Hard News by Russell Brown


When he's bad, Holmes can be awful. When he's good, as he was during last night's Holmes show discussion on the foreshore proposal, he's a useful citizen. There was a sense of seriousness not always present in that programme, and that was good.

That sense of seriousness was doubtless enhanced by the government finally getting its presentation right. The advance release of briefing papers, then yesterday's policy lock-up tended to crowd out trivia and bickering. It helped also that there were many more answers available than there were in the wake of the original, slightly panicky announcement that the beaches would be public domain.

The New Zealand Herald - itself pretty skitterish after the original Court of Appeal decision - seems to have a reasonable take on the issue in today's editorial.

I can live with this, easily, and I can understand why many Maori might be angry as hell. Responding to an inconvenient court decision by simply changing the law will never really be wholly acceptable. But it's a decision that is not only about Maori but about all of us. We have gone along, defining ourselves by the land, assuming that the coastline was common to all of us, only to discover our assumptions were themselves founded in sand. Well, now we know, mostly.

What does puzzle me a little is the fiery objection from Margaret Mutu and others to having Parliament define their customary rights when what they have been deprived of is the opportunity to ask another branch of the state, the courts, to do just that. Iwi can assume rights, but they had not, and may not have been, assigned those rights by due process. It is the due process that they have lost - or, rather had summarily replaced with another process - and not necessarily their rights.

What remains to be seen is whether political support will be forthcoming. United Future will support the proposal in Parliament, but that won't be enough if Tariana Turia and Nanaia Mahuta vote against it, which puts the Greens in an interesting position.

Whatever their sympathy for iwi, if the Greens vote against the plan, they will be rejecting a universal protection of the coastlines, and a guarantee of limited customary rights, that has not before been present in our law. Support for a no vote may not, indeed, be very strong within the Greens' support base.

Bad timing department: after an internal police inquiry had found no fault with a high-speed chase that led to the death of an innocent girl, the Northland coroner Max Atkins yesterday decided otherwise. In theory, the chase might have been called off for safety reasons. In practice, he said, it was still on. Then, overnight, three people died in a chase in Auckland - officially 12 seconds after it had been abandoned. It's important not to lose sight of exactly who the bad guys are. But something about police practice - and the police's assessments of their own practice - is wrong here.

Useful reportage from Riverbend on Baghdad with Saddam in custody ("Things are very frightening these days in Baghdad. Going from one area to another is like going from one city to another- the feelings and emotions vary so drastically it feels like only a matter of time before we may see clashes... ") Dahr Jamail's diary on Electronic Iraq has a similar tone: however well rid Iraqis are of Saddam, their country seems still not quite far enough away from the brink of something awful.

But it's all okay, according to the man who coined the phrase "Axis of Evil" (and doesn't that seem a while ago?), former Bush speechwriter David Frum. It is, he declares, "becoming increasingly difficult to doubt that God wants President Bush re-elected." Perhaps Frum could prevail on God to stock the hospitals and get the power back on in Iraq too.

Non-essential US personnel being shipped out of Saudi Arabia. More terror on the horizon there, presumably.

Meanwhile, New Zealand in still apparently doing quite well shock. Four per cent GDP growth in the year to June, year to March 2004 revised up to 2.8%, etc. Bush really needs to ask God to intervene with the greenback, but until such time, it seems rude not to buy any consumer electronics. Yeah, I got an iPod and I really like it.

Speaking of music, The Smoking Gun has the documentation on that Jack White bar brawl. It's a Detroit thing.

And finally: trivial typing errors department: for two whole days my critique of the Coddington report referred to Jane Dunbar as "Jan". Ouch. Fixed now.

Oh, and I know who MediaCow is. I'm not inclined to outing, but I feel bound to say it casts a very interesting light on the Cow's OTT praise of Coddington's "superb" and "incredible" report.