Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: Arrogance from port, vision from President

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Tauranga has twice the productivity and half the wage bill. Go figure.

I love American Presidential State of the Union addresses. I've never seen a duff one. Every president rises to the occasion but no one is finer at the set piece than Barack Obama.

Ports of Auckland. The trouble with any discussion about ports and wharfies is the inevitable descent into polemic, into attitudes, into where you come from, into whether you're right or left.

What I've always observed about the port administration - that is to say the old Auckland Harbour Board which became Ports of Auckland - is its arrogance and not a little megalomania. Nowhere were these two qualities more better illustrated than down at Princes Wharf where they built that great three-legged monstrosity that said to people: "We own beyond here, come no further." Truly it is foul and ugly, that building.

Then, of course, so much did those old Eastern Suburbs boys believe they owned the harbour that when Michael Bassett abolished them in the local government reforms of the late 1980s, they set up some kind of trust of $20 million which they would continue to administer to do God knows what. That went west straight away when it was revealed, and it took a couple of years to reveal it because they'd kept it nice and close, the old boys.

Shocking, really.

And here is this old arrogance, nice and intact, with the port's plans to crawl like a fat ugly maggot way out into the harbour. The position of the container port never fails to amaze friends who come to visit me from overseas. Why in God's name would they ever have put a container port there, they ask me?

I might be being a bit harsh. Certainly the port has an argument for its employment reforms. Tauranga has twice the productivity and half the wage bill of Auckland. Go figure. The row with wharfies is always about entitlement and privilege and the threat thereto. It always is. All wharfies know is obstruction. That's the way it always was. Wharfies are historically programmed to oppose reform.

I watched President Obama's State of the State of the Union address the other night. I love American Presidential State of the Union addresses. I've never seen a duff one. Every president rises to the occasion but no one is finer at the set piece than Barack Obama.

He made the occasion his campaign launch. No doubt about it. It was an election launch, and a fine one at that. It was not over-the-rainbow stuff. It was a speech full of policy, domestic stuff. America is back, he said. American industry has produced three million more jobs in the past 22 months. When he became president, he declared, the American car industry was on the verge of collapse. Now, General Motors is the No 1 car maker in the world. Chrysler has grown faster than any other car company.

He regaled the Congress at length about education. He insisted that schools be able to pay better teachers better money and should be able to remove teachers that don't cut it. I was amazed to hear this from a Democrat president. We've heard the primeval screaming from the PPTA and the NZEI when any politician dares to expresses the same idea here.

His speech was 65 minutes long, interrupted some 85 times by thunderous applause. They love him still, the Democrats. He quoted Lincoln, a Republican, brilliantly in a way that floored the Republicans. "Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more." The House went off at that. Republicans had no answer to that.

There were other lovely touches. He asked why Warren Buffet should pay less tax than his secretary. Cut away to a shot of Warren Buffet's secretary live in the gallery, a nice plain all-American girl, obviously there with Warren Buffet's approval, so take that you Republicans.

The Republicans have no answer to Obama, period. Mitt Romney looks like Ken Doll turned 60 and appears to have the usual rich man's tax greed. The blowhard Newt Gingrich once begged a former wife for an open marriage and has a record of stuffing up all political power he's ever had.

Now, my health. It seems to have been a matter of speculation since last Sunday and I don't want you to think I'm on my last legs, so here's what happened. The week before last, I was due in a Hastings hospital for some scheduled surgery. It was all to do with damage done by radiotherapy during the first days of the prostate cancer treatment a decade ago. Radiotherapy knocks everyone about inside. As I said in this paper last year, no one gets away scot-free from cancer.

In mid January, my bladder shut down. That is to say, its ability to drain itself was blocked by an enlarged prostate strangling the urethra. So I could not pee. Meantime the bladder continued to swell and believe me, this must be one of the most painful conditions in the world. The immediate solution is to insert a catheter to drain the bladder, a moment of immense relief. And you walk round with the bag attached to your leg until they can do what I call a re-bore.

Sounds weird and unpleasant I know, but it's happened to me now a few times over the years and you kind of get used to it.

But it's what can happen after prostate cancer. Like any cancer, it is a nasty, unpredictable thing, and its effects can hang round for years and change your life forever. I gave up smoking over 18 months ago and will have to take things a bit easier, I guess.

So we did the re-bore as a sudden complication that was rather frightening and was obviously Go-to-Hospital-Do-Not-Pass-Go. A couple of nights of rest under wonderful care, and I was home again, everything pretty much back to normal. Right as rain and fit as a fiddle. So that's that. But the old bladder-blocking business is deeply freaky. In the old days, before catheters, blocked men's bladders would simply explode. And they would die. Thank God we live now, and not then.

- NZ Herald

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