House rules, ok

by Jon Gadsby / 24 January, 2004

After a few days' break, I turn on the radio expecting to hear the dulcet tones of Leighton Smith, Newstalk ZB mornings. To my surprise, it seems that he is on holiday. This is doubly surprising in light of the fact that prior to Christmas the intrepid Mr Smith had only just come back from another holiday - several weeks in exotic parts of the world. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. Perhaps the previous holiday was such that he needed a holiday on his return.

During Smith's last sojourn, Michael Laws stood in for him. Laws must be on holiday himself this time - why is everyone on holiday but me? The upshot is that Act MP, publisher, journalist and former Libertarian Deborah Coddington is occupying the well-worn talk-back chair.

She wears it well - if in fact one can wear a chair. On the morning I listened, she cruised effortlessly from solo mothers and DPB recipients through to the desirability of tracking down defaulting fathers (with dogs if necessary) who are reluctant to pay for their offspring, then onto the Treaty of Waitangi in all its horrible glory. Titewhai Harawira came in for a bit of a caning and the general consensus was that we should abandon the whole three-ring circus and go for a separate national day as the wily Australians have done.

It was when Coddington read an excerpt from an English paper that things really started to rev up.

Apparently, an English TV station had commissioned a survey among its viewers as to what sort of law they would like to see brought into being should they be given a choice. A British MP had promised to sponsor the result as a private member's bill should any consensual result become apparent. It became apparent, all right. The overwhelming desire of those polled was for legislation allowing property owners and occupiers to take any action whatsoever if an intruder entered their home. Retaliatory action included napalm and weapons of mass destruction on down. The MP in question now feels he has bitten off rather more than he can swallow, let alone chew, and is now back-pedalling frantically.

The ZB audience seized on this cautionary tale with enthusiasm, deciding that it was just the sort of thing we needed in this country. Numerous notorious home invasions and intrusions were dug up and revisited, and it was agreed that napalm, high-voltage electric booby-traps and guard-crocodiles would see the incidence of these diminish drastically. Coddington handled all this with ease, agreeing with all but the most alarming propositions. As a result of what I heard, I shall never even think of burgling her house and will advise others to be warned likewise.

This radio was good over-the-top stuff of the type that Lindsay Perigo once specialised in - good entertainment as long as you can convince yourself that at least some of the callers are tongue-in-cheek. If they were all serious, then may God have mercy on us. Coddington can play along (and probably sympathise) with the reddest of necks in the business while still allowing the odd liberal to escape with limbs and vital organs intact.

The station's choice of her is an odd one, though. I'm not sure if it's a great or wise idea to have a sitting MP presiding over the talk-back lines, although, heaven knows, precedents have been set with Rob Muldoon and John Banks. Talk-back hosts can wield considerable influence, and with elections getting ever closer we might expect to hear demands from other parties for something like equal time. I don't think the audience is yet ready for Michael Cullen Breakfast, Afternoons with Sue Kedgley and Drive with Don Brash. Evenings with Keith Locke would be good ones to avoid, but in Winston Peters there's the perfect host for Midnight to Dawn - broadcast live from Courtenay Place, I imagine.

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