Hard News by Russell Brown


Rationalisation is at hand!

For students of the form, the New Zealand Herald's editorial column has been extraordinary reading this week. It has writhed between denial and acceptance, faith and loss. Metaphorically, it has been conceived in a lonely hotel room under an accusing naked bulb.

On Wednesday, under the grim shadow of the PREFU, the Herald was declaring that "radical steps" would need to be taken on the fiscal front:

The first step should, in fact, be the abandonment of the reductions in personal tax planned by both Labour and National. Given that the Treasury's analysis pre-dated the Wall St financial crisis and the economic situation has already worsened, it is patently apparent the country cannot afford them. The Finance Minister virtually conceded as much when he said he would have taken "a more cautious approach" with Labour's package if he had known the new set of circumstances.

There follows what amounts to a plea for National not to fund its tax cuts at the expense of Kiwisaver, because (unlike free childcare, which John Roughan has convinced himself is the root of all evil), "the incentives that have underpinned KiwiSaver's popularity should not be hostage to the vagaries of the economy."

By yesterday, when it had become clear that National was indeed proposing to take it out on Kiwisaver -- to the extent that anyone, at any income level, who has committed to the scheme will be worse off under National's tax proposal -- the Herald editorial was offering that:

The wisdom of reducing the incentives to save is questionable but the courage is not.

Brave but stupid? This was reaching for a rationalisation the way an alcoholic justifies the next drink. But this morning's editorial is perhaps the best yet. In a wash of honesty-with-self, it tumbles through all the reasons that National's no-parole prison policy is a bad idea. While the government:

…has stopped short of removing prisoners' incentives for rehabilitation …[t]his, effectively, is what the National policy does.

In the case of some murderers, life would mean life. Society would be safer. But for repeat violent offenders, release from prison would merely be delayed. And when freedom was granted, there would be little prospect of such offenders responding in the best manner. With no prospect of parole, there would have been no reason for them to behave well in prison, to change their outlook, or to improve themselves.

Probably, they would simply have become more bitter and more violent. Indeed, the rate of recidivism is higher for those who serve their full sentence in prison than for those who have the benefit of parole.

More fundamentally, National's policy is simply a more extreme version of a policy that has failed this country and others, none more so than the United States. The number of New Zealanders behind bars has risen sharply in the past decade, and four new prisons have had to be built. This, however, has had no impact on the crime rate.

Putting away offenders for much longer terms does not change that rate. Yet a tougher version of just that approach, with the added expense of an increasing number of prisons, is exactly what National proposes.

Oh woe! But fear not! Rationalisation is at hand:

In all likelihood, this is not something that Mr Key will pursue if National wins the election. It is a policy calculated to strike a chord with those who despair of violent crime and particularly horrific murders. As such, it may capture the public's attention. It can then be put quietly to one side as a more cogent, more flexible approach to sentencing and parole is adopted.


Elsewhere, Tim Watkin at Pundit takes a visit to Epsom, where, if a deal has been done with Rodney Hide, National's Richard Worth didn't get the memo, and Labour's candidate can't quite bring herself to say that an electorate vote for Worth is the right thing for Labour supporters to do.

And The Standard has tape from the Helensville candidates' debate, where John Key promised some angry burghers that as Prime Minister he would prevent any state houses being built as part of the Hobsonville development.

He at least has the virtue of consistency, but Key's attitude to Hobsonville reflects very poorly on him. This development, on former air force land, is a rare opportunity to do public housing right. There will be 500 state houses in a mix with 500 "affordable homes" and 2000 private dwellings. For a man who has made so much of growing up in just such an environment in Christchurch, he looks particularly mean-minded here.

Helen Clark, on the other hand, seems to have had a happier week, in so much as a woman 15 points down in the polls can. Winston Peters is over for now, her caucus (present and prospective) haven't dropped her in it, and I think everyone was surprised at the reception she got at the Music Awards. (Conrad Heine, back here on a break from writing for The Economist, told me he was quite struck by that part of the evening.) I gather she was in quite chirpy form all night.

Like the Silver Scrolls last month, the Music Awards ceremony was distinguished by real creative excellence in production. In particular, the video production, by the Darkroom and Mike Hodgson, hit new heights. One thing was missing: monitor screens for people at the back of that very big room, who could barely see the presenters and consequently lost touch a bit.

I could also cheerfully have heard Shihad or the Fast Women (the Straightjackets tribute band led by Julia Deans) play two or three songs rather than just the one, and I suspect the paying punters in the gallery seats would have felt the same. It was a restriction of the televised format, but it's worth bearing in mind that what really unleashed the new generation of awards was the decision to treat it as a live event and bugger the cameras.

Campbell Smith seemed happy enough afterwards that they'd simply pulled off the huge step up to the Vector Arena, and he had a right to be. I also saw the Straitjacket Fits guys after they received the Legacy Award, and they were happy and relaxed. As I walked back into the after-party with Shayne Carter, a big, brown and burly security guard stepped forward to shake Shayne's hand and offer personal congratulations. That was a nice moment.

After-afterwards, the party people streamed into town. I wouldn't want to spend every Wednesday night in inner-city bars in the company of the muntedly enthusiastic (or enthusiastically munted?) but it was certainly amusing at the time. And yesterday, I was tired. I'm grateful to Damian for finding a way around his voice emergency on the radio show, because apart from anything else, I just needed an off-day.


We nailed a good, serious Media7 show this week on the state of the nation's waterways under dairy farming pressure finally becoming a story -- oen of the better programmes we've done, I think. The background is in the Media7 blog and you can watch the show on TVNZ ondemand, as Windows Media clips, in the podcast and on YouTube.


And, finally, Paddy Free (aka one half of Pitch Black) has kindly allowed us to offer you a free track from his remarkable new three-years-in-the-making CD with Richard Nunns, Karekare: The Language of the Land -- you can download 'Whai Atu' for a limited time here, as a 9.5MB 320k VBR MP3 file.

But wait! There's more! I also have two copies of the CD to give away -- email me with 'Karekare' in the subject line. And if you like the free track, you can buy the CD from Amplifier here.

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