Hard News by Russell Brown

Old Uncle Don

Does Don Brash actually want women to vote National? Yesterday, he demoted Katherine Rich - when he didn't really need to - to give himself an all-male front bench. He later declared he wasn't going to have a woman there just to satisfy "political correctness".

And in between, he gave his first speech of the Parliamentary year, in which women were specifically referred to in only one context - as bludging DPB mums - and which contained a claim that under the present government there would be "no end to political correctness in the education system which sees our children brain-washed with a revisionist version of New Zealand history - or should that be 'herstory?'"

Ho ho. Good one, Don. At least they knew their place in the fifties, eh?

Perhaps it would have been too "politically correct" to actually mention women in any positive context? Maori, of course, fared no better, featuring in the speech only as people from whom rights and privileges must be wrested - but he doesn't expect them to vote for him anyway, does he?

The rather maternal cast Labour is putting on the business of government - they'll help us get there, rather than just getting out of our way - is a fair and appropriate target for a centre-right Opposition party. But why all the nasty stuff? Is the bitter and twisted vote really that big?

Meanwhile, it seems staggering that National has managed to turn a small but welcome uptick into a calamity by dismissing Rich - National's welfare spokesperson and one of its most promising and marketable MPs - from her post, for failing to sign up to a policy position she considered unwise.

The comparison with last year's humbling of Georgina Te Heuheu is not perfect, but once again, Brash and his inner circle have sacrificed the counsel of the MP tasked with developing the relevant policy expertise in order to court a swing vote.

The demotion of Rich is not a complete calamity - it makes room for the promising finance spokesman John Key on the front bench, and Brash does at least have an honest-to-god neo-Victorian to tout his welfare policy in Judith Collins.

But in other ways it's worse than the Te Heuheu business. National's target voters probably didn't carry much of a brief for Te Heuheu, while Rich was rightly regarded as part of the party's future. Perhaps a falling out with Te Heuheu was inevitable as a result of Orewa I. But surely the gap between Brash's position and Rich's could have been closed in advance - rather than widened with the adoption stuff? It all speaks of a lack of basic management ability that does not sit well with a party that claims to be ready to govern. The public, it seems likely, will perceive and punish disunity.

Helen Clark's speech - perhaps as a direct response to Brash's address at Orewa - relentlessly positive; grand if not lyrical. She too expressed a desire to get more women into the workforce - but by helping, rather than forcing them to do so, with the promise of better childcare. Not for the first time, Clark's affection for Scandinavian-style politics seems relevant here. Sweden offers generous childcare provisions, and even more generous support for single mothers - yet has labour force participation rates for women in excess of 90%. It's reasonable to see such an environment as a policy goal.

Amid talk about infrastructure, savings, support for home ownership and Maori aspirations, and cuddly talk about national identity, the fleshing out of the plan for a single, universal benefit - predicted in Monday's Herald - was missing in action. Not ready for prime-time yet? Being held back for the Budget? Who knows. Apart from a promise on depreciation rates, there was no talk of tax relief - but, as usual, Clark declined to rule it out when interviewed in Morning Report today. My best guess is that there will eventually be a promise to shift the tax brackets - next year.

Dubber goes postal in an Open letter to Radio New Zealand, over its decision not to stream live over the Internet (that part's not exactly new - it's been a source of argument for years), not to allow even programmes it wholly owns to be downloaded, not to stream any music at all, and not to provide high-bandwidth listening options.

He concludes that copyright is the major issue here. Although APRA, the songwriters' rights-collecting group, has been pragmatic over this, and has granted affordable flat-fee licenses for Internet broadcast of its members' works, the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand has - apparently - refused to grant any licenses to allow music to be played over the Internet.

So how come every man and his dog in commercial and independent radio streams live over the Internet? Because RIANZ won't prosecute its rights either? Just like it won't grant any license allowing format-shifting of legally-purchased songs - something that Radio New Zealand itself does every day of the week - but won't take you to court for copying your CDs to your iPod, or making a tape to listen to in your car?

The silly thing is, it's all for virtually nowt. If RNZ were to stream some of its excellent (especially the documentaries) music programmes, the vast majority of listeners wouldn't even try and capture and copy them. That takes a bit of expertise; indeed much more expertise than it takes to, say, tape an ordinary FM radio broadcast.

Dubber urges RNZ to show some guts, but I can understand its predicament. It's one thing for bFM or a CanWest station to press on regardless, another for the public broadcaster. I can imagine a flurry of press releases attacking taxpayer-funded radio for trashing private property rights. I'm still not quite clear on what the actually situation is, though: Jeremy Ansell's Enzology is archived and available on the RNZ site. Is that an exception? I'll try and sort this out on my radio show today. I also have Colin James on at 1pm to discuss the launch of the Parliamentary year.

No Right Turn has sketched out the elements of his submission on the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill, which he viscerally dislikes. I think his "better way" is worthy of consideration.

And a correction from yesterday: Sock Thief and Gordon King both helpfully pointed out that the BBC has retracted its story saying that coalition forces killed more Iraqi civilians in the second half of last year than insurgents did: it confessed to misinterpreting the Iraqi interim government figures.

Finally, a word on the American "welfare reform" philosophy driving the current DPB debate. There have been some respectable studies that showed that the 1995 reforms in the US kept more women in work and did not increase poverty levels. But there's a built-in delay in the system, in the form of the five-year deadline - after which single mothers with children are essentially cast adrift. And more recent research, in less bountiful economic times and a more difficult job market - seems to be taking a good deal of the shine off the idea. Scan the summaries here and tell me you'd still fancy a flutter with the same thing here.