Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: King and our rulers make a pig's ear of it

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What born-again pig lover Mike King has not told us, is whether he has given back all the filthy luchre he earned as poster boy for the New Zealand Pork Board.

And while he's at it, he might want to reassure us he's not now taking the coin of his new best friends, the animal rights group SAFE.

After all, TV One, in what seemed to be an unfortunate lapse on Sunday night, ran an advertisement for SAFE, straight after the story featuring King's road to Damascus conversion in a down-country pig farm.

It was a great publicity coup for SAFE, turning the long-time face of the bacon industry into its worst nightmare, but to hear King plead forgiveness on the grounds he didn't know stretched the bounds of credulity. It was like listening to a World War II concentration camp guard claiming afterwards he thought he'd been working at a holiday camp.

Animal rights groups have been popping up on television screens and the newspapers for years with horror stories about the conditions of caged pigs - and chickens - on New Zealand farms, and in our overseas sources of supply.

I remember how grumpy I was a couple of years back when it was revealed that the expensive bacon I bought, with idyllic rural scenes and "Produce of New Zealand" stamped on the packaging, turned out to be slices of foreign pig which, for all I knew, had been pumped full of hormones and never spent a day under a blue sky.

Mr King isn't the first celebrity huckster who's been seduced by the glint of gold into endorsing products they know little about - remember former TV One news presenter Richard Long, who used to pop up on our screens declaring: "This One weather update is brought to you by Hanover, a New Zealand business with the size and strength to withstand any conditions."

No doubt King won't be the last, but please, he should accept that having sold his soul, he's on his own. And if there is a victim, it's not him, it's those of us who've been duped, or misled, or sucked in by the smiley messages he and other celebrities are paid to peddle.

Mind you, if the pig industry is in the crap after King's defection to the other side, the Government seems to have entered the End Times. Each day brings another disaster.

On Monday afternoon, the office of the Minister of Local Government alerted Auckland-watchers that the names of the gauleiters charged with setting up the Super City would be announced straight after Cabinet met - and, it was expected, those proposed names would be rubber-stamped.

Word about Auckland is that finding people willing to join the establishment board has not been easy, for obvious reasons.

Not everyone wants to jump out of a comfortable, well-paying, executive job and into a fish bowl, over which suspicious local government staff and politicians are poised with their shotguns.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide finally got together a team, rumoured to be headed by Watercare chief executive Mark Ford and businessmen John Waller, Wayne Walden and Chris Mace, and passed the names on to the Cabinet - of which Mr Hide isn't a member - for approval. But the Cabinet, shell-shocked by, among other disasters, the Rankin affair, froze.

Immediately afterwards, Prime Minister John Key told gallery journalists the delay was because "we're working on an issue".

He should have left it at that, but under further questioning, added "for us the most important thing is getting someone who has the leadership skills".

He said it was "a very important agency" and "I just want to make sure that person can discharge those responsibilities professionally and appropriately to the standard we will require ..."

In light of the Rankin fiasco, such caution is commendable and understandable. But spelling out your doubts so publicly when the names of four of the five proposed leaders are out and about for general consumption is not smart.

If any of them were having doubts, reading that the Prime Minister was having worries about their leadership skills might be all it takes to send the whole process back to square one.

Adding to the chaos was Super City mayoral hopeful John Banks' weird claim on Radio Live that he "would be surprised if the new council structure would need more than about 60 per cent of the staff they have got at the moment".

In real terms, that implied more than 2700 of Auckland's 6800 local bureaucrats faced the chop. Some hours later he issued an apology, saying the figure was pure speculation and that nobody had calculated potential job losses. He couldn't resist saying there would be savings though, "otherwise we wouldn't do it".

For his right wing Government friends, it was a diversion they could have done without. Can it get any worse? We can only hope.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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