• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Showing his stripes

New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation is not on the new ambassador's agenda. Next question.

If an ambassador is the official face that one country shows to another, then new US ambassador David Huebner is off to a good start. The Americans are usually well-briefed, slick and articulate performers, and Huebner, giving his first press conference just hours after his credentials ceremony, was no exception. No one specifically asked whether he thought either country should capitulate in their respective positions over New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation. It is as though, finally, we are over it. Or at least that the media are so fed up with asking the same question of every American with a prestigious job title who has passed through our country in the past 25 years that we've given up. About time, too.

The generation of officials and politicians that brokered both countries' positions on that policy is passing from power and, with the exception of the military, who pay an ongoing price for the rift, it is more of academic than practical interest nowadays. Neither side is going to change its position and each side considers itself in the right. Continually raising it is like describing transtasman relations in terms of Trevor Chappell's underarm bowl. Get over it.

Huebner was disarming, witty and open. Perhaps the US should stick with choosing its ambassadors for reasons other than their having been donors to a presidential campaign. A Princeton graduate, Huebner has come from a high-level legal job in Shanghai, and having been here less than two days was tossing out praise like rose petals at a wedding. He was good at product placement, too, telling us about the Mt Beautiful pinot he'd had at lunch and how he intended taking the opportunity to sample Kapiti cheeses. He prefers rugby union to American football and has a particular passion for the Sevens. He said he did not speak until he was four, by which time his parents had dragged him off to doctors and shrinks to try to work out what was wrong. Then one day he walked into the kitchen and said, "Mom, I'm hungry. What's for dinner?", at which his grandfather apparently said, "I told you. He was just waiting until he had something to say." To New Zealanders, who are often taken aback by American volubility, Huebner's early years sound uncharacteristic, but you couldn't help but get the feeling from his press conference that once he's settled in, he is going to be worth listening to.

A choral service at Wellington's St Paul's Cathedral seemed an appropriate time to pray, not only in the venue but for the venue. To describe it as disintegrating would be an overstatement, but there are alarming signs of interior water damage. A collection was taken for the City Mission, but it was tempting to suggest a second plate go around for a renovation fund, charity beginning at home and all that. Churches must be enormously stretched to maintain their property portfolios, many of which contain beautiful buildings of historical and architectural significance, but at least renovation would provide an opportunity to do something about the cathedral's acoustics. I've not attended one service there (I admit we're not talking large numbers) in which I have been able to easily make out any spoken words. Singing fills the cavernous space better, but there is a reverberation that makes the spoken word almost inaudible. Still, I always manage to pick up that strange line in O Come All Ye Faithful, ����Lo! He abhors not the Virgin's womb", and each time I think the same thing. Show me a man who does.

The Government's sensible decision to abandon TVNZ's charter has come a few years after TVNZ all but abandoned the charter itself. The next move should be to sell TVNZ. Maori TV is already funded by taxpayers to fill a local niche, and selling TVNZ would make a much fairer environment for other commercial channels. Will it make the quality of TV any better? Who knows? Could it make it any worse?