Sunday, March 05, 2006

Peter Griffin: More Bang for your music buck

Danish luxury stereo and TV maker Bang & Olufsen is set to expand here as more people seek higher quality electronics.

B&O products are coveted by home theatre enthusiasts worldwide, but their high prices keep most in the clutches of electronics makers selling cheaper, mass-market equivalents.

"Yes, we are more costly. So are Porsche and BMW," said Lars Myrup, B&O's managing director for Asia.

On a visit to B&O's small New Zealand operation, Myrup said sales of its exclusive products were increasing here, driven by the move to large flat-screen TVs.

The next big investment for people is swapping their old tube TV for a [flatscreen model], he said.

"Forty-inch LCD screens are cannibalising our market for 42-inch plasma screens. I think LCD will win that battle."

B&O, which has sold its products in New Zealand for 40 years, has a shop in Newmarket and will open another in Christchurch next month. It recently bought all of its 15 Australian stores from their independent owner.

Getting customers into B&O stores was crucial to convincing them it was worth paying a premium for high-quality electronics, he said.

The difference between B&O and cheaper brands like Samsung and Sony is becoming less obvious as electronics makers in general pay greater attention to aesthetics.

It was superior craftsmanship, ease of use and choice of materials that separated B&O from competitors, said Myrup. "But [competitors] are becoming sharper. We are having to work harder."

B&O is small but profitable, producing a DKK125.8 million ($30 million) surplus for the six months to November.

B&O is also under attack from new competitors - computer makers who are now building entertainment PCs for the lounge.

"It's a challenge we're facing, the computer guys slowly sneaking into the living room," said Myrup.

B&O's Beomedia is a hard-drive-based media player that stores music and video and allows access to the internet. B&O has decided to go it alone on designing a media centre device rather than partner with Microsoft, the heavyweight in that area.

Myrup said Beomedia's primary use is storing and playing digital media. "We don't want to have a keyboard on the coffee table. You want to lean back and relax, you don't want to lean forward."

B&O is increasingly diversifying its product range away from home entertainment audio and TV systems. It has signed a deal with Korean electronics maker Samsung to design a mobile phone which will be released on the European market soon. B&O has also moved into car audio speakers through a deal to supply Audi with speakers for its new cars.

Deborah Coddington: No winners in ugly mob attack

Sir Robert Jones once taught me a salutary lesson on going too far. Back in 1974 Bill Rowling (later Sir Wallace) was appearing on television at a time when he was often ridiculed for being a weak Prime Minister.

If I correctly recall this story, Jones and friends somehow got behind the scenes and released a mouse into the studio. There was much uproar; Rowling was totally humiliated; Jones and company high-tailed back to his home in the hills, laughing all the way.

They walked in the door to be greeted by Jones' mother, a formidable woman at the best of times, who'd been babysitting and seen the whole thing on television.

Jones was stopped in his tracks by mum, who glowered at his triumphant face and said, "That was a human being you just destroyed."

I recalled Jones' tale this week while watching the allegations unfold against David Benson-Pope.

This slow-leak torture is the Opposition's modus operandi: find a chink in the Government's armour, then hammer away until the defences crumble. The aim is to destroy the Government's credibility so voters decide they've had enough of the current lot and want change.

Political watchers are of one mind: Benson-Pope is no longer fit to hold a ministerial warrant. If, by week's end, he's no longer in Cabinet, he can only blame himself.

Rodney Hide sat on reports for months about Benson-Pope bullying students, but raising them wasn't relevant until Benson-Pope was made Associate Education Minister. His downfall has been his own arrogant mishandling of the allegations, beginning with tennis balls and hand-taping, and continuing with his rubbishing complaints from girls who were clearly upset.

But his stubborn denials are consistent with his former profession. Many parents have experienced the situation where they've raised a complaint only to have a teacher rear up on his or her hind legs in total self-justification, shoving all the blame back on the student. Teachers were untouchable.

And if Benson-Pope did, in fact, slap girls with rulers, walk into girls' showers and dorms, tape hands to desks and stuff tennis balls into mouths, then parents throughout New Zealand should fall to their knees in gratitude that this man is no longer teaching.

If bullying is his forte, then Parliament's exactly the place for him.

But while I'm no defender of evasive and deceitful MPs, what are the wider implications of Benson-Pope's demise? The dirt flung at him in Parliament has nothing to do with his performance as an MP or a Cabinet minister. His teaching transgressions occurred before he went into Parliament. He's been hounded and crucified for making mistakes in his former life - mistakes which didn't see him sacked as a teacher, so, leaving aside for a moment his misleading the House, why should they matter as an MP? It's a safe bet many teachers his age would have done similar, if not worse, in the classroom but will never be exposed because they're not public figures.

Let's get something straight. Benson-Pope did me no favours when I was an MP. When the media hounded me over my former partner's business dealings, Benson-Pope, Clayton Cosgrove and Mark Peck were Parliament's playground bullies. At General Debate they ganged up on me and made my life a misery, accusing me of ripping off authors, stealing money, not paying GST, defrauding the public. They brought my children into the fray. For weeks my life was held up to public scrutiny and my family blew apart under the pressure.

Benson-Pope, in particular, would sit and chant, "Pay your GST, pay your GST." He was relentless in his malice towards me, and it was horrible. So you could say what goes round, comes round.

I know I should now be shouting at him: "Take that! See how you like it," but because I've been through it, I just can't. Call me a sook but I don't have the stomach for this style of politics.

Instead, I wince when I imagine what Benson-Pope's going through. His children will be distraught. I hope he has a strong marriage. If he's anything like I was, he'll wake up at 5am, sick to the stomach, wondering how to get through the day; holding back tears. He'll walk into caucus with cameras trained on him, trying to hold his head up high, then behind closed doors his own colleagues will treat him like a leper, wishing he'd just jump off the top of the nearest building and stop being the albatross around their necks.

I clearly remember the nadir for me, when I finally succumbed to my doctor's advice and went on Prozac, just so I could drag myself down to the debating chamber and try not to show the whites of my eyes. I'd picked up the Herald and read a full-page story reporting in detail what an abject failure and disgrace I was to the Act Party, illustrated with a cartoon of me in a cocktail dress holding a pile of dog's droppings in my upturned hand.

But I was a high-flying MP who after just three months in Parliament had made headlines attacking ministers. I was touted as a future leader, a rising star. My past was a weapon for whoever wanted to cut me down.

Benson-Pope's political career's stuffed because his past was used to trap him into possibly misleading the House, the public, and perhaps his own leader, with his repeated denials that anything untoward happened.

Who's next to be destroyed for their pre-MP lives? If Michael Cullen's accused of bouncing a cheque as a student does he fail as Finance Minister? Annette King sacked as Police Minister if she's collected a few parking fines? Clayton Cosgrove unfit to be Minister for Building because his tree huts collapsed?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the politics of the future, where we'll be represented only by people who've never taken a risk, never made a mistake, never done anything which could be dragged from their closets and used against them.

Because what sane person would put themselves through this? Politics is a shitty, corrosive world and there's no low to which some MPs will not stoop.

Conservative MPs might bleat on about political correctness gone mad, but destroying Benson-Pope for a historical collection of misdemeanours shows they think MPs should be as sanitised and two-dimensional as a cardboard cut-out.

In other words, not human beings.

Matt McCarten: Benson-Pope saga case of gutter politics

I was in Parliament last Friday and ran into a former colleague who now works for David Benson-Pope. I asked him how it was going.

"Well we're still there, so we must be doing something right," he smirked.

He meant it as an insider's joke about his Minister of course. But it does prove the adage that a week really is a long time in politics.

You wouldn't want to put your mortgage on Benson-Pope still being there much longer.

I went to the same high school Benson-Pope taught at, although I wasn't there at the same time as him. Another confession is that I've barely read any of the spew coming out of Parliament on it.

I find personal smear jobs for political ends distasteful.

Don't get me wrong: I can roll around in the gutter with the best of them. But one of the things I like about New Zealand politics is that politicians usually play the ball, not the person. I can't say that's been true all the time - and this is one of those times.

Most of us worked out when allegations first arose that Benson-Pope had probably been a bully when he was a teacher. Most of us had teachers like that at some time.

My experience of successful politicians is that they all tend to be bullies and control freaks. Teachers who become politicians are even worse. It must be all those years playing God in the classroom.

When these allegations first surfaced, Benson-Pope should have simply said that although he doesn't recall the specific events, there were some things he had done as a teacher he wouldn't do today. He should also have apologised to any former student that felt that he acted in a way that was unfair or inappropriate. If he'd done this, I'm sure the public would have moved on.

The police investigation last year pretty much confirmed that Benson-Pope crossed the line in disciplining students. The police report effectively said that the accusers were right but too much time had passed and the complaints weren't worth proceeding with. So it was astonishing and disturbing that Benson-Hope's press secretary pre-empted the police report and tried to spin to the public that it cleared his boss. Any public sympathy for his plight would have evaporated at this self-serving manoeuvre. Since then, Benson-Pope's denials have given Opposition politicians a green light to take him out.

If his accusers really wanted truth and justice done, they should have given all these new allegations to the police last year. Bringing it up now smells more of politics than justice. Rodney Hide's and Judith Collins' tag-team act last week must rank as one of the most unpleasant and sordid episodes the House has seen. But it has achieved its political objective and resulted in even his staunchest defenders backing off. The smell of death is starting to take hold.

I'm sure Hide and Collins can justify their attacks as clever politics. There is no question that if the Opposition takes out Benson-Pope, Labour will have some trouble - Benson-Pope is one of the party's talents.

I would concede that it makes good strategic sense by National and Act to attack.

I spoke to a senior Opposition parliamentarian this week who told me that no one believes that Benson-Pope went into the dormitory for any other reason but to hurry the girls up. I wonder if politicians who are now calling Benson-Pope a pervert think about what they are doing to his wife and school-age children. It isn't much fun being the child of a politician at the best of times. This week must be hell for them. Apparently Benson-Pope wasn't even in an area where he could see any girls in an undressed state. But no matter what happens now Benson-Pope will be remembered as a male teacher who tried to peek at schoolgirls in the semi-nude.

The Opposition politician I spoke with claimed it would be a king hit to take Benson-Pope out. I was grateful he at least had the decency to blush when I questioned the ethics of his position if he didn't believe that particular story about Benson-Pope.

But Benson-Pope's political opponents will dish this stuff until someone snaps. If he does finally goes down they can all wink and smirk at their victory. It may be good politics but it makes me sick.

Kerre Woodham: Politician's persecution a witch hunt

I know i'm joining the fray and that makes me as guilty as the rest of the media but bloody hell!

The hounding of David Benson-Pope is reminiscent of a witch hunt. Back in the Middle Ages, witches were burned on the basis of hearsay, rumour and accusations from uneducated village oafs.

Not much has changed in the past 400 years.

Whatever Benson-Pope may or may not have done, it's hard to believe anyone could sustain the blowtorch of scrutiny that looks like destroying his political career.

I sure as hell couldn't and I don't think even the squeakiest of clean among us could survive if they were forced to endure this degree of malevolence.

The thing is you get completely blindsided. I don't know what happened but I can imagine.

I was a teenage schoolgirl a few years ago and schoolgirls don't appear to have changed all that much over the years.

So cast your mind back 10 years or so and as a senior teacher, you open the door of the girls' changing sheds and bellow at them to get a move on.

They shriek and run for cover, calling you an old perv.

You shout back that you've seen it all before, you've got kids at home, and privately you think you've seen better looking things crawling out of cheese.

They finally present themselves and you can get on with your working day.

Suddenly, 10 years later, you're being painted as a sinister predator who should not be around children and your reputation is destroyed.

And all without a single charge being laid.

Every toerag you shouted at, made fun of or dismissed as a waste of time suddenly pops up telling how their lives were ruined by your cruelty and inhumane treatment.

And the many students who actually thought you were a brilliant teacher are ignored by a media that will be appeased only if you fall on your sword.

I'm sure the media would all feel dreadful if Benson-Pope fell on his sword - but they're probably secretly pleased with the highly visual stress-related facial tic and if the slow news weeks continue, they'd be delighted with the destruction of a career.

In their enthusiasm to malign the man, news judgement seems to have gone out the window.

A man who complained about the way Benson-Pope treated his son is almost certain he directed the complaint to Benson-Pope - almost certain, mind. He's not 100 per cent clear, but hey! Near enough is good enough - and this was second lead in TV3's news.

Dear me. No doubt I'll be accused of being a blind acolyte of the left but I know I'd feel just as outraged if it was Gerry Brownlee or Allan Peachey or any of the other ex-teachers in Parliament being treated in this way.

Misleading Parliament is a serious charge and politicians who do so should be roundly criticised and, in extreme cases, forced to resign.

But the Opposition parties' blood-lust means they've overplayed their hand and there are many people who share my unease about the persecution of this man.

Kerre Woodham: Netballer scores point for mums

Good on Janine Ilitch for sticking to her guns and insisting she be allowed to express milk during the Commonwealth Games. The Aussie netballer had wanted to continue breastfeeding her baby and although she couldn't have him with her during the Games, by expressing she'd be able to resume breastfeeding once they were over.

Aussie coach, Norma Plummer, was most unenthusiastic about the prospect. She said she hadn't seen the layout of the athletes' accommodation and besides, there were other people to consider.

It's not surprising that Plummer was so grudging and obstructive. Old Vinegar Tits does not appear to have the milk of human kindness flowing through her veins, so couldn't imagine accommodating someone who does.

Netball Australia was quick to squash Plummer, especially in light of the critical emails that inundated the association's offices.

"We absolutely support Janine's right to breastfeed," said the chief exec, in PR overdrive. "We are an organisation here to champion women and we're very happy to support her in her breastfeeding."

Now I'm not a woman who insists that breastfeeding is the only option. Breast is best, where possible, but a happy, rested, relaxed and well-fed mother and baby are more important than persisting in breastfeeding when it causes only misery and pain.

When my daughter was tiny and I went back to work for a short stint, I expressed and sent the milk back in a cab on the odd occasion. It's not easy. You disappear with your breast pump into vacant offices, tearooms and, on the odd desperate occasion, the office loos, but then nobody said becoming a parent was easy. It meant I could breastfeed for a few months longer.

Ilitch is delighted she can continue to offer her best as a parent and an athlete, and has promised her expressing won't interfere with her training or performance in the Games.

Good on Netball Australia for overriding Plummer's negativity - and go the Silver Ferns. The Commonwealth gold has your name on it.