Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Gerry Brownlee, the Christchurch recovery and Jafar Panahi

April 5th, 2012

Famously, Winston Churchill once described one of his American political allies as being “the only bull I know who carries his own china shop around with him.” Alas, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee manages the same trick – hello Finland, just kidding – and his exchanges this week with Labour MP Lianne Dalziel offered more evidence of the man’s unique ear for political tone and nuance. To be fair though, a Cabinet that also contains Murray McCully, Paula Bennett and Judith Collins means that Brownlee has to break quite a lot of crockery these days, merely to be heard.

Brownlee has done his sterling best to offend almost everyone in his tiff this week with Dalziel. Dalziel had made a simple, serious charge:

Christchurch democracy is to be “discarded” with the Government poised to take control of the central city rebuild, Labour says. Earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said that Cabinet will approve a proposal to create a new unit within the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) to manage the rebuild.

Brownlee managed to call this claim a ‘ crazy rant” and then – simultaneously – refused to confirm or deny whether it was true. This, in a city chafing over the length of time it is taking to rebuild the city, fix its core services and save as much of its heritage as humanly possible, amid a region where local democracy has already been put to the sword by central government. Dalziel, at least, has been listening to those concerns :

Under the proposal the Christchurch City Council would be stripped of all planning responsibilities in the central city, Dalziel said. The new unit would also be involved in encouraging outside investment in the city.

“It is the last remaining vestige of local democracy and it is about to be discarded in favour of a ham-fisted response from the earthquake tsar,” she said.

Dalziel first raised these concerns in Parliament on Tuesday night but hey, Brownlee wasn’t having any of this accountability-to-Parliament nonsense:

Brownlee responded saying that he was “not reporting to the House discussions Cabinet might or might not be having”.Yesterday, Brownlee told The Press: “I’m off air on this one. It’s just ridiculous.”

No, reporting to Parliament would be… ridiculous. But ah… discussions about such matters were apparently ongoing:

[Brownlee] said discussion about how the central city plan would be implemented, including the distribution of responsibilities, were ongoing with the council and Cera. “Because we are having these discussions I think Lianne has got out a little bit ahead of things.

Right. She’s got ahead of things, Miss High and Mighty Dalziel, with her talking about matters affecting the city’s future before Cabinet has finally decided how that future will pan out. Because democracy is all about people doing what they’re told, when they’re told. And when they’re told should be left to people who know better, so they can get on with it. And he, Brownlee, wasn’t going to let anyone score political points off him, because of course, that was the most important issue in all of this:

I’ve got no interest in confirming her as the person running out with the flag in front of the parade.”

So there. Get back in line, missy. Watching from the sidelines at that very same parade has been Christchurch mayor Bob Parker who evidently, has not been told anything about anything. But goodness, what a ‘superb’ contribution he could make if only anyone ever bothered to ask him!

Mayor Bob Parker warned last night against any attempt to take the city council out of the planning process. He said it would be tantamount to a takeover of the entire organisation. However, Parker said he had not been informed of any “dramatic announcements” about the council’s role in the central city rebuild. He described the council’s draft plan for the rebuild of it as a “stunning” document. “I think the plan and the vision we have is superb, and it has been embraced by everybody.”

Fabulous. Meanwhile, Brownlee charges on, regardless. Churchill had another description that neatly captures the political style routinely displayed by Cabinet’s Mr Big: ‘He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.’ Christchurch will just have to bide its time until he’s good and ready.


This Is Not A Film

The persecution of artists has been an ugly feature of Iran’s crackdown on dissent in the wake of its last, fraudulent national elections. Scoop has written and campaigned before about one of the repression’s most prominent victims, the Iranian film director Jafar Panahi. Panahi is still awaiting the outcome of his final appeal against the six year jail sentence and 20 year ban on making films imposed on him in late 2010. The sentence was handed down as punishment for the public sympathy he had expressed for the victims of the repression, and for his plans to make a film about the impact on their families. Instead, he became another victim.

The harsh sentence is not something he has accepted lying down. Last year, Panahi used a birthday cake to conceal a flash drive that contained a film shot in his home (where is under house arrest) and he and friends subsequently smuggled the cake out of the country. Later this morning, again tomorrow night (Good Friday) and on the dates cited below, this courageous act of defiance – it is called This Is Not a Film – will be screened in Wellington and elsewhere around the country as part of the World Cinema Showcase. I urge you to see it, in solidarity with this brave, humane and talented artist.


This is Not a Film screens in Wellington at the Paramount at 11.15am today and on Good Friday at 8.15 and again on Tuesday 10 April at 2.30pm. This Is Not a Film also screens at the Regent Theatre in Dunedin on Sunday 22 April, 11.15 am and Monday 23 April, 8.30 pm. Finally, in Christchurch, Panahi’s film will screen at Hollywood 3 on Thursday 26 April at 6.15 pm and Thursday 3 May, 8.15 pm.


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    1. 4 Responses to “On Gerry Brownlee, the Christchurch recovery and Jafar Panahi”

    2. By Leaps on Apr 5, 2012 | Reply

      Love the commentary on Brownlee, Both of the Churchill quotes sum him to a tee.

      Even though the earthquakes have slowed down down here, the political fall out from the earthquakes and lack of progress on the rebuild has a whole lotta more shaking to do, to quote Elvis.


    3. By Brent Efford on Apr 8, 2012 | Reply

      I am worried about Brownlie’s dual role as Chch earthquake Czar and NZ’s Minister of Transport in a Government that is obsessed about promoting road transport and pooh-poohing sustainability.
      The emerging Christchurch paradigm of limitless surface parking, thanks to the demolition of Gerry’s ‘old dungers’, and the ‘cars-first’ transport policy this Government is pursuing, does not bode well for Christchurch becoming anything other than a dreary transit camp – plenty of parking, not much of anything else!

    4. By Tony Simpson on Apr 10, 2012 | Reply

      From the moment the Christchurch ‘visionary’ plan was published following broad public consultation and the local business and commercial community came out against such things as building height restrictions and the extent of public parkland (well, they would wouldn’t they? Why landscape a park when you can use the land for commercial purposes?), something of the sort that Dalziel is foreshadowing was going to happen. I grew up in Christchurch and so I am only too well aware that whatever may be its image of itself it is run by shopkeepers for shopkeepers. This is the group for whom the National Party also pre-eminently speaks. What will be interesting will not be watching what Dalziel predicts coming to pass in some form or another, but to watch Bob Parker wriggling on a hook of his own making as he tries to explain why he simultaneously thinks the Christchurch cisizen plan is a great idea and why he agrees with those who say it isn’t going to happen.

    5. By Robert M on Apr 11, 2012 | Reply

      I wonder if Tony Simpson had ever visited Christchurch in the thirty years before the earthquake (1981-2011) because it would seem fairly obvious he can have only the slightest aquaintance with the place and none with its late night bars, clubs and erotic entertainments and pleasure establishments.
      To be sure in the 1950s Christchurch would have been a place for shopkeepers run by shopkeepers but with a great deal of elite supervision and Christs College voice. At the political and council level Canterbury and South Canterbury were always very elite and very Christs College controlled.
      But with the major changes of the l970’s the growing influence of the baby boomers, the change of the medical establishment from establishment enforcers to militant social justice advocates often outright exponents of the Cuban medical system, things changed and with more and more liberal licensing , Muldoons Massage Parlour legalisation laws which constitued a defacto legalistation of prostitution as a pay of to robs mob,and to service the US fleet,and because Muldoon was somewhat more liberal and liberated than most imagine ( one can imagine the disappointment when the USS strike carrier America arrived in Wellington for rr after bombing Vietnam, and the crew were taken out for drives in the country for a cuppa with old ladies) and the general freeing up of Rogernomics and Ruthanasia.
      As a result the real reality of Christchurch in the 1990s and 2000s was a fairly wide open largely working class city- one with a huge and sophisticated sex industry, beautiful women being sold on the street and most of the sophistication in bars, clubs and brothels being run by a fairly sophisticated and professional organised crime which was often more intelligent than the police. Christchurch was effectively run by a deal between organised crime and the professional left of people like the Daziels, Mckays, Andertons, Medical School,Bagshaws, Wells et all. The police were a rather annoyed intermediatery occassionally making angry strikes but without much actual control and with such personalities as Tim Barnett and Greg Newbold acting as imaginative intermediateries to hold the whole circus together.
      The more ordinary harder branch of the working class usually gravitated to the Manchester street area where hugh warehouse bars swayed to huge overpacked bars of fiddle players and early 20C country music with all the patrons massively intoxicated. Generally almost noone went out after 11.30am without having frontloaded with a 12 pack of beer or a 6 pack of whiskey or some more exotic or common chemicals.
      While even I tired of these rather unsophisticated entertainment it seems unlikely the real nature of Christchurch and its entertainment can be recreated- partly because the kickers will have left for good- the remainder with a clue will be too worn and the police who will now have reestablished effective control.
      But Tony Simpson like Chris Trotter seems to hark back to the ideas of the left British and NZ Labour social policy thinking of the 1930s and 1940s and to me that is what drives the likes of Mike Lee’s transport plans. To me the world is a different place and outside NZ few now think, much of the ordinary people worth saving, looking after or hoping for.Indeed overseas they would be intelligent enough to realise that most people including a lot of the fairly average would have much more chance it left largely to their own advices, wills and needs.
      I was looking at Aucklands new modern architecture cathedral yesterday which is in a quarter with classic old Bishops residence and Deanry and it seems obviously to me there is little prospect of Christchurch manageing even something as attractive in comparable environs. So I would think it far better if Daziel and her mates retired to live in villas in West Africa or the Thai coast and the Chritchurch CBD was left to be redeveloped like a typical coastal US town of 250,000 people full of McDonalds, Spearmint Rhino, Hooters, Warehouses and all the sort of chains that are in Hamilton, Tauranga and the socially lower middle class fringe areas of Auckland

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