From left, clockwise: John Tamihere, Christine Stevenson, Stacy and Adam of The Block NZ, Mark Richardson and Jesse Mulligan.

Metro's Dubious Achievements 2019

We’re paragons of sugar-coated positivity, most of the time, “celebrating success” till our fillings hurt. But just once a year, we set aside these few pages to salute the wingnuts, dropkicks and dipsticks whose services to dubiosity are not to be ignored. 

The Godwin’s Law Monocle-and-Jackboots Award for Bringing Up Hitler goes to John Tamihere.

Would failed Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere have got the trains to run on time? Maybe, with the help of his 18-lane harbour bridge, as imagined in those plans that looked like they came with a Meccano Starter Set. But we’re really just trying to think of any upside to having a would-be mayor who thought it was okay to say “Sieg Heil” in an election debate. Tamihere argued he was making a point about his opponent Phil Goff acting like Hitler (in supporting a ban on visiting right-wing figures speaking in Auckland Council-owned venues). And we’re assured he didn’t click his heels for emphasis. But the uber Westie has form on the dumb, Nazi-related remark front, dating back to his infamous “front-bums” interview in 2005, when he declared himself “sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed” in the Holocaust. We’ll accept that he’s a serial attention-seeker rather than an actual Nazi sympathiser, but the election result suggests his “says what he likes and likes what he says” persona is a political busted flush. And, anyway, isn’t 60 just a little too old to be an enfant terrible?

The Cardboard Box in the Middle of the Road for Exposing the Emptiness and Pain at the Heart of Auckland’s Real Estate Fixation goes to TV3’s The Block.

Been bored shitless by property chat yet? Had a gutsful of the rich-getting-richer Auckland housing narrative? Dismayed that property speculation continues to exert its distorting grip on our entire economy? You probably don’t watch The Block, then, though plenty do: this year’s was the Lord of the Flies-flavoured do-up show’s eighth season, despite the clear drawback of it being hosted by Mark Richardson and his terrifyingly white gnashers. Viewers obviously like the interpersonal “dynamics” when things get feral, but the very idea of attractive young people making money from property also taps into something close to our nation’s foundation myth. It’s all so goddamn aspirational! And then, at this year’s season-ending auction, the Kiwi Dream went sour. After slaving away at the Kingsland “Firehouse” for 12 unpaid weeks, three of the four teams left the auction empty-handed because their apartments failed to exceed the reserve or didn’t sell. Turns out all the fuss, fighting and funky furnishings meant diddly-squat when it counted. On this most stage-managed of “reality” shows, the market finally injected a bracing blast of actual reality.

The Postman Pat Award for Absent-Minded Mail Delivery goes to the Department of Corrections.

After the devastating events of 15 March in Christchurch, we stupidly assumed the authorities would observe the strictest protocols in holding the alleged gunman in custody ahead of his trial. Whatever might have been missed before the shootings, everyone would be on their A-game as we dealt with the consequences, right? Not at Corrections, apparently, which allowed him to send a six-page letter that ended up posted to 4chan, an unregulated online forum popular among white supremacists. Ugh. When this bungle was exposed, Corrections chief executive Christine Stevenson apologised and duly closed the stable door, advising the accused man he wouldn’t be able to send or receive mail until the department was sure it had effective screening in place. At this rate, they could probably also do with a reminder to watch out for sheets knotted together or files hidden in cakes.

 The Bob the Builder Plastic Hammer for Ineffectiveness in Building Houses goes to former housing minister Phil Twyford.

The Big Box of Tissues and Orchestra of Tiny Violins for Bravely Soldiering on in the Face of State Oppression goes to Jesse Mulligan and MediaWorks.

We’re big ass-kissers from way back, of course, as keen as the next preservation-minded media entity to appreciate the wit, wisdom and sheer charisma of our bosses. But we still wondered what the hell Mulligan was up to when he used his platform on The Project to wail about TVNZ’s supposedly unfair advantages and float the prospect of MediaWorks closing down TV3 entirely. Thanks to various idiotic big-money plays by various big-money idiots, MediaWorks has been struggling for years. Blaming its woes on the state broadcaster rather than those who led the company into its predicament seems a stretch — especially coming from someone also employed by that other dastardly “not-for-profit”, RNZ. His current bosses might have appreciated the sentiment, but anyone thinking of buying TV3 might have just wondered why exactly The Project needs all those presenters, anyway.


The Bob the Builder Plastic Hammer for Ineffectiveness in Building Houses goes to former housing minister Phil Twyford.

Could he build it? No, he couldn’t! Phil Twyford talked a brilliant game in opposition, rightly lambasting the Key Government for its shameful failures in housing. Problem was, once in office, he seemed incapable of sparking Labour’s flagship KiwiBuild programme into meaningful action. Targets came and went, Twyford wittered about a “recalibration”, and finally he paid the price for his underachievement by losing the housing portfolio in Jacinda Ardern’s first ministerial reshuffle. As Transport Minister, he’s been left in charge of another big-ticket item, light rail in Auckland, and promises to decide in early 2020 who will build it. Judging by Twyford’s performance to date, we can’t help wondering if Elon Musk will be taking joyrides to Mars before the first tram rattles down Dominion Rd.

The Wet Bus Ticket for Absence of Valour in the Face of Angry Pensioners goes to Auckland Transport.

Hey, AT? Wake up and smell the democracy! The Auckland Council-owned organisation failed to front a public meeting about safety improvement in St Heliers, partly out of concern for the safety of staff. It seemed the prospect of braving a hall full of cantankerous locals, many of them elderly, was too frightening to contemplate, with AT chief executive Shane Ellison saying he had “a duty of care to the wellbeing of AT’s employees”. It’s obviously a lot more collegial giving PowerPoint pressos to each other back at AT headquarters, Shane, but shouldn’t those who work as public servants, for a public organisation, responsible for public transport, be prepared to front up and face, you know, the public? 

The Empty Pink Piggy Bank for Embarrassment in Banking goes to David Hisco, John Key and ANZ.

It’s not as if Aussie bankers, whose misconduct was laid bare in a scathing royal commission report, are in line to win any popularity contests at the best of times. And on this side of the Tasman they face a degree of resentment over that honking great pipe they’ve constructed to siphon money out of the New Zealand economy and back to the Lucky Country. But in an industry of complete and utter bankers, David Hisco managed to stand out, leaving his $3 million-plus-a-year job at the helm of ANZ New Zealand under a cloud following allegations he “mischaracterised” a measly $50,000 or so of personal expenses — including wine storage and the use of chauffeur-driven cars — as business expenses. It was later revealed ANZ sold Hisco’s wife the couple’s luxury pile in St Heliers for well under its value, and without making the required disclosures. As ANZ chairman, former prime minister Key had to front over Hisco’s departure and to deny any link between the expense investigation and the embarrassment the bank and board suffered when ANZ was given a dressing-down by the Reserve Bank a month or two earlier over failings in the way it managed its capital adequacy. As a side issue, the chairman also faced questions about the departing boss having in 2018 bought Key’s Ōmaha beach house for $3.1 million. Now we think of it, the Ōmaha house — in Success Court, no less — would make a great location for a TV dramatisation of the whole sorry saga. Your move, MediaWorks.

From left, clockwise: Former ANZ chief exec David Hisco, former Statstics NZ chief exec Liz MacPherson and John Key.

The Strange Bedfellows Matching “JT” Bathrobes go to former National Party notables Michelle Boag and Christine Fletcher for climbing aboard the 18-lane Tamihere Bridge to Nowhere.

It was always a bizarre idea: that by tethering former National Party minister and Auckland City mayor Fletcher to Tamihere as a running mate, and getting former National president Boag in as a strategist, the freewheeling former Labour maverick could get enough of the true-blue vote to triangulate his way to victory over boring Phil Goff. Neither woman could actually be seen as representing boundless political success. Fletcher lasted one term as mayor before being turfed out by John Banks, and has recently been on the B-team outer as an Auckland councillor; Boag was National president when the party endured its catastrophic defeat in 2002, and helped recruit the hapless Vic Crone for her tilt at Goff last time around. Tamihere was already vulnerable to the perception his time might have come and gone; adding a pair of has-beens from the other side of politics just seemed to confirm that his brilliant future was already behind him.

The Count von Count Calculator for Failures in Numeracy goes to Statistics New Zealand and its former chief executive Liz MacPherson.

By the numbers, the 2018 Census was a disaster: one in six people didn’t complete it; the response rate of 83% was down nine percentage points on the previous census (by comparison, the last census in India counted 97.7% of that country’s 1.2 billion population); and Māori responses dropped a whopping 20%. Too much focus was given to a digital approach and not enough to “boots on the ground”, apparently. MacPherson recognised her number was up, resigning in August after the release of a report into the debacle. Should it cast doubt on the key finding that Destiny Church (1722 members) is seriously outnumbered by those who declare themselves “Jedi” (20,409) or even the Pastafarians of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (4248)? We hope not.

The Flipper Award for Talking Out of Their Blowholes goes to Panuku chiefs and their cruise-ship-wharf extension brainwave.

You can’t polish a turd, but you can call it a “dolphin”, apparently. That’s the name used for two lumpen 15m-by-15m concrete mooring structures council development agency Panuku wanted built off Queens Wharf so giant cruise ships could berth there instead of anchoring in the harbour. The whole project remains in doubt at press time, but somehow, Mayor Phil Goff believed that what would effectively be a 90m wharf extension connected by a gangway wasn’t going to be a breach of his 2016 campaign promise that “not one more metre of the harbour should be infilled for commercial activity”. If the waterborne invasion of the Zimmer-frame brigade every summer isn’t a commercial activity, does that make it some kind of rather unattractive cultural exchange? 

This piece originally appeared in the January-February 2020 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline ''Dubious Achievements 2019.

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