Hard News by Russell Brown


If Kevin Brady was a judge, would he be accused of judicial activism? It seems a fair question, because he has certainly changed the landscape without changing the law. This is not to suggest his findings are wrong - I don't claim the legal expertise to say anything of the kind, let alone to contradict the solicitor general, who saw the issue along similar lines to Mr Brady - but he has left a situation that cannot stand at the next election. There will be new law.

Labour, at last, says it is paying the money back - as it had to, on both moral and political grounds - while the Greens (and presumably United Future) may wait on the result of a legal challenge being proposed by New Zealand First. As No Right Turn points out, nearly all the Greens' Parliamentary spending in 05-06 has been declared unlawful. The validity of monthly newsletters and public meetings as legal forms of communication under the present funding system is in doubt.

An enterprising reader at Kiwiblog (feel free to click through if you want to read angry loons comparing New Zealand to Burma, Cuba and North Korea) calculated unlawful spending by parties per vote received:

1. NZF; $1.16 per vote
2. United; $1.05 per vote
3. Labour; $0.82 per vote
4. Green; $0.67 per vote
5. Act; $0.52 per vote
6. National; $0.01 per vote
7. Maori; $0.001 per vote
8. Progressive - none

And what percentage of overall advertising (actually, I think it would be more correct say "advertising and communications") on the part of the various parties was found to be in breach:

1. Green; 69.6%
2. NZF; 66.7%
3. Labour; 66.1%
4 United; 47.7%
5 ACT; 10.4%
6 National; 8.1%
7 Maori; 1.8%
8 Progressive; 0.0%

Brady also had harsh words for Parliamentary Services, which it appears didn't understand the rules either. National's unlawful spending was on the light side because it (a) picked up the Auditor General's pre-election signal and erred on the side of caution, and/or (b) it was awash in private money anyway and could do what it wanted.

But all parties, National included, plainly used their Parliamentary Services funding to campaign in this election: staff paid by the public essentially worked for their party campaigns; MPs flew free around the country to drum up votes.

There is a danger here: if a very broad view of what constitutes electoral advertising is to become the new practice, the party with the wealthiest chums has a huge advantage. It seems likely that National's ability to draw its dosh from an anonymous trust will be challenged by other parties, as it should be.

The Auditor General's findings may represent a necessary application of rectitude to a system that had drifted off course - and he has a mandate to do that. But if we're to focus on preserving the integrity of the system, we should look at the other side too, particularly with regard to transparency.

Anyway, the essay by "Rex" on the AG's report landed with me this morning, and I decided to publish it (even though we don't normally publish anonymous work), if only as a counterpoint to the bellowing certainties of the New Zealand Herald's editorial today.

Moving on, I had a highly convivial time in Nelson with Off the Wire. We recorded a good little show before a boutique audience at Yaza - you can hear it at 2.30pm tomorrow afternoon on Radio Live, and subsequently as an MP3 to be posted here - and then (along with Matt Lawrey, Grant Smithies and some Nelson Arts Festival people) spent some hours debriefing at Harry's Bar, which served good, reasonably-priced food of various Asian persuasions, and a wide range of refreshing beverages. Smithies and Lawrey then led us to another establishment where the young waitress sped along our deliberations on what drinks to order by suggesting "just fucking sort it out, guys." Heh. Gotta love that rustic regional charm.

I also liked the Rutherford Hotel, where we stayed. You can see in the "virtual tour" panoramas of the rooms that the place sits somewhat unevenly between its original 1972 design identity - New Zealand modernist - and later applications of standard hotel blandness. I would go so far as to say they've bollocksed it up in places. The standard rooms still have wicked retro chic wood veneer feature walls; the "executive" rooms have boring white walls - and they've taken out the funky wooden console between the beds.

The hotel (officially opened by Norm Kirk!) made a good period fit for Paul Shannon's Davey Darling, of which I read a good chunk on the plane, having belatedly taken possession of the household copy. I am not an expert but I really like this book. I grew up largely in Christchurch around the same time that Paul did, and there's a world he captures that has now gone by. It's a great read, full of blood, piss and humour. As a professional writer of non-fiction, I often find myself judging fiction at the level of the sentence; a measure by which works as disparate as the Harry Potter books and stonedogs irritate the hell out of me. But not this one.

The totally cool World of Warcraft episode of South Park is now on YouTube. Torrents in the usual places too.

Greg Lane sent in a belated response to the coffee series we did a while back:

I saw my first flat white in the Omotesando area of Tokyo this week. Under a big sandwich board reading "What is a flat white?" was an explanation that stated that a flat white is 1 part espresso to 3 parts milk. Although this didn't sound right to me, I laid down my 650yen ($NZ8.20!) and a very professional looking barista proceeded to work his magic - no push button Starbucks machines here. Despite the erroneous description on the sign, it was indeed a quite passable flat white.

There seems to be some kind of campaign to promote the flat white - driven by the Japan Milk Producers Association.
Can anybody say "missed opportunity?"

NZ coffee roasters, Fonterra and NZ Trade & Enterprise should be all over this!

Funny you should mention that, Greg. Here's the column I wrote for Unlimited all the way back in February …

And, finally, those of you suffering Che Tibby withdrawal will be delighted to know that he has reinvented himself in the less controversial role of a sporting commentator with The Dropkicks podcast.