Hard News by Russell Brown

We know nothing ...

John Banks' campaign manager, Brian Nicolle, contacted the NBR last Friday and secured rights to republish last week's Dick Hubbard hatchet-job. He was subsequently emailed the PDFs for the five pages. And now four of those pages have been re-printed and are being professionally mail-dropped in key Auckland suburbs. But Nicolle doesn't know anything about it.

Or so he said to the New Zealand, in a bizarre conversation reproduced on the front page of the paper this morning. Nicolle could only speculate that "we have lots of supporters" and, when the Herald's reporter pointed out that it was "strange" that a campaign manager wouldn't know about something like this, he offered that "Most campaigns are chaos." Really?

NB: Just after I sent out the Public Address email today, I discovered that the Herald had part of its story wrong. Nicolle did not visit the NBR office as the Herald claims, just made a phone call and got his pages via the modern miracle of the Interweb, rather than being "handed" it as the Herald story has it.

The story was advanced a little further - and got more bizarre - on Morning Report, when NBR's editor in chief Neil Gibson confirmed to Sean Plunket that Nicolle had secured the rights, but said that he had no idea what Nicholle planned to do with the pages he had licensed. Also on the line was John Banks himself, who was virtually at screaming pitch from the moment he opened his mouth.

The primary problem with the reprint being distributed is that it is in breach of the Local Electoral Act because it does not say who authorised it. The authorisation requirement is there in part so that campaign spending can be tracked. It is possible that the reprint and distribution costs would take the Banks campaign over the $70,000 cap on campaign spending. So, basically, they can't admit to it.

"My campaign manager doesn't break the law!" yelled Banks, claiming that he too, had no idea who might have taken the "PKGs" and paid for, printed and distributed the pamphlets, adding "I don't know anything about it" and "I certainly wouldn't condone it."

There followed a Linda Clark interview with both Banks and Hubbard, in which Banks claimed not to have personally attacked any candidate during the campaign (this is actually largely true: it's a campaign strategy to try and soften his image - although, of course, he spent three years as mayor slagging off Fletcher and anyone else who crossed him).

Banks also claimed, I think, that he never said anything that wasn't true. Which is just silly. An amused Brian Rudman notes the most recent Banks fantasy in his column this morning:

Meanwhile, Mr Banks continues to inhabit a world of the imagination. His role in Leighton Smith's mayoral debate on Wednesday was a classic. When asked what's been done under his regime to stop the explosion of ugly central city apartments, he blamed his predecessor. "Every single one of the buildings you see under construction and the buildings you don't like outside this west, northwest window Leighton, was rubber-stamped by the previous council."

Then he extolled the virtues of the council's urban design panel, which "we set up", and claimed "every single building to be built in the central business district now must have their stamp of approval. The kind of buildings that you've seen completed on Hobson St will not be able to be built again."

A wonderful achievement, if true. But it's not. None of it. The urban design panel concept was approved in July 2001, when Mrs Fletcher was mayor. And despite the mayor's claim, it has no power to approve or reject any building project. It is purely an advisory body.

It is of course possible that Banks doesn't know he's not telling the truth - that he believes these things are true when he says them. Or perhaps even that they are true because he has said them. You never know with Mayor Banks.

Hubbard has meanwhile taken a $1.5 million defamation suit against the NBR, over last week's "triple bottom lie" lead story. IANAL and I couldn't venture as to whether a court might find the story defamatory, but it is certainly very flimsily-based. I presume the release of the pages would be considered an aggravating factor if a court does eventually find in Hubbard's favour.

NBR has another story today, in which it claims that Hubbard Foods chairman David Irving "now says" in a letter that there was an internal, unpublished triple bottom line report in 2002, in addition to the published one in 2001. I'm not sure whether this makes the Hubbard camp look more confused or makes the original story look more reckless, but if the action goes the distance I have a feeling that disclosure will be fun.

One more question: who told the Herald about Nicholle's visit? Can we expect heads to roll the way they did when word of Barry Colman's funding of Don Brash's media skills training got out?

Anyway, while the NBR Awards were being held at the Town hall on Wednesday, across the square at the Aotea Centre, it was the New Zealand Music Awards, the Tuis. Perhaps it was apt that the two functions were held simultaneously: between them they provided a sort of political equilibrium.

Helen Clark gave the same old speech but got an even more enthusiastic reception than usual from the music biz crowd, and it's not hard to work out why: the various creative industries policies have been spectacularly successful. New Zealand music now accounts for as much as 20% of radio airplay (up from 2% 10 years ago), local releases increase every year as a proportion of overall music sales, and there have been an unprecedented six number one singles this year from local artists. People are making a living off this stuff.

The ceremony, at over two hours, tried the patience of quite a few people (especially when they discovered that the bars in the foyer were shut for the duration), but was, once again, a marvel of production. The opening version of 'Stand Up' by Scribe and Blindspott was sort of messy, but set an exciting tone. A lot of the banter was cut from the televised version, but Mikey Havoc was in excellent form as co-host.

I was particularly delighted to see Dimmer pick up best rock album and best group - and Shayne Carter himself, to judge by his demeanour, was positively gobsmacked by it.

There was also a nice tribute to the late Shaun Joyce of the Sounds music chain. Back in the nineties, when Hard News was a radio rant, Shaun specifically asked to sponsor it for a while, and was kind enough to include a regular contra at his shop for me. He didn't have to do that, and I've always appreciated it.

At the party afterwards, Hayley Westenra and her friends ran about taking each others' pictures and I met Scribe and shook his hand. His huge hand.

Scribe, of course, cleaned up at the awards, taking out six prizes. Which made the following day's silly-old-fart editorial in the Herald look even more daft. The editorial bid "goodbye and good riddance" to the Community Employment Group, which coughed up for the now-notorious hip hop "study tour". But it also blathered that:

Surely a grant of $26,000 linked to the phrase "hip hop" would have set off alarm bells if anyone had bothered to carry out the appropriate checking procedures …

Um, why? Scribe's multi-platinum success has kept quite a few people in wages this year, and Telecom must have seen some value in the business when it bunged all that sponsorship money into the Boost Mobile tour. Is the author saying that Dawn Raid are not very savvy business people? Or that the Dawn Raid Community Trust (which also got CEG funding but has much private sector support too) should be ignored on aesthetic grounds?

Rather than treat the tour grant for what it was - a poorly-conceived decision with no obvious or expected outcome - the Herald's editorial writer decided, somehow, that it was a musical genre issue:

Woe betide the ministry if the words "hip hop" appear on its files in any context other than the gait of arthritic rabbits.

Or perhaps this particular leader writer could henceforth confine his arthritic editorials to things about which he has a clue …