Hard News by Russell Brown

Various calamities

Along with the various calamities for Helen Clark and her party in this morning's Herald polling there is one rather curious fact buried in the nether paragraphs: the centre-left vote is surprisingly robust, and if the poll numbers were to be reflected in a real election, the most likely coalition would represent the most left-wing government since Norman Kirk strode the earth.

Check it out: sure, National could potentially mend its fences with the Maori Party and form a government with the help of United Future and Act too, but that seems no more likely - especially with Brash at the helm - than Labour managing to cobble together something with the Greens, Maori Party and Progressives.

This is not to suggest that Labour has made anything other than ye olde pigges arse out of the spending issue and the current spell of political brutalities, but it does show how hard it will be for National to form a government in two years' time (although I'd still put its chances at better than even).

There's a vacancy in New Zealand politics for a conservative party that would allow National to edge towards the centre and present a more liberal, cosmopolitan face towards the voters it needs to woo. But for all the money and effort going into that conservative lobby, no such party exists. The present polling also makes it difficult for National to do what it needs to do: dump Brash and give John Key some time to find his feet as leader.

On the other hand, surely now someone within Labour will now move to hide the Prime Minister's angry pills and start presenting with a little more humility and contrition. The current approach is undermining even fairly strong points such as the future of the Exclusive Brethren's exemption from employment law.

No Right Turn haa good post and subsequent discussion on that issue and Labour's "Muldoonist" willingness to deal out retribution. The irony of the exemption is that it's there because not only National but the Greens backed it over Labour's objections. In her speech in the issue, Sue Bradford said the following:

They say that from their point of view: "Separation is maintained from all groups, unions or associations of a business, shareholding, property, political, pleasure, social, medical, or superannuational nature. We have found in Jesus a satisfaction nothing in this passing world can compare with. Additionally, we are also governed by the scriptures as to employing or being employed. There is special concern to maintain inviolate the direct employer to employee relationship.'"

Having talked to representatives of the Brethren, of whom there are a large number in the district that Dr Smith, Penny Webster, and I come from---and we are very conscious of their role as employers and business people in the district---I felt that the sincerity of their beliefs was unquestionable, and that very few, if any, other religious organisations in this country could genuinely claim to hold a similar set of beliefs.

This would hardly seem to be the case now.

Indeed, to any sensible person, the allegations raised by last night's ABC Four Corners programme in Australia - money-laundering, covering-up of child abuse, routine brutalising of families - should indicate that the Exclusive Brethren is a malign organisation whose leaders deserve no favours at all from society.

One of the most disturbing stories, that of excommunicated church member Selwyn Wallace, took place right here in New Zealand. In an interview available on the ABC website, Wallace lists the suicides amongst family members who have fallen afoul of the church elders, and says that this is the fate of those leave it:

"They'll destroy you spiritually, emotionally, financially until there's nothing left."

Perhaps Don Brash should forget about having his tummy tickled by people who claim to be praying for him and watch that. Frankly, it's a disgrace that the man who has been dog-whistling about people of other faiths and their adherence to "core New Zealand values" should have continued to entertain a sect whose actions are so clearly repugnant to those values.

On another matter, the Internet NZ blog has a fascinating post on some thorough debunking of the major academic argument presented against telecommunications reform. Howell, an economist at Victoria University, will be well known to anyone who's studied this issue in the past 10 years, and her views haven't shifted in that time: there is no telecommunications monopoly in New Zealand, unbundling is ineffective and counterproductive and - I paraphrase here - the rest of the world is smoking crack.

I had a rather odd email argument with Howell on these issues - via Roger Kerr - earlier this year, and I thought she made some claims that were demonstrably wrong. I wasn't in a position to conduct a full-blown debate about economics, but the Internet NZ stuff is very interesting.

Some other things:

The Brethren elders would doubtless disapprove of my plans for Thursday night: which involve me and my buddy Andy having a very large one amid the pagan sound and light of the Coldcut show at th St James.

The evening before (ie: tomorrow night), I'll be conducting a Q&A with Coldcut's Jonathan More after a screening of some leading-edge British music video under the Antenna banner, at the Rialto Newmarket in association with the British Council. Tickets for that are $15 from the Rialto website.

If that's not your thing, then the fun-loving Off the Wire radio crew are back on at the Classic in Queen Street at 6.30pm tomorrow. It's free: just email info@thedownlowconcept.com for tickets.

And, finally, Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World seems to have cracked the PR-launch angle on its exhibitions: stage them at 4.30pm and invite the kids. Every media wanker in town (and our blameless children) seemed to be there yesterday for Freaky Fish. Most of the best stuff is dead and pickled, but it's still a feast for the eyes. And the stingray feeding session was a treat. I touched the belly of the beast that killed Steve Irwin! Well, its cousin, anyway. My 12 year-old described it thus: "Think of really slippery rubber …"