Hard News by Russell Brown

The motorcade sped on ...

It's hard not to feel that the time was when a Prime Minister speeding to make a crucial rugby test match might have been hailed as a true New Zealander. In 2004, it becomes another do-we-really-not-have-anything-better-to-worry-about flurry of headlines.

Since the story of the PM's high-speed escape from Waimate emerged, after a concerned citizen of Temuka made a report, we have seen the summoning of a police inquiry, Stephen Franks comparing Helen Clark to a South American dictator "scattering peasants", National's Tony Ryall depicting her as "Vladimir Putin speeding to the Kremlin", Act's Muriel Newman claiming in a release entitled Rugby And PR Not Worth Lives that Clark had "undermined the good work done to reduce speeding on our roads" and TVNZ discovering that she could have made a later flight from Christchurch airport on which there were nine spare seats.

What we're still not clear on is exactly how long her journey took and how fast her motorcade actually went. The Herald this morning is comparing an identical courier journey in keeping with speed limits ("2 hours 20 minutes") with the possible duration of the Prime Minister's journey ("80 to 120 minutes" - why not just say "two hours" for the higher figure?). But doubtless democracy will out and the system will provide us with a result.

Amazingly, this story has travelled as far as Britain, Australia and South Africa, where it will no doubt have fostered the impression of New Zealand as a idyll where people don't have enough to worry about. Perhaps it'll boost tourism or something.

An employee of the PM's office managed to give the story some extra legs by claiming that the haste was on account of a death threat against Clark that day. Indeed, a man was arrested in Canterbury that day and charged, among other things, with threatening to kill the Prime Minister - but it was nowhere near where she was, and even the police say that had nothing to do with the conduct of the motorcade. Exactly what the spokesman thought he would achieve by offering up such a provable porky is unclear.

But at the same time, the furore rebounded on National when the Dom Post led this morning with news that "National leader Don Brash was rushed to Saturday's Bledisloe Cup in a police motorcade that swept through Wellington running red lights and at times driving on the wrong side of the road."

Clark claims to have been too busy working in the back of her car to notice the exact speed of her motorcade, while Brash told Camilla this morning on 95bFM that while he was positive his motorcade hadn't exceeded the speed limit on its one-kilometre journey to Wellington Stadium, he simply couldn't recall going through red lights or travelling on the wrong side of the road. Oh whatever …

Meanwhile, while it excitedly leads with the latest on the motorcade story (and mentions it in two other stories on different pages), this morning's Herald has no follow-up story on yesterday afternoon's announcement by Margaret Wilson that the government is considering "streamlining" historic Treaty settlements, possibly with a cut-off date some 10 to 15 years hence: a statement, one would think of great consequence, especially given responses from both National and Act. Go figure.