Hard News by Russell Brown

One more time ...

Okay, I think I have it straight now, thanks to Geoff Cumming's useful story for the Weekend Herald: the design for the lately controversial Queen Street upgrade and the two rounds of consultation on it were carried out while John Banks was mayor and the CitRats controlled the council.

Actually, the second consultation round began under one mayor and concluded, without notable incident, under another. But the idea - and a popular one it has been amongst the chattering classes - that somehow what is happening in Queen Street is all the fault of that dreadful Dick Hubbard and his PC leftie chums does not fare too well in the face of the actual facts.

That didn't stop Fran O'Sullivan, in the same edition of the Herald as Cumming's story, introducing her opinion piece on the matter with a cheap gag about Dick "being a bit of a Dick". And, for that matter, it didn't stop the Herald spending three weeks on silly-season rabble-rousing before it thought to inform its readers of what are really fairly basic points of fact.

There may well be issues of concern about the upgrade: somehow, for instance, I think the conceptual subtleties of taking out trees at the lower end of the street to reflect its former identity as a tidal zone will be lost on both the public and tourists. Indeed, the council seems likely to make a pragmatic over-correction in the face of the tree panic today. And the council needs to find a way of consulting so that people actually pay attention sooner. But, jeez, there's been some crap talked in the past month.

Still, I suppose it sets some sort of record that Banks (a) actually did something, and (b) didn't loudly claim credit for it.

On a related theme, can someone please find Wayne Mapp a real job? He seems to move from one storm in a teacup to another. The latest: the Auckland Regional Council is going to ban the sale of a half dozen exotic plants that spread wildly, displace native plants, block drains and - in the case of phoenix palms - put an average five Auckland children in hospital every year. Note that no one will have to remove their plants. They just won't be for sale, and the ARC is asking people not to distribute them manually.

Here's the research the decision is based on. (There are also the full reports as PDFs if you like.) Three of the species "were found to be invasive in a range of ecosystems, to spread into remote and inaccessible areas and to have significant environmental impacts on natural areas they invade."

NB: Someone from the council has also pointed out that this isn't even a regulation yet, just a proposal. There are two rounds of consultation, including hearings and public submissions, before it's decided what goes into the pest management strategy.

This, says Mapp, is "the nanny state going crazy … The public have to stand up and be vigilant in protecting their freedoms." And MPs should save the ten-dollar words for real issues.

Last week, Mapp railed against the committing to paper of a verbal understanding between the Golden Bay volunteer fire brigade and local Maori on the handling of fatal accident scenes. The protocol, which includes the attendance of a local archdeacon to bless crash sites, at no cost to the rest of us, has been in place since 1998, without controversy. Mapp claims he doesn't object to such "sensitivity", but the fact that an agreement has been written down. Personally, I don't subscribe to the spiritual or cultural beliefs involved, but so long as fires get put out, it seems a harmless piece of community practice. What I possibly do object to is my tax money being used for idle exercises in political sounding-off by under-employed members of Parliament.

Anyway, better do some work so I have time to watch tennis later on.

It looked for a short time as if both Williams sisters might be out of the Aussie Open in the first round yesterday, but little Na Li never really looked good enough to beat Serena. Not so with Tszvetana Pironkova, who tipped out Venus: damn, she can play. Meanwhile, how about Sharapova's little blue sundress?

Speaking of players who can play, I bought an issue of The Observer (which has followed its sibling, The Guardian, into the nice Berliner format) last week, and it happened to be one with the excellent Observer Sport Monthly in it. The mag contains novelist Paul Bailey's lyrical appreciation of Roger Federer. I'm looking forward to watching him.

(BTW, while we're on sports media, of all the 2005 sporting wrap-ups, Chris Rattue's in the Weekend Herald was the best, easily.)

And, finally … seeing as this is probably my last post for the week: we won! On the garlic thing, that is. Eighteen months ago I was bitching - with the approval of a number of readers - about the disappearance of fresh New Zealand garlic from the shops, in the face of a wave of super-cheap Chinese stuff. (It's not that it's Chinese, just that it's old and crappy and sprouting.) But this summer, the new season garlic has been coming in week after week. And no, I actually don't mind paying $15 a kilo. Although I'd rather pay $7.95, like I did on the way back from boogie-boarding at Muriwai with the kids last week. I only bought one bulb. But that sucker was the size of my fist