Gordon Campbell on Andrew Little’s not-so-great week

No, it hasn’t been a terrific week so far for Andrew Little. The Labour leader’s decision to exclude the Greens from the (toothless?) committee that will play a yet-to-be-determined oversight role in the June review of our security and intelligence legislation is more important for its symbolism than for its real-life impact. By hogging the two available opposition slots for Labour – Little and foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer will sit on the committee panel – Little has (a) snubbed the Greens who have a proven track record on such issues and (b) confirmed the impression that when it comes to security issues, Labour and National operate as a cosy duopoly that will do nothing to rock the boat with our 5 Eyes allies.

Allegedly, Little is not only guilty of rank bad manners to a political ally, but is in breach of the law that requires a consultation process with minor parties before such appointments are made. Little should now step down, allow Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei to have a position on the committee panel, and trust Shearer to carry Labour’s flag competently. It could even be advisable strategically, for him to do so. That way, Little would give himself a bit more room and flexibility to comment on the issues at stake. If he sits on the committee, he may well find himself bound by any SIS/GCSB confidences that are shared with the committee.

Right now, what the intelligence services need is greater public confidence in the worth of their activities. Limiting the extent to which their powers and roles are open to democratic challenge is hardly the way to foster that confidence. It would be a Little step aside for a man, a slightly bigger step for mankind.

Cheques and Balances

The interesting thing about the Great David Cohen Unpaid Invoice Saga is that Andrew Little – then only a leadership aspirant – should have chosen to hire an NBR columnist to research and report on how Little is perceived, presumably among the business community. Hmmm. Former top union boss . How might he be perceived by business ? Let me think about this for a while… Ka-ching! I’m sure David Cohen does top notch work. Fascinating though, to think that the task involved in creating a folio… lets assume it was called something like Assessing Attitudes To Andrew : A Premiminary Analysis … should have been of sufficient duration and complexity as to justify a circa $1,000 bill. For those engaged in less arcane forms of work, that seems a staggering amount.

In its own way, the incident throws a tiny spotlight on the remuneration bubble that Wellington’s political eco-system sustains. Most consultancy work isn’t brain surgery, but it is paid as if it is. And around the political and bureaucratic traps in Wellington, it is the plumped-up cushion of taxpayer money that enables charge–out rates of $200 – 350 an hour, and annual salaries that stretch well into six figures. At the time he hired Cohen, Little was on a backbenchers salary of $147,800 a year plus perks. Clearly, he felt willing and able to invest in perception feedback of this magnitude.

Perceptions do matter to such people. We live in a polity where policy is gauged less by its impact on people, than on its impact on the electability of the politicians themselves. That’s certainly where the research dollar tends to go. Thus, politicians send messages to focus groups who beam them back again so that the impressions of a pre-determined policy can be massaged, and then – ta-da ! – announced. Often it will be a message about the need to tighten belts, and to trim entitlements – among the very people who, in the end, have been paying for this expensive echo chamber of perceptions, and for the lifestyle to which the MPs and their perception masseurs have become accustomed.

Borgenomics in Television

OK, so here’s a perennial question – how come Denmark makes such great television ? Borgen, The Bridge, The Killing blah blah. Apparently, it is not just because they have great writers, actors and producers… It is also because for a decade or more, the government has believed in high quality public service television, and invested large amounts of money and time in researching and creating it. (Not merely in drama, either. In high quality, innovative children’s programmes as well.) All of which has been made possible by a sizeable television licence fee paid for a public who have shared the government’s belief in the value of good television, and watched it just as avidly as everyone else in the world.

To some, that will sound like socialist art. Quel horreur. Fancy giving people back something for their taxes that they actually want, and enjoy. Thankfully it has not only been the state-funded RNZ Mediawatch programme that has explained the Danes’ success story in these terms. So did the New Yorker, a couple of years ago.

Indonesian Rock music

In a week likely to end with Indonesia getting some very bad publicity – killing people to make a legal point is a deeply flawed idea – it may be timely to revisit the country’s contribution to rock’n’roll, In the early 1960s, the Tielman Brothers were Indonesian migrants in the Netherlands, and they made some great clips for Dutch TV. Watch these and boggle. Guitars played behind your back while standing on the double bass, while that’s lying on top of the bass player ? Here for a relatively tame starter is their version of Elvis Presley’s “Bossa Nova Baby” – which means it must be mid 1960s…

And from even earlier – circa 1959 -60- here’s their “Rollin” Rock” masterpiece…

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