Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sideswipe

By Ana Samways

New Zealand's Fair Go has been named Coolest UnCool Series by US media tracking analysis company Global Language Monitor. It described the show as defending consumers against injustice, "even battling (and winning) for a 1c discrepancy". Global releases its Television Buzzword List for the 2004-05 season in conjunction with the Emmy awards. The top buzzword is "refugee", from the on-going coverage of Hurricane Katrina, followed by "desperation" from Desperate Housewives, "Camp Cupcake" from Martha Stewart's incarceration. Close behind were "reality TV" and "curmudgeon" from the Hugh Laurie medical drama House, "backstory" from Lost, "tsunami" from the South Asian disaster, and "mobisodes" - one-minute episodes for mobile devices. Phrases deemed no longer hip include "You're fired" from The Apprentice, but Seinfeld's "Yadda, yadda, yadda" is still worthy. Worldwide, the Largest Global Phenomenon from a Single Word prize went to "Idol/Idool/Idolo", with more than two dozen American Idol-type shows spanning the globe.

* * *

Ever thought mugshots on online dating services seemed too good-looking? Match.com is being sued by staff-members who say employees posed as interested date prospects - online and in-person - to trick account-holders into resubscribing. Match.com is accused in a federal lawsuit of goading members into renewing their subscriptions through bogus romantic emails sent by company employees. In some instances, the suit contends, people on the Match payroll even went on sham dates with subscribers as a marketing ploy.

* * *

A reader writes: "It's good to know that the New Zealand Blood Service takes anaemia so seriously. I recently tried to give blood but was informed that my previously low (1999) iron levels - now completely fine - prevented me from giving blood for "a while". A summary of my donor history did, however, inform me that I am allowed to commence giving blood in the year 2242. Now I have something to look froward to should I make it to the ripe old age of 266."

Editorial: Confusion beyond our shores

We remarked last Wednesday that Winston Peters' position becomes more ludicrous by the week. That was in response to his decision not to sit on the Cabinet's external relations and defence committee where the decisions a Foreign Minister implements are largely made. Since then he has made his first sojourn as this country's Foreign Minister, to the Apec meeting in South Korea, where another difficulty of his ambiguous position became all too evident.

Soon-to-be Trade Minister Phil Goff, who was also at Apec, let it be known that Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer sought from him a clarification of Mr Peters' relationship with the Government. Naturally, those who deal with New Zealand will need that. They will need to know whether they are talking to a member of the Government or a mere emissary. They will have been advised by their own foreign officials that the new representative of this country is not from the governing party and, though he has agreed to support it in Parliament at crucial times, he is determined to keep his distance from it. Thus he steadfastly denies he is part of the Government.

This position may be comprehensible - just - to New Zealanders who know the finer points of our electoral system and the difficulties it has presented to parties in coalition. But to those elsewhere who do not take an abiding interest in our politics, the reasons for Mr Peters' equivocal status will be a complete mystery. The difficulties it creates for those dealing with us should have been foreseen by the Prime Minister before she agreed to this ridiculous arrangement.

Had it been foreseen, she and Mr Goff might have been better prepared to explain the position to the likes of Mr Downer. It appears the best Mr Goff could do was to compare Mr Peters to one's mother-in-law, who is more likely to maintain good relations with the family if she is not living in the same house. Quite what the Australians made of that, we have not been told. Mr Downer did say he was surprised Mr Goff made his query publicly known. Almost certainly, Mr Goff's act of disclosure told the Australian Foreign Minister even more about the tensions in the New Zealand camp than he must have inferred from the mother-in-law analogy.

Mr Goff returned none too pleased with the reporting of his candid comments at Apec and Mr Peters thinks it "treason" to discuss his domestic political difficulties while he is trying to represent the national interests overseas. Mr Goff's comments were a matter of public importance and Mr Peters is possibly alone in believing his invidious domestic position can be kept from his counterparts abroad. Mr Peters made this bed for himself. He could not resist the trappings of office even though he wanted to keep his distance from Labour.

He wants to keep his distance because New Zealand First came to grief in the first coalition under MMP and the Alliance Party suffered a similar fate in the second. Smaller partners' voters seem to treat coalitions as an effective merger. More recently, small parties have been content to promise a Government support only on crucial votes. They have not, until now, expected a ministerial post if they will not form a coalition.

Helen Clark acknowledges Mr Peters is venturing in uncharted constitutional waters with this attempt to be independent of the Government in everything outside his portfolio. It is a pity he chose a portfolio that projects confusion beyond this country. As Hamlet said of Polonius: "Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in's own house".

Irfan Yusuf: Islamic model told to give up catwalk career

Australian model Michelle Leslie returns to Australia over the next few days. While in an Indonesian prison, this swimsuit and underwear model decided to don a head scarf. At one stage, she even wore a burqa covering her entire face.

Some Australian media had a field day with her alleged "conversion on the road to Bali prison". When her friends revealed Leslie had embraced Islam at least two years ago, the media cynicism on her conversion largely subsided.

But as Leslie's plane prepares to land at Sydney Airport, she will be greeted by another frenzy. Leslie has been told by the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) to cease her modelling career.

Dr Ameer Ali, AFIC President and an economics lecturer, was quoted in Sydney's Daily Telegraph as saying:

"If she is a Muslim I don't think she should go back to her job as an underwear model because Islam is about modesty. Taking off her clothes and being half-naked on the catwalk will raise a lot of eyebrows in the community. She can't have it both ways. Either practice Islam and do something decent or don't practice it at all."

This all-or-nothing mentality has become all too prevalent amongst the first generation migrants who dominate leadership roles within Muslim bodies and organisations. New converts or young Muslims returning to their faith are expected to immediately conform to a set of standards.

But this attitude doesn't account for human realities. We all have to start somewhere. And if some of us end up choosing to regard ourselves as Muslim, this does not necessarily translate into a complete change of career or lifestyle choice.

Leslie has a number of modelling contracts awaiting her return to Australia. Although the writer is no theologian, it is an Islamic theological given that her taking up modelling will not in itself take her outside the fold of Islam. The President of AFIC will know this. Or at least he should.

Being Muslim is a product of one's faith. And belief is a matter of the heart. Only Michelle Leslie and her Creator know what is in Michelle Leslie's heart.

Further, it is not for the presidents of Muslim bodies to be telling Muslim women how they should dress. Just as it is not the business of politicians to be regulating Muslim dress. Dr Ali's comments mirror those of conservative Liberal Party backbenchers who want to see the traditional Muslim hijab banned from state schools.

Muslim women living on either side of the Tasman have the same opportunities as any other women to participate in mainstream society. Whether they are converts or brought up in the West, these women should be allowed to make their own choices without men - and their often irrelevant cultural standards - becoming involved.

Many Muslim leaders find it impossible to bridge the cultural gap that often divides them from mainstream society.

Whether as converts or reverts, many non-cultural Muslims face difficult decisions and choices beyond the almost impossible task of adopting a new faith.

Leslie has taken an enormous step. She has changed her faith. It will take her some time to change her lifestyle.

Human beings are not robots or computers that can be programmed into a new set of habits and behaviour.

For many young Muslims the choice is even more difficult. They are forced to swing life's pendulum in at least three directions between parental expectations, orthodox religion and the Western culture they grew up in.

For new Australian and New Zealand Muslims, both young and converts, conventional mosques and imams are locked in an alien cultural world.

I have a Kiwi Muslim friend who sometimes works behind a bar. She serves alcohol, and she enjoys drinking white wine or champagne mixed with orange juice. Both are habits regarded as sinful by mainstream Islam.

But beware anyone who says something nasty about her father's religion. My friend may not be the most observant Muslim on the planet, but in terms of passion for her faith I have known few people better and stronger.

More important than her job and her drinking habits is the goodness of her heart and her wisdom. Despite leading a difficult life, she is one of the most compassionate people I have met. She is extraordinarily sensitive to other people's feelings. I have never heard her speak ill of anyone. And when she rebukes her lawyer friend Irfan on his over-eating habits, she does it mildly.

My friend is the living embodiment of what American sufi Hamza Yusuf Hanson once said: A religious person is someone who doesn't want to go to hell. A spiritual person is someone who has been to hell and never wants to go back.

Islam teaches that a good heart and noble intentions matter more than appearances. Some rednecks claim that Muslims believe all martyrs go to heaven into the arms of 72 virgins. But the prophet Muhammad taught that a martyr who dies with the intention of being glorified will in fact be sent to hell. He made the same remark concerning the cleric and the philanthropist who do good deeds just to be seen.

The same prophet also spoke of a sex worker who finished her shift and went to the well to drink some water. She saw a dog dying of thirst and gave the dog water first.

For that good deed and for the purity of her intention, God made this woman destined for heaven.

Whether you're a neuroscientist, a barmaid, a swimsuit model or a sex worker, what counts isn't what people think of you. Like all mainstream faiths, Islam teaches that what counts at the end of the day is the goodness of your heart.

I hope Australians of all faiths will welcome Michelle home with open hearts.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer.

Mathew Ingram: Legal thorns entangle BlackBerry maker

Not that long ago, Research In Motion was on top of the world. The handheld-device maker, based in the small university town of Waterloo, Ontario - about two hours west of Toronto in Canada - had finally settled the longstanding legal suit that was pressuring both the company's stock and its business, clearing the way for it to continue growing the market for its popular BlackBerry email devices.

At US$450 million, the settlement didn't exactly come cheap, but RIM shareholders celebrated anyway, relieved that an agreement had been signed with US-based NTP to license the company's patents on wireless email.

Shares of Research In Motion (RIM) climbed by more than 20 per cent the day the news was announced, pushing the stock price past US$80 - higher than it had been in months.

Since then, however, the stock has sagged again, falling below US$60 a few weeks ago.

The euphoria that greeted the deal with NTP soon evaporated, as the two sides failed to follow through on their agreement, with each side blaming the other for the collapse of discussions.

And now they are back in court - appearing before one of the original trial judges in the case - and there is a real chance that RIM could be hit with an injunction preventing it from selling BlackBerrys in the United States.

How did it come to this? RIM says the agreement with NTP in March was a final, binding deal that allowed it an "unfettered right" not only to use the other company's technology, but to sub-license it to others - that is, the handheld-maker's telco partners.

NTP, however, said the arrangement was simply the first stage of negotiations and that the deal had not been finalised. Research In Motion, meanwhile, might not have been quite as eager to get the deal signed as it was earlier, since the company was also busy trying to get the US Patent and Trademark Office to invalidate the NTP patents - and this campaign was starting to show some signs of success.

The Patent and Trademark Office has now issued so-called "first office" letters rejecting all six of NTP's disputed patents, something that has helped buoy RIM's share price somewhat.

However, patent experts note that such rejection letters are not uncommon when claims are being reviewed, and don't necessarily mean that the patents in question will all be invalidated.

In any case, even if there were such a decision, it could be appealed through several levels of authority, stretching the case out for years.

Analysts who follow RIM say that level of uncertainty could not only keep a lid on the company's share price, but keep potential partners away as well.

And that would tie the device-maker's hands at the worst possible time: when competition in the wireless email market is intensifying, with Microsoft pushing hard to get users to let it handle their wireless devices, and competitors such as Good Technology, Seven Networks and Visto also keeping the pressure on.

And they aren't the only ones - cellphone maker Nokia just bought Intellisync, one of RIM's leading competitors, and clearly plans to make an assault on the market.

RIM has tried several different gambits to try to resolve the case in its favour: first it tried appealing against the original ruling, and lost. Then it tried to appeal against that to the Supreme Court, and was denied.

Then the company tried to get the entire appeal court to re-hear the original case, but that attempt also failed. It then asked the original judge, who is now in charge of the case again, to delay his decision until the Patent and Trademark Office rules on the validity of the NTP patents, but Judge James Spencer said he had no intention of doing so.

In fact, he said he would be making his decision relatively quickly, since he had "spent enough of my life and time on NTP and RIM".

Research In Motion has had some powerful support in its case, including both the US and Canadian Governments. The Canadian Government intervened in the case this year by filing a brief with the court in favour of one of RIM's arguments - that US patents don't apply to RIM because the servers that transmit wireless email to the company's BlackBerrys are located in Canada, out of the reach of US law.

The US Government intervened last week, asking the court to consider - before issuing an injunction to prevent RIM from selling BlackBerrys and wireless email in the US - that thousands of key US government personnel use the devices and would therefore be affected.

Neither of those arguments has had much effect, however, and the threat of an injunction is becoming more real with each passing day.

Some analysts say RIM is probably going to have to swallow both its pride and a hefty settlement fee - which could be as high as US$1 billion - in order to make the case go away for good.

It's either that, they say, or take the risk of doing further damage to the company's competitiveness at a time when it needs every ounce of strength to win the wireless email war.

Peter Curson: We're not ready for the flu

It is the season of influenza pandemic plans. Every country worth its salt has now produced one. Now it's New Zealand's turn.

Importantly, the New Zealand Plan is seen as a working document which will continue to be updated over the next few months - presumably as the threat of a possible pandemic edges closer.

So, how does the plan rate? Should we all feel comfortable and secure? Is there anything new in it?

For a start, it models the potential scale of a pandemic in New Zealand based on the 1918-19 pandemic experience, when New Zealand experienced much higher mortality and morbidity rates than many developed countries.

Such an exercise presumes that 40 per cent of all New Zealanders would catch flu and about 33,000 would die from it. Probably, these figures are much too high, but at least it alerts the community to the possible effects of such a disaster.

For the rest, the plan largely follows the WHO model with the delineation of a set of pandemic stages, each with an appropriate set of official reactions.

One important variation, also part of the recently released New South Wales Plan, is the recognition of the critical links between animal disease and human disease and the need to increase surveillance of animal infections.

The plan also follows the established pattern of suggesting increased surveillance, the use of anti-virals and a possible vaccine, closure of public institutions, increased border controls and possible quarantine of arriving passengers.

So what's missing from the plan?

Well, in the first instance, while it recognises the crucial importance of infectious disease surveillance as a first line of defence, it says nothing about the need to consider a better surveillance system than what currently exists.

In New Zealand, influenza surveillance relies on 90 GP Sentinel Practices plus hospitals and laboratories, and animal infections are surveyed independently from human infections. Surely we need a better defence.

What about a national infectious disease surveillance system that connects all the country's GPs, vets and laboratories via a protected computer link that can provide immediate real-time data on animal and human infections?

Second, while the plan talks about communicating with the public and providing accurate information so as to facilitate home care, there is absolutely no mention of how the psychological distress and fear that a pandemic would undoubtedly engender might be addressed or managed.

Are these things not important? Previous epidemics in New Zealand stand testimony to the extraordinary scenes of human emotion, fear and hysteria accompanying the passage of infectious disease.

Third, there is only a passing comment in the plan about how a pandemic might impact on the economy and the business sector.

Businesses would be confronted with 30 per cent absenteeism, people would avoid shops, restaurants, hotels, places of recreation and public transport. Movement around New Zealand and overseas would grind to a halt and consumer confidence would plummet.

Are these not serious issues worthy of comment?

Fourth, the New Zealand plan places much emphasis on anti-virals and a possible vaccine, but says nothing about how such drugs might be delivered to everyone in New Zealand.

The logistical difficulty of delivering two doses of a vaccine (if indeed it was available in sufficient amounts before the pandemic was over), to four million people in a timely fashion at the outset of a pandemic, should certainly be addressed.

The delivery of anti-virals raises other problems not addressed by the plan.

Tamiflu, for example, if not delivered within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, does not work very well. In addition, the drug's life expectancy is short, and people would probably require a new dose every five or six days.

If a pandemic continued for say eight to 12 weeks, New Zealand would require to deliver at least six to eight doses to every key health and emergency worker and their families and the severely ill.

Would there be enough? Possibly a better solution would be for every New Zealander to go out and get a flu shot.

The plan also says little about the potential impact of a pandemic on the healthcare system.

Currently there is little surge capacity in the New Zealand hospital system. A pandemic which might see 30,000 people requiring hospitalisation over two to three months would place enormous demands on the existing system.

Presumably we would see a return to 1918 when halls, churches, tearooms, kindergartens and racecourse grandstands were all converted into temporary influenza hospitals?

And what about those living alone or too frail to look after themselves? The plan recognises the problem but simply suggests that local communities would need to provide support networks.

Interestingly, the New South Wales plan suggests the setting up of what is delicately termed "staging facilities" for those who could not care for themselves at home.

And could the local GP cope with say an additional 50 to 80 patients a day, every day for say eight weeks, given that some of their staff would be ill or at home caring for family members?

Finally, if people who are ill are told to go home and stay there, who is going to support them in terms of food and medicines, given that many shops and businesses would be closed and, presumably, delivery people might be somewhat reluctant to deliver to "infected" suburbs?

The New Zealand plan is a step in the right direction, but there are still many questions that require answers.

* Professor Peter Curson is director of the health studies division of environmental and life sciences at Macquarie University in New South Wales.

Eye on China: Me generation not a pretty sight

How do you spark creativity? This is a huge issue in China at the moment. Ironically, one channel for exploring the problem is an imitation of Donald Trump's show The Apprentice. Not surprisingly, given its origins, the show is better at offering interesting insights into Chinese society than solid answers about intellectual property issues.

In some ways, the programme is even more cruel than Trump's. It starts with a team selection straight out of the playground, with two leaders picking those they like most. For the last person to be picked, it's a case of national humiliation before the mission has even started.

What strikes the viewer most is that compared with the US version, there is a lot of talking. In fact, it's a real gabfest. There is much less of the frantic running away and entertaining focus on genuinely challenging tasks you get in the US version. Nor does a Trump figure dominate proceedings. Rather, it's trial by committee.

Yet really, what an amazing thing to see on Chinese TV at all. To anybody trying to work in China one of the most frustrating things is the lack of accountability among the people you deal with. If some corporate or Government PR department fails in the very role they are meant to be carrying out (and they very often do), there is nothing you can do about it.

In China, the only way you can exact an explanation from people is, first, to be in the same group as them, and second, to have power over them. Complaining from the outside leads to nothing because there are no pressure points.

How refreshing then, to see a mix of Chinese nationals from various walks of life being forensically analysed on live television. Indeed, that would explain why the post-mortem and commentary section is so long - merely being busy is nothing special in China, but hearing people grilled on why they made a certain decision is much rarer.

Foreigners visiting China, incidentally, often add to the problem by not daring to openly criticise their hosts. So you get investors who are in the middle of protracted disputes with Chinese partners nevertheless assuring the Chinese and the world that everything is perfectly all right.

These shows may not be highbrow, but they bring a breath of fresh air to Chinese TV. Great chunks of the medium are very similar to the programming you would get in North Korea. This is highly misleading, because the military parades, soft pop programmes and quiz shows hide the reality that the Chinese are now highly individualistic.

As in the US, the programme reveals the difficulty people have in working in teams. In the US, it's egos raging out of control. The Chinese are not as overtly aggressive. But they can slip the dagger in deep when they need to. One pretty young thing complained her teammate was too old, which is why his creativity was constrained. She giggled girlishly while saying it, but the steely glint in her eyes was there for all to see.

Indeed, the generational clash in China is far harsher than even in France, where poor youngsters are massively disadvantaged. In China, it's the young who have the power. They dress far better, are taller, thanks to being force-fed dairy products by their parents, are computer savvy, and they have been as intensively educated as far as family budgets allow. Many also benefit from the financial advantage of being only children.

I recently met a Chinese businessman who lamented the egotism of his staff, many of them from the one-child generation. They wanted power without responsibility, he said. They were greedy for attention and resources yet felt little obligation to reciprocate.

But hiring even slightly older people was even worse, he said, because of the fissure between anybody who first went into business in the 1990s, and those before.

If you add a collapse in moral values created by the turmoil of the recent political past, you are left with a strange set of values. In some ways, the selfishness, ego and materialism of young Chinese is positively American. But that's to underestimate the numerous communal ties which bind Americans together, from the network of churches and voluntary associations to its amateur sports teams and charitable groups.

So far, Chinese individualism is not a pretty sight. The saving grace of the US version is that it is limited by custom, law and morality. In addition, it's constructive. Ambition and confidence lead to creativity, which is recognised and rewarded. In China, the same qualities, at least so far, seem to lead merely to a feeling of impunity and entitlement.

* The writer remains anonymous to protect his position in China.

Sideswipe

Beauty therapists in Vietnam are not afraid of doing the icky jobs.

By Ana Samways

Samantha Bonar of the LA Times - writing about a new book titled Are Men Necessary, says she's learned that she needs only 10 monosyllabic words to effectively communicate with men.

You
Big
Strong
Yes
Chips
Game
Beer
Man
Want
Great

For example: "Big strong man want beer?" "You want chips?" "You great!"

And conversely, avoid using words like ...

Me
I
Why
What
Can
Will
No
Never
Stop
Yuck

As in: "Why do you insist on my wearing these sheer red stockings?" "Can I have one of your beers?" "Will you let me know if you are married?"

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An animal rescuer who abandoned 35 kittens in two parks has been sentenced to a night in the woods without food or shelter. Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael A. Cicconetti, known for handing out unusual punishments, sentenced Michelle M. Murray to spend the cold night alone when she begins her 15-day jail sentence. "How would you like to be dumped off at a Metropark late at night, spend the night listening to the coyotes coming upon you, listening to the raccoons around you and sit out there in the cold not knowing when you are going to be rescued?" the judge asked. "That's what you're going to do." Murray said she was experiencing family problems when she dumped the kittens. After reporting to jail, a park ranger will drop her off at a remote location. Judge Cicconetti previously sentenced a man who called an officer a pig to stand on a city footpath for two hours in a pen next to a 160kg pig with a sign reading: "This is not a police officer."

* * *

A Mt Albert reader writes: "Your hilarious items on overheard comments in Friday's Sideswipe reminded me of an incident involving my late aunt, Joan Skynner of Takapuna, a devout Catholic. She was on a bus one day and heard a young woman in the seat in front say to her companion: 'Would you believe it, now they're even trying to bring religion into Christmas'."

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Useful phrases for visitors to Paris ...

Ou est la gare? - Where is the station?

Qu'est-ce qui se passe? - What is happening?

Ou sont les pompiers? - Where are the firemen?

Avez-vous un extincteur? - Do you have a fire extinguisher?

A quelle heure est le couvre-feu? - What time is the curfew?

Pourquoi brulez-vous ma voiture? - Why are you burning my car?

Avez-vous du feu pour allumer mon cocktail molotov? - Do you have a light for my petrol bomb?

Brian Rudman: Cup wish list - electric trains, Queen St tunnel

After a weekend of counting the profits from the 2011 World Cup - $90 million extra tax take for the Government, $408 million for the economy, including $200 million for Auckland hoteliers, bar-owners and other tourist-related interests - it's time to come down to Earth and talk costs.

In particular, as far as Aucklanders are concerned, who is going to bankroll the $100 million to $130 million upgrade of Eden Park and the wish list of improvements to North Shore Stadium at Albany?

The good news is that talk of the white-elephant 75,000-seater, $400 million national stadium, which was floated back in May at the launch of New Zealand's cup bid, seems to have disappeared back into cloud-cuckoo land. But that still leaves $100 million plus to find to fund the expansion of Eden Park.

So far I haven't seen the hospitality industry bosses, or Sports Minister Trevor Mallard, or the Rugby Union for that matter, waving their chequebooks in the air, or coming out in support of something like a bed tax on hotel guests to help offset the costs.

One person who is expecting a call from park authorities seeking money is Cameron Parr, Auckland City's group manager of recreation and community services.

He says the city's message will be "that Eden Park is not just a local park, it's a national asset" and the cost of redevelopment "shouldn't all just fall on ACC ratepayers".

I couldn't agree more. It's a message we ratepayers should be ramming home from today.

What is to Auckland's great advantage is how closely the Government has identified itself with winning the right to hold the cup, and on the successful running of the event.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says it will help to raise New Zealand's profile worldwide, "showing that small nations can host these vast international sports events".

What's not been said is that the spring timing of the cup coincides with the next national election but one - another reason for national politicians (whichever party is then in office) wanting it to be a triumph.

All of which are reasons for Aucklanders - particularly the ratepaying ones in the big city - to play hardball when it comes to funding this sporting extravaganza.

This is as close to hosting the Olympics as New Zealand's ever going to get, and the Government hustled for it accordingly.

Now that it has won, we should stand back and let it do what any other Government in the world does having won such an international event - that is, fund it from state coffers.

And I'm not just talking stadiums. With 3.4 billion television viewers said to be gazing down on God's Own, what better time to increase the pressure for an upgraded rail system as well.

In China, in preparation for the Olympics, they've unveiled a bullet train that levitates above the tracks.

All we could offer the Barmy Army last season were tarted up old diesels which died some distance from the rugby park.

For 2011 we should be demanding a set of the levitating ones to zap the fans from Britomart to Eden Park. Wouldn't that silence the sheep-shagger jokes, and convince the world of our technological prowess.

But even if Helen Clark baulks at floating trains, at least we could insist on electrification of the network by 2011. We could also chance our arm and ask for the Queen St tunnel.

As it happens, we could have inside help here.

The head of the Government's World Cup bid office, set up last year, is one of its favourite Mr Fix-its, Brian Roche. The same Brian Roche who was installed as chairman of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (Arta) to sort out the city's transport problems.

If anyone in Wellington can make a case for getting Auckland's train system running in time for the World Cup, it's Mr Roche.

In August, he wrote a foreword to Arta's recommended plan of action advocating that "the region move, as a matter of priority, to electrify the Auckland rail network [by] no later than 2011".

He added that "investment of this size and duration is beyond the capacity of the region. The full and active involvement of central Government will be necessary."

If it was a matter of priority requiring Government involvement before the World Cup announcement, then I'm sure Mr Roche will be able to argue there's now an even more compelling case.

Pita Sharples: 'Why do we accept the world's history and not our own?'

One of the most passionate maiden speeches in Parliament's recent history came last week from the Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples. Here is an edited transcript of his address:

It is common knowledge that Maori do not enjoy the same socio-economic and educational benefits as non-Maori in this, their country of origin. It strikes me as somewhat amazing that half the country actually believe that Maori are the privileged group within our society. Cries of racial funding, gravy train, special courses, are constant within these walls, and eagerly published by every arm of the media to promote a negative stereotype of Maori.

If Maori are the privileged group, why in my electorate are Maori not living in prime locations like Kohimarama, St Heliers, Mission Bay, or conversely, why are Maori concentrated inland in state housing sectors? Does privilege mean Maori dominate certain illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, glue ear? And that we die 10 years earlier than Pakeha?

Or is our real privilege to be revealed by this country's disgusting incarceration figures? I say disgusting because in 1980, one in 1000 New Zealanders were in jail. In the early 90s, one in 800 were in jail. Today there are 6961 people in jail. One in 570 New Zealanders is in jail. But for Maori, the privileged group, one in 180 persons are in jail; a total of 3481 Maori inmates.

Why are Maori promoted so negatively by politicians, media, and consequently by non-thinking, redneck New Zealanders? How can that be good for our future? Why were Maori used as a political football in the election campaign? Criticism of Maori cultural icons such as powhiri, poroporoaki, te reo, waiata, were all prominent in campaign speeches. In fact, the negative attacks were so common, one might say it is becoming too PC to continue them.

Why is there so much resistance amongst parliamentarians to accept the concept of tangata whenua as significant in our administration and history? We learn about events in world history, of cultural origins, of customs. Where is the recognition of the 1000-year bond between Maori and these islands? Why do we accept the world's history and not our own? The Spanish Inquisition, French Revolution, Battle of Waterloo, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle - we know about these things, these people.

So, what of Toi Kairakau? Of Rauru? My history, my tangata whenuaness, my 1000 missing years? Toi Kairakau crossed the Pacific to New Zealand. At that same time, Eric the Red was expelled from Iceland and voyaged to colonise Greenland. Toi Kairakau is my ancestor; he lives still, in me. His history, his genealogy, is my history, my genealogy, my bonding to these islands.

Toi's son was Rauru; his son was Whatonga. From Whatonga came Tahatiti; then Uenuku. At this time, William of Normandy conquered England and became King William I

From Uenuku came Ruatapu; Rakeiora; Tama ki te Hau. These are my ancestors - tangata whenua. Tama ki te Hau lived at the time of the great military leader Genghis Khan, who established the Mongol Empire, uniting EuroAsia.

My genealogy descends to Tama ki te Ra, Tama ki te Matangi while the Magna Carta is signed on the other side of the world.

I continue to Tama ki Reireia mai Hawaiki, Te Kahuarero, Pito, Rere, Tangi, Maika, Toto, to Tamatea Arikinui who brought the canoe of Takitimu across the Pacific. At this time, history records the crusade of Joan of Arc in France, burnt at the stake. From Tamatea Arikinui, came Rongokako; then Tamatea Pokai Whenua, and his son Kahungunu; the founding ancestor of my tribe.

Then came Kahukuranui, Rakaihikuroa and Taraia. Taraia led the migration south from Wairoa to Napier-Hastings. At this time Columbus stumbled upon America.

From Taraia to Te Rangi Taumaha, to Te Huhuti. Te Huhuti married Te Whatuiapiti, a great war chief, with red hair. These are the eponymous ancestors of the subtribe Te Whatuiapiti.

Then came Te Wawahanga, Rangikawhiua, Te Manawakawa, Te Rangikoianake. At this time, Cromwell overthrows the British monarchy and declares a republic. Te Rangikoianake is the ancestor of the subtribe Ngati

Rangikoianake of Te Hauke. My grandson carries his name and spirit.

His eldest son was Te Kikiri o te Rangi, another famous war chief and another redhead. He led many successful forays to avenge the deaths of his two grandfathers. He is the ancestor of the subtribe Ngai te Kikiri o te Rangi. The genealogy continues. Kanohi Tu Hanga, Te Aroatua, Hori Niania, to Paora Kopukau Niania. He was my grandfather; his name and spirit are carried by my son, in whom I also live. From Paora came my mother, Ruiha, and then me.

This is my history. This is tangata whenua and this is New Zealand's history. This is your history.

The future of New Zealand is deeply intertwined with the future of Maoridom.

In a world increasingly homogenised by global commerce, migration, communications, travel and trade, Maoridom provides an enduring point of difference that other cultures envy; a difference we must preserve. For this nation to thrive economically, culturally and with social justice, Maori must be able to play a full role. Not only as leaders, educators, artists, business chiefs and sporting champions, but as citizens whose rights, culture and fundamental worth are valued and supported.

We must work towards a society embracing Maori culture and the people; where Maori enjoy health and education, whilst also enjoying being Maori; where Te Reo Maori can be heard on the streets and in the shops.

We could begin by stopping using Maori as a political football, by not promoting negative stereotype of Maori. We could begin by recognising Maori knowledge as an appropriate and valid knowledge for New Zealand. That despite 200 years of colonisation, Maori still want to be Maori. I believe that by increased dialogue we can do much to combat the negative stereotypes which serve to lock many Maori into a negative poverty mindset. We can be emancipatory.

There must be no more trashing of Maori people, of Maori rights, of due process in the manner of the foreshore and seabed legislation. The entire country was led to believe that such a law was appropriate and fair. The decision to legislate was made by a few, without consulting the Maori ministers or Maori members. Their opinions were not sought until after decisions were made.

The legislation produced the single greatest act of confiscation against all tribes since the formation of Westminster Government. It was hard to believe that at a time of Treaty settlements, more theft could occur. "Ko te Kawanatanga, te ringa katau - utua raupatu, te ringa maui - tahae takutai moana e." The right hand pays out for past confiscations; the left hand steals more land. Public support for this legislation was sought by promoting the idea that Maori would stop public access to the beaches, or sell the asset offshore.

Maori culture is inclusive and not exclusive. Maori leaders representing more than 100,000 signed a contract in February 1840 to a people numbering only 2000, to allow them access and immigration to our islands.

To add insult to insult, the Government used their Maori MPs to sell this bill to the people. Finally, they disregarded the United Nations' report condemning the legislation as racist.

The hurt to my people was very deep. To be regarded as not worthy of a voice, to be called haters and wreckers, to be held in contempt and ridicule, cut even deeper than the legislation itself.

This absolute disregard for Maori, for our views, our customs and mana, will not be allowed to happen again. This act must be repealed. Primary issues of due process, property rights and customary rights must be preserved. Questions surrounding access and alienation can be handled through other ways.

I wish to acknowledge my co-leader, Tariana Turia. Her courage and integrity in opposing the legislation, standing down from the Government, was an act of heroism. Her stand against the pressure of Maori colleagues and Government leadership inspired us to establish this Maori Party.

I look forward to working positively with everyone in this House. Towards empowering all our communities so they can realise their potential. My hopes are to ensure that being Maori is something to be proud of. That Maori, like all New Zealanders, can enjoy a good measure of health, wealth, can participate as global citizens and yet still live as Maori in these islands.

Editorial: Facing facts on mental health cash

A new Minister of Health has received a depressing briefing from the body set up to monitor services to the mentally ill. The Mental Health Commission was established in response to the equally depressing Mason Report on the services nearly 10 years ago and since then nothing seems to have improved despite substantial injections of public funds.

The annual allocation for mental treatment rose from $270 million in 1993-1994 to $801.7 million in 2003-2004, an increase of 142 per cent after adjusting for inflation over the decade. Yet despite receiving far more than double the funds in real terms, mental health services are still attending to about the same number of people they were treating a decade ago. And most of these people are being treated in hospital when their conditions become acute, rather than receiving more help to live in the community as the modern philosophy of care would prefer.

The commission believes that little more than half the number of people who need mental health assistance are receiving it, and that those who receive it do so later than they should. It would be better for everyone, the mentally ill as well as the taxpayers, they argue, if district health boards were not "somewhat stuck" on expensive hospital services and put more of the money the Government provides into helping people at an earlier stage.

All of this seems so obvious, and has been said so often to so little effect, that it must be wondered whether it is based on a fallacy. A close reading of the commission's briefing will tell the new minister, Pete Hodgson, that the concern is based in standard calculations of disease distribution rather than actual, or even anecdotal, evidence of need. The commission is working on the "epidemiological evidence" that about 3 per cent of the population needs specialist mental services over any six-month period and yet it found only 1.6 per cent used such services during the first half of last year.

Despite the increased funding, it says, the amount is still below the level required to meet the presumed needs of 3 per cent of the population. About two-thirds of the money is spent on inpatient care and most of the people receiving it would benefit from earlier treatment, says the commission, again on little evidence.

It notes that next year the first epidemiological study of mental health is due to report its findings. The commission is confident it will show a rising incidence of the more common illnesses such as depression, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder, and that it will find those needs are not being met. We shall see. At least this study should provide an actual reading of the population rather than an application of standard assumptions.

But it might not convince the public that state funds are really better spent on earlier community services for all mental illness rather than better hospital services for the less common but more serious disorders such as schizophrenia.

Naturally the commission favours both, but funds are finite and choices have to be made. It is sufferers of the more serious disorders who have aroused most public concern when they have been released from hospital care with tragic consequences. The less serious disorders may be more amenable to treatment at private expense. Public spending on health tends to be weighted to the more serious, life-threatening conditions and mental health needs might be no exception.

Health boards and providers are actually underspending their mental health budgets in most cases, which might suggest the need is not as great as the commission thinks. Next year, when that study is done, we might know better.

Claire Harvey: Fly with them, but don't be sucked in by the slogans

Why do we let airlines make us cry? Homesick travellers know this feeling. It's the little throat-lump of pride you get when first catching a glimpse of a jumbo from home on some cold and grotty runway in the middle of nowhere.

It's the grateful little sob that must be choked back on hearing the familiar accent of a check-in clerk in an airport far from home, wanting to hug the hosties because they say "G'day".

It's patriotism, of course, and it's deeply irritating - because the airlines rarely deserve our love.

Air New Zealand and Qantas have just announced plans to sack local maintenance and engineering staff because they can get cheaper labour overseas.

All the airlines whack "fuel levies" on top of already hefty ticket prices to insulate their profits from the global fluctuations which every other industry just has to wear.

They cancel flights when they're half-full so they can jam-pack travellers on to another service. They make it as tricky as possible to redeem frequent-flyer points.

The international carriers are corporate giants, and they naturally see their principal duty as making money for shareholders. To them, we are customers, not compatriots, but they have worked out how to make us like them so much that we're prepared to overlook all that corporate rapaciousness.

Qantas' slogan is "The Spirit of Australia". Air France for years advertised itself as "One of the Best Places on Earth". Cathay Pacific is "The Heart of Asia". Air Tanzania is "The Wings of Kilimanjaro", which seems an odd mixing of metaphors.

We bestow airlines with an ambassadorial authority unique to aviation (the "national airline", we say, or "the flag-carrier").

The advertising music is never a cheesy jingle, always an anthem; like Pokarekare Ana for Air New Zealand, or British Airways' stirringly operatic Flower Duet campaign.

The Qantas theme is "I still call Australia home", which might sound like a corny pantomime number but which makes even the most casually nationalistic Australians go all weepy.

It is embarrassing to be so easily manipulated by advertising agents, but that just proves how effective it is.

Kazakhstan was so offended about mockery of its national carrier that it has threatened to sue British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

Cohen has been playing a weirdo Kazakh named Borat Sagdiyev for years, and the Kazakh Government seemed to take it all with a bit of good-natured grumbling, until Borat showed up at an MTV awards ceremony in Lisbon this month and announced he flew in on an Air Kazakh propeller-powered plane operated by a pilot smashed on vodka.

Mocking the national airline was just too much, said Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev at a press conference last week, hinting darkly at Borat's intentions.

"We do not rule out that Mr Cohen is serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way," Mr Ashykbayev said.

"We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks."

This Thursday, Judge Stan Thorburn of the Auckland District Court will tell us whether Air New Zealand is "fare dinkum" or not. The Commerce Commission is prosecuting the airline for 20 alleged breaches of the Fair Trading Act, relating to what it says are "misleading" newspaper advertisements for enticingly cheap flights.

The enticing prices were studded with asterisks, which pointed to fine print detailing extra charges, levies and taxes.

One of these ads said "Fare Dinkum" underneath a $189 price - with an asterisk pointing to the real, much higher, fare.

Air New Zealand says the customers are smart enough to know the asterisk is a warning about extra charges. The Commerce Commission says it is deceptive and "not at all fair dinkum".

I wouldn't presume to advise Judge Thorburn on who is right, but the advertisements provide another example of how an airline appeals to our sense of community.

"Fare Dinkum" only works because it's an Antipodean in-joke. It is supposed to tell us something about the airline - not only that we can trust Air New Zealand, but that the company is an embodiment of something nice about this country, a casual, honest spirit.

All this is fine. It's nice to encourage patriotic feeling. It's great that we feel proud of the cabin crew in their new Zambesi merino wraps, even if they look mighty impractical (you'd have to be quick to nip them out of the way in the toilet when the flush starts that terrifying whoosh).

But if these companies are to appeal to our higher sense of national loyalty, they take on a responsibility to behave in ways that make us proud.

That means honouring their schedules even if the flights are not always full. It means spending a bit more on wages to protect local jobs.

Maybe then we won't have to feel like sentimental fools for singing along with the advertisements.

Allan Barber: Weather hits meat export profits

The meat industry has proved yet again that it is not for the faint-hearted investor. But the resounding fall in Affco's share price after it released its annual result 10 days ago suggests that there are a number of just such investors on its share registry.

On the face of it the drop in profit from $58 million the previous year to $21 million fully merited the market's reaction. But it shows a total lack of understanding of those factors which dominate the meat industry and suggests very short memories. It also suggests that no one read the signs that were evident in the PPCS and Alliance results published before Affco's.

An analysis of PPCS's pre-tax profit of $21 million on twice the turnover would have revealed a substantial contribution from the sale of its Islington plant and above-schedule payments of $10.4 million to suppliers. In fact, it recorded an operating loss.

Alliance reported an operating surplus of $16.5 million before pool distributions to suppliers of $11.6 million. This was better than PPCS, but hardly a satisfactory result. In contrast, Affco actually did pretty well and got caned by the market as its reward.

The dramatic influence of the weather, more than any other single factor, was responsible for the sharp change in meat exporters' fortunes during the season just ended.

After all, 2003-2004 was an exceptional year when everything - weather patterns, market prices, livestock volumes and supply - conspired to provide a near-perfect set of conditions. All companies took full advantage of them to turn in record profits. The combined pre-tax profits of the three companies before pool payments to suppliers amounted to more than $130 million.

In stark contrast, the year just ended, exacerbated by the continued strength of the dollar, lambing losses in the South Island and a sharp drop in the number of cattle available for slaughter, has seen the combined pre-tax operating profits fall to less than $60 million.

But the impact of the weather made it much easier for farmers to control the supply of livestock to match processing capacity. This, in the end, is what dictates how income is shared between farmer and processor, much more than market prices and currency. In an ideal season for exporters, livestock supplies would be processed in an extended peak while satisfying market demand.

But this seldom happens and last season the lower cattle volumes in the North Island (11 per cent below the previous year) meant that processors were competing aggressively for stock throughout the season. However, in the South Island the processors could not start to exert much influence over prices paid to suppliers.

During the past year PPCS experienced problems in getting the Richmond business under control, especially difficult when there were fewer cattle around and more competitors in the lamb market. There is strong evidence that PPCS lost market share in both main species, added to the impact of lower cattle volumes which took several million dollars in margin alone. At the same time the tougher market conditions in the South Island made it impossible for PPCS to compensate for the North Island difficulties.

The very strong impression is that while the increase in size across both islands may have doubled turnover, it has also doubled the problems encountered. Twice the number of meat plants now need investment in maintenance with less money available to do it.

In contrast, Affco has largely upgraded its plant configuration with the rebuilds at Imlay and Horotiu. It not only has very low debt, but it has competitive, possibly even industry leading, cost structures, and a stable majority shareholder base. Talley's and Peter Spencer own nearly 65 per cent of Affco, so the "nervous nellies" who drove the share price down are relatively irrelevant to the company's future.

Looking into the future, the main markets have now come off their peak and this trend will have an even greater influence on the new year's farming performance. The bright spots for the coming season are a good lambing percentage, with relatively little loss to bad weather, and an extra 100,000 cattle in the North Island.

At least three of the major meat companies, Affco, Alliance and ANZCO, have strong balance sheets and plants in good condition. PPCS has a challenge on its hands to complete the integration of its North and South Island businesses, continue the programme of essential plant upgrades, keep suppliers happy by competing for livestock, and make a decent profit, all in the face of vigorous competition on all fronts.

The meat industry provides an intriguing mix of ownership and governance structures, with public, private and co-operative companies represented. The jury is still out on which is the most tolerant of the inevitable uncertainty from year to year.

The big three by the numbers

* Revenue

Affco: $969 million

Alliance: $1.1 billion

PPCS: $2.0 billion

* Pre-tax operating profit

Affco: $21.1 million

Alliance: $16.5 million

PPCS: $21 million

* Allan Barber is a freelance writer and business consultant and former chief operating officer at Affco.

* The regular Rural Delivery column returns next week.

Kevin Armstrong: Fashion is to oppose consensus

The challenging of views is essential for investors. No one is right all the time and continually challenging the robustness of one's own conclusions is vital; success in investing is always a moving target.

Taking a contrarian view to a broad consensus has become a far more popular approach to investing over the last five years, with the result that most investors now have a keen eye out for a consensus view to bet against. The problem is true consensus is rare and identifying it is hard.

In the late 1990s, contrarians were hard to find; they generally didn't survive long. There was a broad consensus that the world was in the early stages of the next industrial revolution, a technological revolution spearheaded by the internet.

Productivity was set to escalate, the business cycle was dead and valuation no longer mattered; share markets could soar to previously undreamed of heights.

For a while Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan was a contrarian. In 1996 he coined his now famous "irrational exuberance" phrase. The problem for would-be contrarians was the consensus they were betting against just kept getting bigger, proving, if proof was needed, the famous line attributed to the great economist John Maynard Keynes: The market can stay irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

This is the danger of attempting to identify a broadly held consensus view: the view, or then prevailing conventional wisdom, can be right for a long time.

The longer it appears right, the stronger the consensus becomes that it is right. When this happens, the ultimate downside, or unwinding of the consensus, is generally far greater.

This is what investors witnessed in early 2000. This was the peak of the largest investment mania the world has probably ever seen and, with hindsight, it seems the peak must have been obvious.

It occurred when just about everyone's expectations and confidence were as high as they ever get. Unfortunately the clarity of hindsight is not available until it's too late, and of no value.

Nonetheless, the experience of the 2000 peak and its aftermath started the slow process of educating investors away from merely extrapolating the current trend ever further into the future.

Two and a half years later, sharemarkets throughout the world were enduring their worst bear conditions for many decades and investor optimism had soured to extreme pessimism. The outlook was grim and deflation and depression were the buzz words.

It seemed the bear market would roll on for years.

Just as hindsight showed that the peak in the market was coincident with the peak in optimism and hope, hindsight also shows the low in the market was coincident with extreme pessimism. As time passed, and wounds healed with rising markets, once again it seemed that the trough must have been obvious at the time.

The re-education of investors took another step forward along the path towards contrarian investing.

It can be argued that one of the greatest of all investors, Warren Buffett, is a contrarian.

While he is usually described as a value investor, his value discipline results in him only buying when others have sold an issue down to a price that he finds attractive, and he was aggressively absent in the internet mania six years ago. He was so absent, in fact, that he was ridiculed for not getting in on the new era.

So there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a contrarian investor. It's just that the really important opportunities only occur at very major extremes and, almost by definition, extremes are rare and everyone can't be a contrarian.

There are not always going to be opportunities to be rewarded for taking a contrarian view and identifying the ultimate turning point is almost impossible.

Warren Buffett's time scale is substantially longer than that of most investors. Not only can he generally exercise the patience to be proven right, he also buys with the intention of holding, not looking for the opportunity to sell at a slightly higher price.

In the space of less than three years, two almost opposite extremes were seen, particularly in America, in sharemarkets.

It is quite possible that no greater selling opportunity than was presented in early 2000, or greater buying opportunity than was available in late 2002 and early 2003, will be seen for many, many years. These were historic extremes from which great contrary strategies could be built.

With all this in mind the question that arises is: can all the speakers at the New York conference really be taking contrary views?

The answer to this is probably no, at least not when compared to the extremes described above. However, many investors now have far shorter time frames, turnover of portfolios has increased and small movements in markets can be seen as opportunities to be exploited.

Some of these shorter-term moves will be quite rewarding and may have been highlighted or supported by shorter-term sentiment measures that attempt to identify the consensus.

These approaches may be useful for hedge fund managers or traders but, for long-term investors, it is probable that looking for a major consensus, at least in the US share market, may be an exercise in frustration for many years to come.

* Kevin Armstrong is chief investment officer for ANZ and The National Bank

Chris de Freitas: Precious caves at risk in legislative vacuum

The controversy over permission granted by the Department of Conservation to allow world adventure racers into Te Tahi cave on the West Coast highlights an important environmental issue of national significance that is being stubbornly ignored.

So far, debate over use of Te Tahi cave has centred on safety practices and well-being of competitors. It reflects the popular perception of caves as little more than places for adventure.

Present legislation on caves echoes the view that they are just cavities in the ground owned and controlled by those who own the land above.

In a more enlightened, contemporary view, caves are seen as valuable environmental assets, considered to be non-renewable resources, as damage to cave features may take several human lifetimes to recover, or never recover at all.

To ensure a balance between preservation and use of cave resources, an appreciation of the resource is crucial.

Te Tahi cave contains stunning stalagmites and stalactites thousands of years old. Other caves contain amazing rivers and caverns.

The famous Waitomo caves have all of these attractions and play a vital part in the nation's tourist industry. They are an environmental resource of national significance, for which the Government has a major custodial responsibility.

Despite the importance of caves as natural resources and their great sensitivity to damage, little or no legislation is in place to protect them. It highlights a serious blind spot in environmental management.

Unlike other environmental assets, such as native forests that are resilient and can grow back from total destruction, most damage to caves and surrounding limestone landscape is irreversible.

There are direct and indirect impacts to consider.

Direct impacts include breakage of delicate stalactites and stalagmites, construction of access routes through caves, alteration of the cave microclimate from entrance modifications and visitor numbers, the build-up of carbon dioxide in the cave from human breath that combines with moisture to corrode limestone features, accumulated lint from clothing (on which bacteria feed), and heat from people and lights.

Many of these impacts are cumulative and often lead to irreversible degradation to the cave ecosystem.

Indirect impacts are mainly those caused by so-called surface effects resulting from agriculture, the construction of car parking areas, walking tracks, kiosks, toilets, hotels and motels and may add to the direct underground impacts by affecting sediment and impurities in runoff into streams, cave passages and caverns.

Unlike New Zealand, Australia has taken seriously the business of conserving limestone environments and managing tourism. To heighten protection of the precious Jenolan Caves Reserve in New South Wales, an amendment to the National Parks and Wildlife Act in 1997 brought into force legislation that provides the reserve and the Jenolan, Abercrombie and Wombeyan Caves with the same protection as National Parks.

Despite the legislative vacuum in New Zealand, the news is not all bad.

Tourism Holdings Ltd (THL) operates the Glow-worm, Ruakuri and Aranui caves in Waitomo.

More people visit the Glow-worm cave than any other cave in Australia or New Zealand. About half a million people visit Waitomo each year because of the cave.

But the commercial importance of this extends beyond the Waitomo region. The caves play a vital part in the nation's tourist industry.

In recognition of this, an Environmental Advisory Group funded by THL was set up about six years ago to help to preserve the features of the Waitomo caves and manage the regional resource sustainably. The group includes scientists and representatives from the Department of Conservation and THL.

THL's dedication to the well-being of the cave, plus the high technology employed to monitor the cave environment, ensure the cave can be enjoyed by generations to come.

Today's knowledge of the impact of environmental changes in the Glow-worm cave and ways to manage them is based on extensive research carried out over many years. Sophisticated automated monitoring systems check air quality, rock and air temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide.

Data is downloaded to a central computer every three minutes, analysed by specialist staff at the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves Ltd throughout the day, then reviewed regularly by the Environmental Advisory Group.

Using this information, THL manages the cave, including deciding when the upper entrance doors should be opened or closed to control air flows and the number of people who can visit the cave daily.

But for those New Zealanders who care that the cave is preserved intact for future generations, this is simply good luck, as there is no legislation in place to ensure good management, or any guarantee that future owners and managers will be so caring.

The Environmental Advisory Group's success hinges on the balance it allows between conservation of natural and cultural resources with tourism operations. It is a model for New Zealand environmental legislators to consider.

It provides an opportunity for the Government to deal with its dual responsibility for protecting caves and managing tourism.

It also provides an opportunity for dealing with long-standing problems of cave ownership and to clearly define obligations of cave owners and commercial operators of leased caves. Reserve trusts could direct energy towards setting priorities, ensuring decisions are appropriate.

* Chris de Freitas is an associate professor in geography and environmental science at the University of Auckland who has led numerous research projects on issues related to cave conservation and management. He is chairman of the Waitomo Environmental Advisory Group.

John Madeley: Free-trade maze a hindrance

The World Trade Organisation Doha Development Agenda, launched in November 2001, is in deep trouble.

The agenda is supposed to give developing countries a better deal from world trade and was due to be completed by the end of last year. But negotiations are getting nowhere.

Ministers from the WTO's 148 member states meet in Hong Kong next month and will try to push things along, but a huge gap still exists between Western and developing countries.

The hopes are that the agenda will be completed by the end of next year but those involved are not holding their breath.

Even the WTO's director-general, Pascal Lamy, has scaled down his ambitions for Hong Kong, citing insufficient agreement in the key areas of agricultural subsidies, industrial tariffs and services.

Western countries support their farmers with more than US$300 billion ($436 billion) a year. But this leads to over-production and the dumping of surpluses in developing countries. Developing countries want the West to reduce this support drastically.

And four years ago there seemed to be progress. Doha launched itself on an optimistic wave: "Without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations, we commit ourselves to comprehensive negotiations aimed at substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support."

But little of substance has since emerged. The United States and the European Union still protect their farmers, the US through its Farm Act and the European Union through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The US said it would cut subsidies to its farmers by 60 per cent and the EU announced 70 per cent. But Oxfam says these are not what they seem, that overall support would change very little.

The sleight of hand is that subsidies account for about a quarter of total Western countries' support to their farmers. Other forms - like market price support, services and advice - are untouched and could rise.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson says the EU commission would not use the Doha round talks to precipitate a new phase of CAP reform, and there is opposition anyway from within the EU to further reform.

Developing countries are furious about the way the US and EU have announced what they claim are big cuts in their agricultural supports, but in reality are offering only modest cuts - at a high price.

That price is that developing countries slash their tariffs on imported manufactured goods and open up their economies to services from Western countries.

And here lies the the root of the problem. Western countries urge free trade for the poor while maintaining protectionism for themselves. They treat the WTO as a juggernaut to force a free-trade-for-them agenda on developing countries.

As a result the WTO has become lost in a free trade maze, while, it seems, losing sight of some of the most important trade issues which face poorer countries.

The WTO is supposed to be about more than free trade. The 1995 agreement setting it up tasks the organisation with raising living standards and ensuring full employment, effective demand and steadily growing real incomes. It also was to expand trade in goods and services. And all this against a backdrop of sustainable development.

In the words of the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik: "It is clear from this preamble that the WTO's framers placed priority on raising standards of living and on sustainable development."

But the emphasis has been on free trade, and instead of promoting sustainable development the whole process has proved hugely damaging to developing counties.

Research by Christian Aid shows that sub-Saharan Africa is a massive US$272 billion ($396 billion) worse off because of free trade policies forced on it.

* John Madeley is the author of 100 Ways to Make Poverty History.