Hard News by Russell Brown


If you can't say something nice ...

I spent yesterday café-hopping my way through meetings and bouts of internet access in Wellington; a working lunch at the Matterhorn and lawn bowls at leisure in the late sun in Newtown. In what must be a rough week for some people in the capital -- not least, the staff who carry their things out of Parliament today -- the city had a smile on its face.

I ran into PA System regular Steven Crawford on Cuba St, and twice at Astoria strangers came up to me to say thanks for Public Address. I always appreciate that: it's a reminder that real people read what we all write. (Or rather, it puts a human face on the big traffic the site has been doing this month: -- 168,000 pages served from Wednesday Nov 4 to Tuesday Nov 11, and more than 31,000 unique readers in the past month.). So let me now say something nice, on a more personal than political level.

Judith Tizard is the only MP I have really known to more than say hello to. I met her in 1995, and later played a modest role in her electorate campaign that year (constituting the beginning and end of my involvement in party politics), but she has been friend of our family since. She is one of the kindest people I know.

So I've been disappointed by the sheer bile heaped on her before and after her relatively narrow loss in Auckland Central. You know the score: "minister of nothing", "lazy", "arrogant". The MP who would go to the opening of an envelope. I have long held that this rather misses the point. The Labour caucus actually needed someone like her -- the meeter-and-greeter, the networker. You could hardly have let Pete Hodgson loose on a roomful of people, could you?

Her talent is to be at home in any crowd. She will always be remembered as The Minister for Eight Foot Sativa, after travelling in the middle of the night to see the westie metal band play their showcase at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. She was the only member of a jetlagged New Zealand contingent to do that. Good-quality earplugs, she told me later, were her secret.

Her technique is simple enough: she listens to someone she hasn't met until she has a story of her own to tell, she tells it, and a bond is made. This facility means she knows an enormous number of people, and she introduces them to each other. When I introduced her to the Singaporean blogger Mr Brown at the Banana conference launch last year, he was flabbergasted not just that she was so friendly and helpful, but that that she had actually heard of him.

She's a cancer survivor who struggled with another serious illness -- a rare form of hepatitis -- in the past three years, and to be honest, I'd have rather she'd stood down before this election. There were clearly problems with her 08 electorate campaign, and she had the duties of a Wellington minister over the eight months that Nikki Kaye (with whom I have no quarrel, and wish well) was doorknocking in Auckland.

I also, obviously, disapproved of her recent stance on Section 92 of the copyright amendment bill, even if she was to some extent fronting the policy opinions of MED lawyers. A lunch with Lawrence Lessig in the week before the election does not seem to have deterred her from that stance, but I think it warrants recognition that she made time for Lessig when she knew he wouldn't agree with her.

She was the only MP who ever turned up to the Public Address Great Blend events -- right from when they were held at the Grey Lynn Bowling Club -- and she wasn't shy about asking questions from the floor during the debates.

She made a similar commitment of her personal time to spend nearly the entire weekend at both Kiwi Foo Camps, and remains (I think) the only government minister of any country to have played Werewolf.

I have fond memories also of the Great Auckland Central Hero Debate, which she chaired, and in which I argued (if that term can be applied to the string of rude jokes that typically made up a speech) for the last three years. That's a special event, and I hope it can continue. Judith's affinity and support for gay Auckland is another part of who she is.

Judith could be scatty and sometimes say things she would regret. She probably never had the talent or ambition for a senior Cabinet role, but she actually worked much harder than was popularly supposed. She also has a genuine sense of civic duty and an affinity for Labour Party tradition. And I still think she has more going for her as a person than many of her Parliamentary peers.

I don't see her often outside a professional context, but it's some measure of her that when she discovered Fiona had breast cancer a couple of years ago, she swiftly turned up at the door with a good bottle of wine and sympathy (typically, she was the one who cried). She has made many other small acts of kindness towards our family and others over the years. I look forward to seeing more of her now. And perhaps now that she's out of politics, people could give the nastiness a rest and let her get on with it.


We need a tune. M.I.A.'s got one. Let out on the internet just last week: her cover of Tom Waits' 'Way Down in the Hole' (best known as the theme music for what certain people regard as the best TV drama ever, The Wire), renamed as 'S.U.S. (Save Ur Soul)'. It's way cool. Have a nice weekend, everybody. I'm very, very tired and must rest.

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