Hard News by Russell Brown

Talkback Radio With Pictures

I confess, I briefly wondered whether I had chanced upon a stray episode of Eating Media Lunch during the first item of the debut airing of Prime TV's Paul Holmes vehicle, Paul Holmes. The eponymous host linked live to reporter Solina Theron for a report on the tree that he had planted on One Tree Hill earlier in the day.

"Has it been watered?" enquired the host, the very stuff of history pulsing around him.

"Yes, it looks like it's been watered," reported Theron. "There's actually like a little, um, sort of puddle around it …"

Jeez, why didn't they just go to rolling live coverage so we could watch the brave little tree grow all night? Or at least until it got dark?

To be fair, Holmes presumably knew as well as anyone that this was all fairly daft. We had already seen Holmes planting the replacement tree (to replace the replacement tree planted the previous day by persons unknown) with a helpful gardener ("A Maori and a Pakeha," mused Holmes, "We're planting the tree … It may last a day, it may last a hundred years …"

Indeed. And a hundred years from now, parents will take their children to the site, to gaze at the wise old pohutukawa and whisper Paul Holmes planted that …

Actually, the Holmes tree will be gone as you read this. Half a dozen candidates for the real new tree are currently growing in a nursery and will be planted with an appropriate ceremony at such time as Ngati Whatua is happy that its Treaty claim is in motion - within six months, apparently. I don't mind the iwi assuming a sense of guardianship over the site, but it has taken too long to replant.

Most of the argy-bargy over it belonged to the last council: John Banks' freelance declaration as mayor that the council had already spent too much money on the site and that there would be no tree henceforth (withdrawn and reversed without apology, like most of the stupid pronouncements Banks made) being the most notable incident.

But it would be churlish to object to Holmes' opening stunt on Prime: it was mildly funny, and it set the tone for a show which will likely be a better vehicle for Holmes' idiosyncrasies than Holmes had become on TV One.

I noted last year that Holmes was basically a radio man who had found himself on TV, and Prime's Paul Holmes is essentially talkback radio with pictures. The host gets to push his own buttons (so to speak) and calls and text messages from viewers will clearly be a major element of the programme. One texter actually had the best line of the whole show in suggesting that Cherie Blair was wearing Brian Tamaki's jacket.

The texts in particular have some incendiary potential: unflattering messages about both Tamaki and Jonah Lomu flashed up on the screen during their respective interviews. But the idea that these are somehow the unmediated voice of the people is disingenuous: you get a dozen, a hundred, or a thousand texts, and you can use maybe three of them: it's still the director who decides which messages get aired.

The host's major glitch came when, with an ad break looming, he blew right past Tamaki's claim that Transit New Zealand's refusal to allow his flock to march over the Auckland Harbour Bridge was the result of "a decision … from high up - high up - that says you cannot do this." Was he suggesting political direction of Transit? Shouldn't Holmes have asked? If only with an eye on this morning's headlines?

Anyway, for all that, I thought Paul Holmes came off reasonably well. It sometimes sacrificed sense in pursuit of the magic moment, but it seems to quite clearly know what it is, which is more than can be said for Close Up lately. I still think John Campbell has it all there for the taking …

So: another in Hard News' Coddington Watch slot, an occasional visit to the foreshore of inanity. Why? Hell, it's good fun, isn't it? In her latest Liberty Belle newsletter, once she's finished congratulating herself, Codders stumbles on an actual point - and then smothers it in Remuera hyperbole as usual:

A Wellington City Council holiday programme coordinator was asked not to use real eggs for egg and spoon races. Wooden eggs must be used, not just because they're cheaper but because, yes you guessed it, "there is an element of cultural sensitivity in [real eggs'] use because some cultures are offended by the use of food as a plaything".

True. And in some schools, flour-and-water playdough is no longer used for the same reason. The application of cultural and spiritual practices to food actually isn't that unusual - a fairly large chunk of the global population embraces either halal or kosher practices - and in this case Maori culture has certain strictures about the handling of food (some of which, including not-putting-your-bum-on-the-table, are quite good manners). Much as I have a deep respect for food, I don't think those strictures should be visited on everyone. What's wrong with simply allowing a parental opt-out?

But then Codders starts spraying word-vomit:

The culture-sensitive police will be inspecting all playcentres. I suppose I should have stopped my children from eating anything at all, really, when they were wee. Rupert would use a banana as a toy gun, and eat his sandwiches into crusts and 'shoot' me with them from his highchair. So take note parents, no more fun with food.

No, not really. It's your house, do as you wish. And then:

Mind you, mothers won't have to worry about this because they'll all be out in the workforce, since the Prime Minister (she-who-must-be-obeyed) assumes we all can't stand looking after our own children and are bursting to get out of the house.

And surely that was the biggest lunacy of the week? It brought to mind a lovely line I read when my children were small and I despaired of ever having a brain or a life again. Metaphorically, you're constantly tripping over untidy gumboots at the back door. You tidy them and curse the kids. The next day, and the next, ad nauseum, you do it again. Then one day you go out the door and there are only your own gumboots there. The children have grown up and left home. Children are a gift; enjoy while you can.

At which point, we cruise on over to Act's draft welfare policy, as channelled to Muriel Newman from the space aliens. As I read it, this, caring, sharing affirmation of motherhood would place DPB mothers on the same footing as all the other malingerers on the unemployment and sickness benefits, which would all be replaced by a single "temporary benefit". Why?

For too long as a society we have condoned the present system in spite of the fact that it breaks up families, that it prevents parents from being working role models for their children, and that it pays people who could and should be earning their living to do nothing for 10, 20, even 30 years. Amazingly, in spite of the present critical labour market shortages, there are still more than 350,000 adults and 250,000 children dependent on taxpayer-funded benefits. Welfare is clearly a system that has gone off the rails.

Thus, single mothers will have six months during which they "will be free to find a job in their own way". After that, bludging mums will go into compulsory case-management and if they still can't get off the teat of the state, they will be compelled to undertake 40 hours a week of "work placement".

Or to put it another way: "Children are a gift; enjoy while you can … you've got six months."

This, of course is in the same tradition of Act MP statements as "tax is theft … spend more!", and "build more prisons … but not here!" but it does seem a particularly silly example. Perhaps Coddington will resign in protest at her party's welfare policy? No?

Anyway, tying up a number of threads in this post, I understand that Rodney Hide believes John Banks is a racing certainty as an Auckland-based Act candidate in this year's election. Rodney thinks Banks is a vote-winner in the Queen City. Hmmm …