Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sideswipe

A toilet cleaner in the shape of a windsurfer to hang on the rim, surf the porcelain waters and keep the bowl clean and odour-free.

By Ana Samways

Who says Paul Holmes doesn't have a sense of humour? According to the Newstalk ZB website, which allows you to contact its presenters, an email addressed to grumpy@newstalkzb.co.nz will reach his paulness in person.

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For a high fashion label obsessed with who is wearing it, Karen Walker sure is casual about spelling when name-dropping. On www.karenwalker.com, you'll find mention of Alley Sheady, Woodie Allen, Clare Danes, Kate Banchett, Kate Winslett and Michele Gondry. Could they mean Ally Sheedy, Woody Allen, Claire Danes, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet and Michel Gondry, perhaps?

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Connecticut mother Guita Sazan Silverstein, 43, was arrested after she allegedly refused to let rescuers break the window of her 1999 Audi to free her toddler, who was accidentally locked in the car on a hot summer day. According to police, Silverstein wanted to drive home to get a spare key. She was charged with reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a minor. "I think within moments of the 911 call, someone decided this would be a classic story about someone worried about an Audi's glass before her son's health. It's outrageous," said the woman's lawyer. (Source: the Boston Globe).

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Researchers from the Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Ireland told a convention in Chicago that two-thirds of their patients who received injections into the buttock muscle had not received the full dose of medicine because existing needles are not long enough to reach beyond the fat.

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In a political race between two African-Americans, Don Samuels was elected again to the Minneapolis City Council in November, despite (or thanks to) his 2004 statements that he can effectively serve the city's blacks because he is descended from "house slaves" in the South rather than "field slaves". (Source: News of the Weird)

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The mysterious death of the rooster who lived near the Southeastern Arterial on-ramp is solved. A reader, who wishes to be known as Rikky, reports that Russell the Rooster was killed by an NZ Post truck at 5:30am last Monday. "It was a freak accident," says Rikky. "And from now on, every time I give way to an NZ Post truck, I will think back to the fateful day of Monday the 23rd of January, 2006 ... The chicken who dared to cross the road."

Editorial: 'Big four' quick off the mark

With indecent haste, and in unison, our four main oil suppliers have lifted the prices of petrol and diesel by 6c a litre, the largest single step in a long while. The reasons given are a continuing shortage of refining capacity worldwide and a weaker New Zealand dollar. The latter was obviously the trigger. The dollar has fallen slightly since the news that Treasury and Reserve Bank officials have been telling Japanese investors this economy is not a good bet. But the easing of the exchange rate so far hardly seems sufficient of itself to warrant such a fuel price rise. It looks very much like the "big four" have taken the news as an excuse to take a step they have wanted to take for a month or more.

They are, as usual, much quicker to raise prices than they are to reduce them when the dollar gains strength. Indeed, it may be wondered whether consumers ever got fuel as cheaply as they ought to have done during the dollar's high ride. The road haulage industry has expressed concern at the margins oil companies are making on diesel, though petrol margins have been below average in recent weeks by the Automobile Association's reckoning.

The fact that the major companies have moved together arouses suspicion of collusion, though that is never conclusive evidence of price-fixing. Competitive markets also produce standard prices because all suppliers of the same product have to match the rates of the most efficient. And if all come under the pressure of increased costs, the first to raise its price will quickly be followed by the rest. In recent years, though, petrol price rises have usually been led by one or two of the majors and the others have not always followed, which has forced the leader to drop its price back to where it was. The fact that all four have moved together this time suggests to the Consumers Institute that the price is unlikely to relent.

The oil companies have given us, if nothing else, a reminder that the dollar's much-desired drop would not be a double-edged sword. While it would bring some relief to export industries and stop the recent job losses in that sector, it would raise the price of all imported products, causing either inflation, if consumers continued to spend, or unemployment if consumption drops. With a labour shortage in the economy, we can hope that whatever happens to the dollar, those who lose a job in one sector will be able to find work in another.

But with politics getting back into gear this week, it is timely to note that a lower exchange rate is not a universal panacea. It might not even help exporters as much as it should if, like Fonterra, they are hedged to current rates. The fact that the dairy exporting co-operative has bought US currency at an exchange rate of 67USc for the rest of the season suggests it does not expect the dollar to fall significantly. If only the oil companies took the same view. Fonterra probably reflects the financial market's dismissal of the Government's recent extraordinary efforts to talk foreigners out of New Zealand-dollar investments. Talk is cheap. It is action that impresses investors and so far the action the Reserve Bank has taken to lift interest rates has not been sufficient to convince foreign investors that this economy is going to be stalled.

They probably estimate that the Government lacks the stomach for the contraction that would keep inflation within its target. The likelihood, as they probably see it, is that interest rates are going to remain high enough to give them a handsome return but not high enough to stall the economy and cause the dollar to lose value. If that outlook prevails then it spells no relief for exporters and no escape from the economy's current predicament. It may take a truly punishing interest rate rise to bring the catharsis.

Garth George: Blame game ignores real roots of country's problems

The Government ought to do something about ... " or "There ought to be a law ... "

How many times do we hear, or read, those sorts of statements uttered by citizens who act as if they're aggrieved?

And how often to we hear inanimate objects blamed for some situation or circumstance - cigarettes, liquor, salt, sugar, fat? And other non-human things - advertising, sponsorship, dogs, cats, speed cameras?

All the time and, lately, with increasing frequency and shrillness.

It seems to me that most of the people in this country are firmly locked into the blame game and that any considerations of personal responsibility never enter their heads.

Let's look at a few examples.

Because one or two ill-bred, ill-kempt and ill-trained dogs occasionally attack people, or kill sheep, all dogs get a bad name and the blame falls on the animals.

But the dog is not the problem, the owner is. And owners are people who should be held accountable for what damage their dogs do. Sometimes they are, but more often than not it's the dog that suffers - fatally.

The other day I walked into my wardrobe and found the leather insteps chewed out of my best pair of black shoes. The culprit was pretending to sleep at the end of the bed.

Did I blame the pup? No. I blamed myself for leaving soft, succulent, smelly leather where he could get at it. Chewing shoes is what dogs do. If you don't want your shoes chewed, you put them some place the dog can't get at them.

And if you own a dog that can't be trusted to behave properly toward strangers, then you keep it on a lead, and slap a muzzle on it if that's not enough.

But the cry goes up "the Government ought ... " and arcane, expensive and inconvenient laws get passed to restrict all dogs, 99,999 out of 100,000 of which have never put a paw wrong.

The other day I picked up a speeding ticket on that hill that runs down Great North Rd from the Grey Lynn shops - 63 km/h, $80 thank you.

I instinctively blamed the car. As I explained to the polite young policeman, it weighs two tonnes and it's difficult to keep it at the legal limit going downhill.

As he handed me the ticket he politely suggested: "Perhaps you could drop it down into third, sir. That should hold it back." I felt a fool. It was my impatience and inattention as a driver that brought the ticket, not the weight of the car.

But what do we hear? Constant complaints about speed cameras and highway cops giving speeding tickets because it's revenue-gathering and they should be doing more useful things such as catching crooks.

Obesity and its attendant diabetes are becoming a national epidemic. But people eat - and, unless they have decided otherwise, they will eat what they like, as they are perfectly entitled to do in this so-called free country.

(If you want to see the second most unhappy people in this city, look at the customers in a health food shop. If you want to see the unhappiest, look behind the counter.)

But instead of taking it for granted that some people are going to get fat and get diabetes, what we hear is that "the Government ought ... " to pass a law to place restrictions on fast foods and soft drinks and suchlike.

There is an epidemic, too, of teenage binge drinking and all the attendant health, social and law-and-order problems that brings.

But instead of taking it for granted that teens will experiment with alcohol - always have, always will - and some will overdo it and some will get hooked, what do we hear? That "the Government ought ... " to put the legal age back to 20 and curtail and/or restrict alcohol advertising and sponsorship.

I guess it wouldn't be so bad if all this finger-pointing activity arose out of a genuine concern for individuals. Instead, it all seems so mercenary. What these people all seem to want to achieve is a reduction in the cost of primary and hospital healthcare.

So when they all squawk in unison "The Government ought ... " the Government does because then it can, for instance, build a smaller hospital to cater for a vastly increased population.
Preventive medicine, and publicity about the dangers of certain foods, drinks and other substances are all very well, but there will always be those who will choose to ignore any and all such blandishments.

I wonder if anyone has considered making the health system fit the public need rather than trying to make the public need fit the health system.

As I discovered afresh when pulled up for speeding, the blame game is instinctive, and when I thought about it I came to the conclusion that the instinct goes right back to the first human beings.

What was it Adam whined to God when he was lumbered for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden? "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

But at least he blamed the woman, not the fruit.

Rawiri Taonui: Maori armed to meet challenges

Last year was a significant milestone in the Maori renaissance. It began with a bang when Tame Iti shot-gunned the New Zealand flag at the opening of Waitangi Tribunal hearings into 19th century Crown actions in the Urewera forest.

Charged with firearms offences to circumvent the Bill of Rights loophole that allowed Paul Hopkinson to burn the flag, the irony is that the only person prosecuted in relation to the killing of Tuhoe ancestors is a Tuhoe descendant whose crime, if convicted, would be to have shot the flag under which the slayers of his forebears marched.

The Hui Taumata celebrating 11 years of Maori progress since the inaugural summit was a significant event. Progress has been huge. The population has increased 30 per cent, unemployment is the lowest in two generations, Maori have an unheralded presence in business, politics, art, education, culture, film, literature, television and sport. Maori and the Crown have a multiplicity of relationships advancing Treaty settlements, education, health, social programmes, environmental protection, heritage preservation, land and fisheries management and broadcasting. The culture is vibrant, the language in recovery. Hundreds of Maori emerge from kohanga reo, kura reo e rua, kura kaupapa, wananga and other tertiary institutions with a greater understanding about who they are. Delegates urged Maori to look to the future, to move beyond grievance mode and over-reliance on Government funding, to extend their horizons to include more cooperative partnerships between Maori organisations, and new ones with private enterprise and overseas partners.

As one speaker said, Maori have found their place within New Zealand, now they need to find their place on the world stage.

To achieve this Maori need more people in higher decision-making positions, emerging leaders need better preparation, and there has to be a qualitative shift in the emphasis from access and participation in education to excellence, achievement and performance.

The year also marked a spectacular presence in sport. Michael Campbell's cool driving, putting and koru shirts were a stand-out. Elsewhere, Temepara George is the world's best netballer, Sonny-Bill Williams and Benji Marshall the best rugby league players and the Maori-Pasifika Kiwis the best team. Jonno Gibbes' Maoris defeat of the Lions softened them up for the All Blacks, which in turn gave them the confidence to storm the Tri-Nations and Grand Slam Britain.

Kapa o Pango took the haka to new levels of national pride and intimidation. The performance by a mixed team of Pakeha, Pasifika and Maori and its embracing by New Zealanders reflects a nation increasingly comfortable with its own diversity.

Maori have matured politically. The Maori Party took four seats from Labour. Stable, unified and experienced, they are less likely to implode than the Dirty Dog class of 1996.

Whether they last the long term is uncertain. I think Maori will eventually take over Labour. Demographics argue for that.

Whatever the case, the Maori Party is important for this time. It is the most independent Maori voice since the 1990s Maori Congress and 1890s Kotahitanga Movement and one that is refreshingly different from the corporate warriors, the Wellington consultant brigade and those still clinging to the apron strings of Labour and National.

This Maori Party's strength lies in its ties with disaffected Maori communities. Just look at the electorates it didn't win. Tainui and the South Island have the largest Treaty settlements; the East Coast and Wellington have the strongest historical ties to the capital's brown bureaucracy - Apirana Ngata's legacy.

Each of the Maori Party MPs is also a long-time servant at the flax roots. Tariana Turia is a mother of six, grandmother of 24 and foster parent of 30 children. Pita Sharples' cultural credentials, leadership skill, academic nous and long-term commitment to Maori education in schools stand without peer. Hone Harawira is a veteran protester firmly rooted in the community. Te Ururoa Flavell has equal credentials. The Gang of Four are my Maori Leaders of the Year.

Political successes at the United Nations reflect a greater sophistication. The Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination vindicated concerns over the foreshore and seabed, finding the Crown's actions ill-considered, hasty and discriminatory.

The UNHRC Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, reinforced these concerns at a wider level. Stavenhagen acknowledged the progress New Zealand had made. But noting that Maori still lagged in life expectancy, health, poverty, imprisonment, family and youth issues, violence, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide, he argued that strategies would be more effective if there was recognition of the link between this reality and discrimination.

Protestations from Labour and National that the Committee and the Rapporteur were ill-informed, corrupt or out of touch are unfounded. The UNHRC receives multiple annual briefings on New Zealand The Government made three representations on the foreshore issue and Stavenhagen's itinerary shows that he got a more thorough briefing on our race relations than most New Zealanders get in a lifetime. The condemnations are also a slur on the UNHRC's contribution in combating discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, women and children and crimes against humanity.

Maori can claim a big victory over National whose gamble on cash and old age racism in new age disguise floundered on the sensible approach that is the foreshore of New Zealand. Policies of "one law for all" and campaigns against "race based legislation" ignore historical and ongoing racism against Maori. It is hypocritical to describe measures introduced to reverse the inequalities that this racism caused as contemporary racism in favour of Maori. Only those incapable of acknowledging the advantages they derive from historical racism do so.

Closer to home, the opening of Te Kopinga marae on the Chathams was a triumph for Moriori. They were driven to near extinction by European disease, and slaughter and slavery under Maori colonisation so the new facility is a testament to Moriori fortitude and endurance. Maori find it hard to accept the heinous deeds some of our ancestors perpetrated.

The year was not all glory. Donna Awatere's convoluted Pipi accounts finally unstapled. Accusations that her trial and sentencing were racist are regrettable. Greed is multicultural.

A brave John Tamihere fell on his taiaha. He placed his fate in the hands of the electorate, but Tamaki Maori swapped him for papa Sharples. A less capable but shrewder Dover Samuels survived on the list.

The ongoing debate over Te Wananga o Aotearoa was another low. The Auditor-General's report highlighted inappropriate management practices; the Waitangi Tribunal accused the Government of discrimination.

The truth lies in a clash of cultures. Maori have a vision of providing education for Maori and Pakeha. The Crown's vision is of Maori providing for Maori. The Crown needs to accept Maori and Pakeha students have a right to Maori context and mainstream education.

Te Wananga needs to accept that publicly funded education requires transparent professionalism and lift its game.

The renaissance augurs well for the future. Treaty settlements will provide iwi with capital for development. Household incomes will rise and state dependency decrease.The knowledge economy will increasingly supplement land and resource-based economies.

As the general working population ages, the country will become increasingly dependent upon a rapidly expanding younger brown workforce. This will comprise 45 per cent of all workers by 2025.

Maori families will change. There will be greater socio-economic diversity and wider intermarriage with other ethnic groups, especially Pacific and Asian. Children will be more competent Maori speakers than their parents.

There are also cautions. The gap is increasing between the Maori middle class who monopolise new Treaty capital and Maori of lower socio-economic status not yet in receipt of such bounty, the underclass within the underclass.

* Rawiri Taonui is head of the School of Maori and Indigenous Studies, University of Canterbury

Catriona MacLennan: Why it's the legal system not the justice system

The suggestion that up to a score of New Zealand inmates might be wrongly imprisoned comes as little surprise to those familiar with the workings of the legal system.

The cornerstone of New Zealand's court processes is the adversarial system.

This is a procedure which essentially involves a contest between prosecution and defence as to who can best conform to a precise set of rules.

It is not designed to establish the truth - surely a fundamental flaw.

The well-understood outcome of this process is that a small number of innocent people will be found guilty, and a larger number of guilty people will be acquitted.

We should be concerned not only for the innocent who are wrongly imprisoned, but also about the impact on the community of acquitting the guilty.

This leaves victims doubly traumatised. They are devastated by the initial crime and suffer a further crisis of confidence in the legal system when they find that it gives them no justice.

They are also likely to be left fearful about their future safety, as they know that they have been victims of crime once and that the lesson for the offender is that he or she can flout the law with impunity.

Retired High Court judge Sir Thomas Thorp has written a report, Miscarriages of Justice, which estimates that as many as 20 people could be wrongly imprisoned in this country, and proposes setting up an independent authority to identify miscarriages of justice. But perhaps it is time to take a wider look at the shortcomings in our legal system.

We have a process which, though it may strive for equality, in practice punishes the poor more harshly than the rich.

Our court processes are bruising for victims, and punishments do little to prevent re-offending.

One result of the flaws in the adversarial process is that our courts are slowly moving to use of the inquisitorial system.

This is happening gradually, without overall debate or a decision that it is time to abandon the adversarial system.

The inquisitorial system is widely used in Europe, where judges actively inquire into the facts with the aim of establishing the truth.

Inquisitorial processes are already used in the Employment Relations Authority, the Disputes Tribunal and to some extent in the Family Court.

Widespread frustration among judges and others involved in court proceedings about the futility of employing the adversarial system to resolve domestic violence cases has also led to the setting up of pilot, specialist Family Violence Courts.

These work within the criminal court, but are designed to provide a speedier and more effective means of dealing with violence in the family.

At the Manukau District Court, all domestic violence criminal charges are now referred to the specialist court, with the aim of finalising matters within two or three weeks.

That can be contrasted with the months or years it takes for the adversarial process to produce an outcome when cases go to full defended hearings.

Debate is also taking place about whether procedures for trying sex offences can be improved.

Rape victims are well aware of the horror of the court process for the victim, and some decide they simply cannot go through a trial.

The law is such that a defence of consent is commonly argued, and conviction rates are extremely low in such cases.

The public issues committee of the Auckland District Law Society in a June 2002 report called for a review of the procedures for the trial of those accused of rape and other sexual offences.

The document said that, despite many reforms of rape laws in recent years, there was still a substantial degree of under-reporting of sexual crimes.

This resulted in perpetrators believing they could act with impunity, while victims felt powerless. Ultimately, that undermined the criminal justice system itself.

The committee urged the Government to establish a taskforce to consider changes to sexual offence trial processes to ensure that victims received access to justice.

Proposals included rape victims being represented by their own lawyers to ensure their input at every stage of the process, use of the inquisitorial process and removal of the right to silence.

A forum held in Auckland in November 2003 further debated these issues, and in particular made reference to the specialist courts which have been established in South Africa to deal with sexual offences.

Research has found high satisfaction with the system, and the conviction rate for sexual offences in South Africa is more than 80 per cent, compared with 44 per cent in New Zealand.

All the moves away from the adversarial system are a de facto acknowledgment of its flaws.

However, it is unsatisfactory that there should simply be a piecemeal abandonment of the process without any coherent debate.

In the meantime, I continue always to describe our court processes as our "legal" system, and never as our "justice" system.

* Catriona MacLennan is a South Auckland barrister.

Irfan Yusuf: Look past Bali bombers for true picture of Indonesia

I have just spent a couple of hours experiencing the lights and sounds and costumes of a ballet. But this was no Swan Lake. It was the performance of an ancient Hindu epic known as the Ramayana.

The costumes and masks of the cast were phenomenal, as were the accompanying orchestra and singers.

The ballet was performed in the shadow of one of the oldest Hindu temples on earth.

But what made the performance amazing was not the music, the instruments or costumes. It was that this ballet was being performed as a cultural performance in the world's largest Muslim country.

The Ramayana is performed regularly to Muslim audiences across this archipelago, 88 per cent of whose population regard themselves as Muslim.

When our delegation of young Australian Muslims arrived at the temple grounds, in the Indonesian university town of Yogyakarta, we were expecting to witness a distant relic of Indonesia's ancient pre-Islamic past.

Instead, we were greeted with the traditional Arabic greeting of "assalamu alaykum"(peace be with you).

It was unclear whether our hosts were Hindu or Muslim. But, without doubt, most of the actors were Muslim, as were most of the audience.

Many were young couples for whom a trip to a Hindu ballet was a culturally appropriate night out. Many were women wearing headscarves.

For Indonesian Muslims, Hindu and Buddhist influences are celebrated as part of their mainstream culture.

Islam arrived in Indonesia through traders and was spread peacefully by Chinese and Yemeni merchants.

It adapted to existing Hindu and Buddhist cultures and co-opted the symbols of these faiths.

In India, the birthplace of the Ramayana hero has become the scene of conflict.

Hindus claim the medieval Muslim king Babur built a mosque on the site, destroying an existing Hindu shrine.

The dispute over the mosque and its destruction by Hindu extremists in 1992 has led to religious riots in which tens of thousands have been killed across northern India.

But while the Ramayana hero is at the centre of conflict in India, Indonesian Muslim actors take part in a Ramayana ballet with a largely Muslim audience.

In Jakarta, our delegation visited Indonesia's largest mosque - the Masjid Istiqlal (Independence Mosque), which holds up to 50,000 people.

Before the traditional call to prayer, a drum is beaten, consistent with traditional Javanese Hindu culture. Women and men enter the mosque from the same entrance and pray in the same pavilion without any curtain.

It seems the largest Islamic country in the world is far more liberal in gender matters than other Muslim cultures in which women are often banned from the mosque or relegated to a separate area.

Across the road from the Independence Mosque is Jakarta's Catholic Cathedral. On Sundays, the cathedral's car park is quickly filled and the mosque authorities let Catholics park on the mosque premises.

In the post-Suharto era, the Chinese New Year has become a public holiday and is even being celebrated in some Indonesian mosques.

Perhaps Muslims in other parts of the world can learn from Indonesia's example.

Indonesia may be seen as a hotbed of extremism and anti-Western feeling. But whatever Indonesians may think of Western governments, their attitude toward all cultures and faiths appears far more open than many Western countries that claim to be multicultural.

The Ramayana Muslim artists are more representative of mainstream Indonesian Islam than the Bali bombers.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer visiting Indonesia as part of a delegation of Young Australian Muslims.

Brian Fallow: Smarter weapons or a damp squib?

Belaboured daily by headlines about job losses, Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard would love a smart bomb that could hit the housing market while avoiding the collateral damage his sole present weapon, the official cash rate (OCR), is inflicting on the economy.

In conjunction with the Treasury the bank began its search for one in November, with the Supplementary Stabilisation Instrument Project. The fruits of their quest are due next week.

Last week, Bollard repeated that the bank was "open to the idea that there may be supplementary instruments that can help cool domestic demand when it appears overheated relative to the traded sector and vice versa".

The frustration for the bank and the Government is that borrowers' preference for fixed-rate loans, which amount to 80 per cent of all mortgage debt, has created a longer lag between changes to the OCR and the average mortgage rate borrowers are paying.

Meanwhile, the fact that those fixed-rate loans are largely funded by overseas savers has created a strong demand for the kiwi dollar, hammering the export sector. Last year, the rest of the world needed about $31 billion of kiwi dollars to buy New Zealand exports, but another $25 billion was needed to buy eurobonds to finance our debt habit.

Despite this frustration, Bollard has been clear that his brakes have not failed, that the OCR still works (eventually) and that it will remain the primary instrument of monetary policy.

But it would be handy to have some additional means of dampening our collective enthusiasm to buy residential real estate, which has pushed up house prices and mortgage debt by about a third over the past two years.

The reason he would want to do that is the wealth effect. Homeowners see the value of their properties rise and happily borrow more. That has turbocharged consumer demand, driving inflation above 3 per cent and the balance of payments into the red.

Don't hold your breath that the search for an ancillary tool will come up with much, however.

The exercise's terms of reference rule out some of the big policy choices that influence people's attitudes to saving versus consumption and to housing versus other assets.

A capital gains tax remains politically radioactive and issues about the extent of social safety nets are too fundamental to be hostage to purely cyclical considerations.

A one-off measure that is under consideration is to scrap or restrict the use of structures like loss-attributing qualifying companies (LAQCs) that are being used by property investors as a means of reducing their overall tax liability.

If a property is heavily geared, it may be years before it is profitable, especially in an environment where house prices are rising about five times faster than rents. If the investment is held through a normal company, losses can only accumulate to offset future profits, but with a LAQC, they can be used to reduce the overall tax bill its shareholders face.

But, of course, there is no reason to hold the investment through a company structure at all. Owning it directly would also allow the investor to use the tax losses at once.

Such a change in the tax laws might have some effect on the property market at the margin, if prices have been bid up by unsophisticated investors thinking they were gaining some tax advantage that is largely illusory.

Also under consideration are changes to the rules governing banks "which could reduce the amplitude of housing credit cycles".

This might mean changing, either as a one-off or from time to time as a cyclical measure, the risk weighting given to mortgage lending when calculating how much capital a bank needs to support its loan book.

For many years, in line with international norms, the relatively low risk of mortgage debt has meant a bank only needs to have 50 per cent as much capital to support its mortgage book as for the same amount of lending to the corporate sector.

But the international rules on capital adequacy are changing, moving away from such rigid one-size-fits-all ratios in favour of a more finely graduated and dynamic approach.

A regulatory change that cut across or ran counter to that international trend, which the Reserve Bank says it supports, might harm its reputation.

It could also make it difficult to harmonise its approach to bank supervision with that of Australia, home of the parents of 85 per cent of New Zealand's banks.

The terms of reference make it clear that any changes have to be consistent with the Reserve Bank's longer-term objective of protecting the stability of the financial system. Surely prudential requirements need to be exclusively focused on the latter. So let's not go there.

Another possibility is to put a limit, which the Reserve Bank could raise and lower at will, on loan-to-value ratios, that is the proportion of the value of a property that a bank could lend on mortgage.

One problem with that is that it is likely to make it even harder for people to buy their first home because they would need a bigger deposit.

The bigger problem is that if demand for that extra credit is there people will find ways of making money by providing it.

Any regulatory intervention runs the risk of unintended consequences. In this case, damage might be done to the formation of new businesses, given how reliant they tend to be on loans secured by residential mortgages.

Muldoonist measures will not work in an open economy that has unimpeded access to international capital and which, has on balance, benefited mightily from that fact.

If we could only borrow what other New Zealanders are prepared to lend, interest rates would be a whole lot higher.

The other big structural shift that the central bank has to contend with is a permanently tighter labour market, driven by an ageing population and the income gap that has opened up between New Zealand and Australia.

That suggests less unemployment and more job security than might in the past have accompanied an economic downturn, and therefore more confidence about being able to pay the mortgage.

In the end, though, mortgages and rents have to be paid out of incomes rising at mid-single-digit rates, so house price inflation at double-digit rates cannot continue indefinitely.

It is entirely appropriate for officials to look for smarter ways of doing things. Announcing the fact they are doing so, however, may have raised false hopes.

With the news full of plant closures and job losses there may be a temptation to do something low-grade to be seen to do something.

It is the trap of the politician's syllogism: We have to do something. This is something. Therefore we have to do this.

Michele Hewitson: Of barbies and bunkers

I do hope you've been watching Gone Fishin' over the hols. It is the best summer viewing on the telly, especially the cooking section which has replaced Muck In a Minute in my affections.

I love cooking shows which make you feel slightly queasy. This is far preferable to cooking shows which make you want to eat food because eating food will only make you fat. Everyone knows that.

My favourite recipe, if that is not overstating the exercise, was one involving a kingfish steak done on the barbie.

Alongside the fish steak was placed a pile of baby spinach. It was also done on the barbie. This was called blanching. Then you spray on a bit of avocado oil.

I suppose this is what you do in Pacific Rim cooking when what you're really doing is sticking a bunch of spinach on a barbie. You wouldn't want to get that spray-on oil confused with the spray-on tan in a can after a few tinnies. Still, after a few tinnies (or even before a few tinnies) you'd probably hardly notice the difference.

Stick the blanched spinach on the plate, bang the fish steak on top, then a drizzle of some Japanese sauce, the name of which escapes me because I was laughing quite loudly at that point. I'd hazard, though, that it was the name of the sauce emblazoned on the chef's apron.

Then a couple of bits of that pickled ginger stuff on the side. It belongs over the side if you ask me, but what would I know?

Anyway, this is brilliant telly and I'm at least a stone lighter for watching it.

Gone Fishin' is not quite the most brilliant telly ever made though. We're still waiting for this, but it is not too far off.

Trust Donald Trump to come up with the best idea since, well, The Apprentice. The Apprentice appealed to people who thought that appearing venal and cut-throat on prime time telly was attractive. Presumably some people will be mad enough - or desperate to be on the telly - to sign up for Donald Trump's new ridiculous television venture. It's golf.

Actually, I thought I might. I can't play golf but I could take a few lessons and be in to win a million bucks. Which The Trump is going to personally give to the one golfer who can prove he or she has the skill and nerve. And so on.

The Trump is really going to personally hand over a million bucks made up of the $15,000 entry fee each of the 100 competitors will have to fork out just to enter.

I looked up the entry form and found out that even to apply, all entrants are required to complete the official registration form and submit a deposit of $5000. Cheques will be cashed upon receipt, and if a registrant is not selected for the event, the deposit will be refunded within 10 days of the final player field being established.

All players will be required to stay at the Raffles Resort or sister resort Tamarind, on Canouan Island in the Grenadines, for a minimum of five nights during the duration of their matches, unless specifically assigned lodging at another location by the tournament committee. The hotel packages will be priced from $300 to $910 per night and so on.

Now this really is visionary telly. Get suckers to pay to go on a show with your name on it and which you have no doubt sold for a vast sum. This sort of stuff makes reality telly, with its free talent, look like even more like amateur hour than the resulting footage.

The Trump Million Dollar Invitational for chumps will make terrible telly but it will make a lot of money for guess who. Now that is brilliant.

Talkback: Brave new branding needed for new type of consumer

By Mike Pepper

For years advertising and design agencies have been telling their clients to be brave. Hell, we even named our company after the concept. But what does being brave mean in 2006? And why does it matter?

In his blog Adliterate, London-based advertising planner Richard Huntington provides a pretty good steer on the right kind of brave thinking required in the prevailing climate.

Huntington's view is that advertising works best when it's unique and so grabbing that it gets people talking, thereby adding a powerful multiplier effect to the advertising spend.

But, he adds, talkability shouldn't just come from how great the ad looks, or how funny it is, but from the interest generated by the potency of the opinion it expresses - because the type of conversations this leads to are all about your brand, not just your ad.

Most New Zealand brands are inherently conservative and, I think, don't express an opinion as much as they should. And it's a big, lost opportunity.

Just ask any SME owner to identify a car brand that matches the personality of their company and I can almost guarantee they'll all say Audi - possibly a 4WD Audi if they are feeling really adventurous (nice performance, well-engineered, but in no way a flashy show-off).

It's just not the Kiwi way to stand out for being different.

With a few exceptions, we prefer to blend in and go about our business quietly.

The trouble with this is that we all start sounding and looking the same, which doesn't do anyone any good.

As people grapple with more options and attention saturation, they increasingly look for brands that are opinionated about something that matters; brands that are meaningfully opinionated.

A good example of this sentiment is the rise of lifestyles-of-health-and-sustainability consumers (Lohas), who spend money on products they feel reflect socially responsible behaviour.

About 32 per cent of US consumers identify with this niche, which is said to be worth US$230 billion.

Issues-based positioning is no longer the exclusive domain of charities and governments - just look at BP or McDonald's.

Smart brands are recognising the value of embracing social issues - the things that really matter in the lives of consumers - to differentiate themselves from the pack.

We recently helped to create a brand of commercial tea and coffee called Scarborough Fair.

Some people said it was madness trying to launch a new brand in a stagnant category ruled by multinationals and untouchable household-name brands.

If we had applied the same thinking as the incumbents, it certainly would have been commercial suicide. But we didn't.

We took the time to find out what really matters to a growing group of consumers- discomfort with entrenched commercial practices that keep many Third World growers of tea and coffee desperately poor and deprived of basic rights, such as clean water and proper nutrition.

Scarborough Fair is Fair Trade certified, which ensures its growers are properly rewarded and can lead better lives than they would under mainstream commercial supply arrangements.

Certainly, you're not in the game if you don't taste great or are overpriced, but Scarborough Fair gives globally aware tea and coffee drinkers an extremely powerful reason to put it in the shopping basket.

How many other categories are screaming out for a new entrant that stands for something that really matters - and not just a new colour or faster widget?

The brands that will stand the test of time will matter to consumers in a way that far outreaches the functional needs of the products and services they represent.

Sure it requires bravery, but mostly it demands more listening and less talking.

* Mike Pepper is a brand strategist at brand communications agency Brave New World.

* Talk Back explores the issues that matter to the media, and the world of advertising, marketing, public relations and communications.