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    Letter No.109
    11 October, 1999

    15 September 1999

    The Alliance education policy promises a review of the funding for children with special needs. Spokesperson Liz Gordon says the current system disadvantages schools that have a high number of special needs students.

    The Council of Trade Unions has a new secretary elect, Paul Goulter. He will replace retiring secretary Angela Foulkes. Ross Wilson will replace retiring CTU president Ken Douglas.

    Free health checks are to be provided for children in 150 of the country's poorest schools. The Health Funding Authority is to fund 60 health workers to provide the services to children in areas where the most children do not normally see a GP.

    16 September 1999

    The government commits as many as 1,000 New Zealanders to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor. About 50 NZ Special Air Services soldiers arrive in Darwin and another 400 army personnel are expected to follow within the week.

    Budget advisors throughout NZ are struggling under the increased workload according to the Federation of Family Budgeting Services. President Robyn Evans says their 154 affiliated services have had 40,000 new clients this past year, an increase of 30%. Debts of clients exceed $56m and Evans says these debts are not large credit card or hire purchase arrears, they are the basic living costs of rent and power. Evans says cases are becoming more and more time-consuming as volunteers become involved in negotiations between clients and creditors, as well as interpreting consumer, tax and social welfare legislation. The Federation includes 1,600 budget service volunteers.

    A Maori university research facility is being built at Hopuhopu north of Ngaruawahia. The facility, to be ready for a February intake of students, will be managed by Waikato University and will cater for 70 live-in post-graduate students. Research emphasis will be on the management of development and social policy in education, health, housing, enterprise and employment. The research institute is thought to be the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere and is being funded from the Tainui tribe's Waitangi settlement.

    North & South publish a feature article on Winz and Christine Rankin. The magazine says that for the same $165,000 it cost Winz to charter a Whisper jet and a Dash-8 to fly 140 staff from Wellington to Taupo and back for a conference, the department could have flown the same staff to Hong Kong with a package that would have also bought them four nights' accommodation in a quality hotel. For $47,000 less than their Taupo seminar, the 140 Winz managers could have also had five nights on the Australian Gold Coast, including accommodation and air fares.

    The Alliance's tertiary education policy is released. It includes restoring student allowances for all tertiary students 16 years and older to the level of the unemployment benefit. It also includes phasing out tertiary fees over three years, eliminating interest for student loans over the three years as that scheme is wound down, holding an inquiry into how to deal with the existing student debt and appointing a commission to help shape the future of the country's tertiary education system. Jim Anderton says the changes would be financed through a land tax on commercial property. The tax would begin at 1% per year for properties valued at over $500,000. Exemptions from the tax would be farms, Crown land, Maori customary land and forest reserves.

    17 September 1999

    Fewer students from low-decile schools are going on to tertiary institutions. In just four years the number of students going to university from schools ranked in the 1— 3 decile range has declined by 23% and polytechs have had a decrease of 17%. Figures for students from wealthy areas have increased at universities by 25%. University of Auckland pro vice-chancellor Anne Salmond says the trend is worrying and that most developed countries have solutions like scholarships in place for low-income students. She says that current policy does not support a `knowledge economy'. Salmond: "We cannot afford a situation where access to tertiary education becomes the domain of those in higher socio-economic areas."

    19 September 1999

    John Whitcombe 1943—1999.

    Equal pay for women is at the centre of the Alliances women's affairs policy. Spokesperson Phillida Bunkle says the party would set up an Employment Equity Bureau to develop and promote employment opportunities. The policy also promotes family friendly workplaces and 12 weeks paid maternity leave.

    20 September 1999

    Post Shops are being replaced by about 30 Books and More retail outlets. NZ Post says it means to redeploy and relocate their people but their union says few have jobs in the new shops. Union secretary Rex Jones says about 100 of the Post Shop staff are already aware they are losing their jobs.

    Some companies are providing paid parental leave without being prodded by legislation. An Equal Employment Opportunities Trust survey shows 31% of the 350 organisations asked have some form of paid parental leave.

    There are benefit problems with some territorial force soldiers who are on stand-by to go to East Timor. Winz is prosecuting at least five of them for benefit fraud, presumably for not declaring their territorial force income to Winz. They could be dismissed from the service if convicted. On the other side, the army is also looking into allegations that some of the territorials had been missing out on their benefit income after being stood down when they had completed their regular territorial duties.

    21 September 1999

    Tertiary Education Minister Max Bradford says the Alliance's commercial land tax will cost jobs. Bradford says escalating costs would make businesses unable to employ more staff. The national director of the Property Council John Dakin says that many small business owners own their own premises and that an extra $30,000 to $40,000 in taxes could mean the difference between hiring staff or not.

    The Australian parliament begins a programme of tax cuts. Corporate tax rates are currently at 36%, three percent higher than the NZ tax rate. Treasurer Peter Costello says that, from July next year, Australian corporate taxes would drop to 34%. On July, 2001 the rates are due to be cut further to 30%.

    22 September 1999

    Both the National and Labour parties react to yesterday's Australian announcement of corporate tax cuts but neither says it will lower taxes at the moment. Treasurer Bill English says the new tax rate makes lowering NZ's corporate tax National's next priority. Labour finance spokesperson Michael Cullen says NZ can not be left behind but that Labour's budgetary priorities will not permit tax cuts during the next three years.

    More job growth is expected in the Western Bay of Plenty. A Waikato University Department of Economics report says BOP growth is expected to be three times higher than the national average and Dr Warren Hughes says job growth there will jump 10.2%. Tauranga Economic Development Agency chief executive Ian Madden, whose agency commissioned the report, says the research contradicts recent trends. Madden says that the region grew 9% each year over the last three years and yet unemployment is at 11.3% in the region, substantially higher than the national average.

    23 September 1999

    NZ's current account deficit for the year to the end of June is the worst in 13 years. The country has imported $6.3 billion more than it exported over the last year.

    A television programme is slammed by church groups as degrading and cruel to the low-income earners involved. The Mitre 10 Dream Home television programme gives two families ten weeks to renovate run-down bungalows in Blenheim. The family deemed to have done the best job is to be given their bungalow while the other forfeits their work. The Salvation Army's Roy Tunstall calls on the Broadcasting Standards Authority to investigate saying the programme is exploitive. The Methodist Church's northern mission's Keith Taylor calls the programme appalling and degrading.

    Winz reports that joblessness rose nearly 10% over the first nine months of the new department's operation.

    24 September 1999

    Economic activity drops -0.3% during the last quarter. While economists are clearly surprised by the decline, most say NZ is not heading back into recession. A survey of economists says they expect the annual rise in GDP to 2.4% by March 2000.

    Redundancies hit Rotorua as the Forest Research Institute management tells staff it will cut numbers by 10% or 40 people.

    26 September 1999

    The government announces the next election will be held on the 27th November.

    27 September 1999

    Minister of Education Nick Smith says the way childcare subsidies are paid for the children of low-income earners is a bureaucratic nightmare. Childcare subsidies are available for low-income people whose children require care while they are working or in training. Under the year old system, a parent or caregiver is required to contact Winz when their child is to be absent from their childcare centre. The subsidy for that absent child is then deducted from government reimbursement to the centre. Previously the centres kept attendance records and were reimbursed monthly based on these records. Smith concedes the new system is not working. He says he would consult with the early childhood sector before he makes any further changes. Smith: "If that had been done better in the first place, I think we could have avoided this current difficulty."

    Fletcher Challenge's annual report says that the company's staff dropped 20% over the last year. The company now employs 16,000 people.

    28 September 1999

    The Alliance party's tax policy is unveiled tipping an income rise of $20 per week for superannuitants and beneficiaries. The rise would be paid for by an increase in income tax for people earning over $60,000. The current top tax rate is 33% and the Alliance proposes to see incomes over $60,000 begin to be taxed at 39%, which is in line with Labour's tax policy. The Alliance would go further and put the tax rate at 43% on all income over $75,000 and then to 47% as the top rate for all earnings over $100,000. Jim Anderton says his party's programme will leave taxes unchanged for 95% of NZ'ers.

    Levi Straus lays off 100 full time workers in Adelaide. General manager for Australia-NZ Peter Murphy says the Adelaide plant has been operating for 25 years and quitting 60% of its workforce has not been taken lightly. He says he is asking employees to volunteer for redundancy and after that the company would look at job-sharing as an attempt to limit the impact of the cuts.

    Plans to relieve some of the debt of the world's poorest countries may unravel according to Oxfam International. In June, the G7 nations agreed to cancel approximately one-third of the total $US214 billion debt to the world's 20 heavily indebted poorest countries. But these financial commitments are not secured and there is dissention about the way the burden will be born. France and Japan, who are the most exposed of the creditor countries, stress that the debt relief programme must be shared out fairly, rather than them being landed with the main burden.

    Meanwhile, in Washington DC, UN secretary general Kofi Annan says that policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have boosted indebtedness and unemployment. Annan says the institutions must adjust their policies to ensure that their loans provide social safety nets and jobs for the most vulnerable in developing countries.

    29 September 1999

    A new study, Equal Worth: Women's Economic Status Report, commissioned by the Women's Affairs Ministries of both NZ and Australia, concludes that women have 85% of the mean wealth of men. The study says that if it had eliminated widows from the statistics, the gap would have been even greater. The key areas of greatest disparities are in superannuation and in the owning of unincorporated businesses. The report also says that the childbearing and family rearing during the ages 30— 49 were leading causes of decreased income and superannuation. Men are also more likely to own higher earning assets.

    Labour announces its tertiary education programme that would see changes to the student loan scheme, borrowing entitlements for course costs increased and the bringing back of compulsory student association membership. Under the policy, there would be no interest accrued on student loans until the person finished studying, repayments would not begin until they earned $25,000 per year and market interest rates would not apply to their loans until they begin earning over $30,000. Labour also calls for a review of the student loan scheme and its impact. Currently students may borrow up to $500 towards course costs and this would be raised to $1,000 under the Labour policy. There would be extra funding to institutions to attract greater numbers of students taking courses in areas of known skills shortages. And there would be increased funding for university based research.

    Australia calls on the World Trade Organisation to apply the same rules and disciplines on agricultural products as are applied to other traded goods. The Australian aim is to get the elimination of trade barriers on agricultural products on the agenda of the November meeting of the WTO.

    30 September 1999

    The average weekly wage for a woman is now 79% of that of the average man according to Statistics NZ. The new report shows the gender pay gap closing by 2% this last year. The ethnic pay gap remains similar to last year. On average Maori earn 75%, and Pacific Islanders earning 69% of what Pakeha earn.

    3 October 1999

    NZ First leader Winston Peters says his party's top priority would be to amend the Reserve Bank Act to include employment and export growth. Other NZ First policies include tax breaks for exporters, suspensory loans for new companies that create jobs in the provinces and mortgage guarantees for farmers.

    A Japanese communications equipment company, Allied Telesis KK, plans to extend its Christchurch lab. The company, which now has 25 engineers, expects to have 100 by the end of 2000, and intends to have a total of 200 engineers within three years. Allied's Keith MacFarlane says the firm is looking for PhD level software and hardware graduates and that the company is likely to have to recruit overseas to fill these vacancies. He also suggests the expansion of Allied Telesis KK is likely to push up wages in that industry.

    4 October 1999

    The number of newspaper job vacancy ads in Australia rises 3.8% over last month. Job ads are near a ten-year high in Australia.

    The Alliance fleshes out its housing policy saying it would provide financial help for first time house buyers. Spokesperson Grant Gillon says the accommodation supplement would no longer be needed and would be phased out as the Alliance plans to trim back rents on state housing to 25% of net household income over three years. He says lowering the rents on state housing would push down rents at the lower end of the market. The Alliance also intends to resume building state houses and set up a housing authority to deal with overcrowding and shortages.

    5 October 1999

    Canterbury University students occupy the university registry office in protest of anticipated fee increases.

    6 October 1999

    A new study of NZ values says that an overwhelming number of NZ'ers want greater government spending in service areas. Of the 1,200 people questioned in the New Zealand Politics at the Turn of the Millennium, 93% support more money spent on health, 90% support further spending on education, 63% support more money for training for unemployed and 60% want more money for pensioners. Co-author Paul Perry, senior lecturer at Massey University School of Sociology and Women's Studies says that when the questions were asked, it was made clear that more spending would result in higher taxes. The study also concluded that a majority of people do not want increased funding for sporting events, the military, the domestic purposes benefits or special assistance for Maori or Pacific Islanders.

    About 100 Victoria University students occupy the registry there in protest of higher fees and in support of university staff who strike tomorrow. Victoria's vice-chancellor Michael Irving says the government's decision to cut student funding requires the institutions to raise fees, and salary demands of staff would cost another $3m. He says the university is continuing to make representations to government about the rising cost of tertiary education.

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