagani's Moseworth & Featherston skewered his embarrassing fit of bile about Rod Oram, highlighting Cohen's unfortunate habit of putting words in the mouths of people he doesn't like) and written a useful column on the departure of Herald columnist Barbara Sumner Burstyn - and the flurry of Herald-bashing from the left and (sort of) right that followed.

I still can't see what all the fuss is about. Freelance columnists are periodically stood down - it's what editors do - and I can see why it would have happened to Sumner Burstyn. It's not her politics; just that her column wasn't all that good. It was too often shrill and derivative (although that never seems to hold back NZ Pundit).

I disagree almost all the time with Garth George, for example, but there's no denying his ability to pursue an argument, even a mad one. On the other hand, I'm surprised that the repercussions of his selection of the letter declaring that Tim Barnett MP should be "put down" like a rabid dog appear to have extended no further than a bollocking from the editor.

George's subsequent personal comments to readers who complained about the offensive letter seem to underline the fact that he's simply not an appropriate person to be framing the debate on the Herald's editorial page. I'd be interested in Cohen's view of that.

Certainly, those present at the Civil Union Bill public meeting on Wednesday night didn't feel they were getting a fair crack from the Herald's letters editor. There were a number of stories from people who'd responded to some pseudoscientific claptrap from the Maxim Institute (often as not, leading the page) and never made print. And it's not just the Herald: The Press recently published three Maxim pieces in a single edition.

Yes, Maxim grievously annoys me. That's part of the reason I thought I'd go to the meeting, whereas I'd normally avoid political fixtures (it was largely a Rainbow Labour gig, although the young chap from Act on campus turned up, and they had a Young Nat along in Wellington). The other reason is simple: I see this as a clear-cut human rights issue.

Parliament resumes on Tuesday, and on the Thursday of the following week, the Civil Union Bill and the accompanying omnibus bill will be tabled for a first reading the next Tuesday. Both are assured passage at first reading, but the situation may get interesting after that.

The omnibus bill is a party vote, and with the Greens' support, it, will pass. But the Civil Unions Bill itself is a conscience vote. Three Labour MPs - John Tamihere, Ross Robertson and Philip Field - are wavering. Seven National MPs, including Brash, have indicated their support, and Wayne Mapp has apparently said he "personally" supports the bill, but has promised a local church group he'll vote against it. Your local MP may benefit from a letter.

There's some Act support (Franks is waiting to see the final text of the bill, which is fair enough) and there are even a couple of the New Zealand First caucus behind it. Intriguingly, conservative MPs who have gay family members seem to be far more willing to grasp the nettle. Perhaps a billet-a-poof scheme might bring the others around?

Tim Barnett spoke at the meeting, and earlier in the day did lunch with some interested people elsewhere on the political spectrum, including Business Roundtable staffer David Young and Lindsay Perigo. Perigo is apparently willing to overlook philosophical qualms about the state and pitch it. Oooh, Lindsay, it must be torture

Barnett himself, of course, has a libertarian streak, as was evident in my interview with him on the Wednesday Wire. I'll have that transcribed and post it next week. And if it does all go well, the first civil unions - gay and straight - will be celebrated in May or June next year. In the meantime, there's news and information available at the Civil Union campaign website.

Be sure to read Rob's post about the bizarre controversy around Australia's two leading talk-radio demigods, Australia's broadcasting regulator and the Prime Minister. It certainly makes even the worst of our own radio landscape look quite good in comparison.

Speaking of Australia, it appears that the well-known domain name scammer the Domain Registry of America, has some sort of base across the Tasman now. I got a letter from them this week informing me that the registration for publicaddress.net is about to expire (in September, actually - I won't forget). As these things always are, it's framed in such a way that someone who didn't read it properly would simply pay the money - and in fact have their domain transferred to the Domain Registry of America, at two or three times the price they're currently paying. Watch out for them.

And that'll be all. I won't be venturing out into the steamy Auckland nights this weekend. My Mum's coming to stay for a few days - and you've gotta look after your Mum, right?