Monday, February 13, 2006

Sideswipe

By Ana Samways

Celia Morrison is waiting to be rubber-stamped as a New Zealand citizen. She wonders if her medical records will help prove she's patriotic: "Not sure what the glue is they use on the stickers that are to be found on apples. But it is very good! I have just undergone a colonoscopy, with the thorough scouring that goes with it beforehand. "During the procedure heard the specialist and nurse laughing. I discovered later that they had seen an apple sticker adhering to my insides showing the words 'Made in New Zealand' very clearly. As I was made in England and about to apply for my citizenship here, do you think the photograph given to me will speed the paperwork up?"

* * *

Stuck for something to write in the card tomorrow? Some ideas from a Washington Post competition which asked readers for a rhyme with the most romantic first line but an appalling second line. A select few:

I thought that I could love no other.

Until, that is, I met your brother.

Or: Of loving beauty you float with grace.

If only you could hide your face.

Or perhaps: My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife: Marrying you screwed up my life.

* * *

A treasury lackey has taken the brunt of Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan's description of National MP John Key as "once one of the legendary big swinging dicks of international foreign exchange". The Treasury official seconded to the Opposition finance spokesman's office has since inherited the noble title of "little swinging dick".

* * *

Bolivia's Foreign Minister says coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine, are so nutritious they should be included on school breakfast menus. "Coca has more calcium than milk. It should be part of the school breakfast," Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca was quoted as saying in the newspaper La Razon. The new leftist Government of Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, has vowed to promote the legal uses of the coca plant, which is revered in Andean culture and is commonly chewed or made into tea. Morales, himself a former coca farmer, has pledged to fight the drugs trade but at the same time protect the cultivation of coca in Bolivia - the world's third-biggest cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru. A coca leaf weighing 100 grams contains 18.9 calories of protein, 45.8mg of iron, 1540mg of calcium and vitamins A, B1, B2, E and C, which is more than most nuts, according to a 1975 study by a group of Harvard University professors.

Editorial: Rumour mill into overtime

The political year has barely begun and already we have had a flurry of speculation about a change of leadership of the National Party. Don Brash appears to have survived it but he will not be spared further talk at times when nothing much else is happening.

Leadership destabilisation is too easy. It takes only one or two malcontents in the caucus to drop the word in the right place at Parliament and the press have to act on it. As long as a party leader looks vulnerable nobody can be certain that nothing is afoot. The gallery will have chosen an heir apparent and that starry-eyed individual will be unable to deny, of course, that he would like to be leader one day. (Like tomorrow.)

Every rumoured challenge is a little more corrosive than the last until it becomes self-fulfilling. Eventually the leader is driven to try to end the talk by putting his position to a caucus vote and that is futile. Anything less than a near-unanimous endorsement will only reveal the caucus to be divided and even a unanimous vote will not silence the whispers for very long. The only certain way for the leader to cement his position is to put his party ahead in the polls and unless Dr Brash can do that we are going to be treated to regular news of a possible "coup".

The subject is particularly tedious in Dr Brash's case because he is that rare political party leader who would probably give up gracefully at the first sign of a genuine mood for change. He has not made his career in Parliament, his contribution to the country's improvement is already immense, he does not play political games. Interviewers find him artless, the public senses that he is disarmingly open and not much concerned that an unguarded word might be used against him. His own honest assessment of his prospects immediately after the election have contributed to the speculation since.

The National Party, he observed, had not often given leaders who lose elections a second chance. But that is because National has not lost many elections in living memory. For 50 years from 1949 National lost only four elections and two of those (1972 and 1984) were at the end of long spells in power. After the other two (1957 and 1987), the leaders, Sir Keith Holyoake and Jim Bolger respectively, survived to win the following election. It is only since it lost power in 1999 that National has denied its leader a second chance. Jenny Shipley was replaced after the 1999 election and Bill English after 2002. The party's fortunes in this period hardly argue for a revolving door habit.

Labour has been much more patient. Helen Clark lost the 1996 election and survived to win in 1999, Mike Moore was allowed another shot in 1993 after the loss in 1990. Going back, Sir Wallace Rowling lost three elections before he was replaced, Norman Kirk lost two and survived as did, much earlier, Sir Walter Nash. That was an era when Labour was out of power far more often than it was in, but it is doubtful that a more ruthless attitude to leadership would have improved its record.

Dr Brash has lifted National from the depths of the 2002 defeat to a percentage point or two from victory. It is well poised to win the next election, as well poised in fact as Labour was in 1996 when Helen Clark led Labour into contention but had to wait a further three years for the momentum to carry her into power. Dr Brash has to see that he does not lose the momentum he has generated in the two years since he took over the party. And the party has to resist the idea that a young and untried politician can work miracles for it. National needs to spend the next year or two consolidating its credibility as a party ready to govern. A leadership change makes no sense for the foreseeable future. Spare us more specious rumour.

Brian Rudman: Tomorrow never comes when roads are clogged

The Government is promising to pour billions of dollars into alleviating Auckland's traffic congestion problems.

But while we wait, we could try a little harder to better manage the roads we already have.

Take the mysterious barriers at the bottom of Grafton Rd. Indeed the senior local politician who rang to complain about them on Friday wishes someone would take them, not as an example, but as an obstacle to be removed, so traffic could flow more easily.

I won't name him, because his fiefdom is not involved and igniting a squabble with whichever rival is responsible is hardly the point, but he reckons the only activity he has seen in months was a workman staring down a hole.

He asks why there is no sense of urgency about avoiding such unnecessary road blockages and talks about the manana approach, the she'll be right, tomorrow's another day attitude, that seems to pervade this sort of work in Auckland.

While he's been obsessing about the Grafton obstacles, I've been fixated by one of my own, the slowly moving blockages to Victoria St West, one of the main arteries west out of the city.

The chaos began mid-January with the blocking of the right turn into Halsey St for traffic heading to Westhaven across the harbour bridge.

In the evening rush hours, traffic quickly stalled back up Victoria St to Albert St as those wanting to turn dithered. Then came the Vector crew to lay a new electricity cable to Freemans Bay.

Complete with diggers and safety barriers, they've been snailing their way down the hill from Television New Zealand and past the Victoria Park Market for the past two - or is it three? - weeks, narrowing traffic flow out of the city past the work site to a single lane.

On a particularly bad day it took the bus half an hour just to get down the hill - which serves me right for not walking.

It wasn't until last Thursday that the penny dropped and some bright spark thought to relieve the pressure by temporarily moving the centre line across and borrowing an under-used lane from the other direction.

Unfortunately, the chap in charge of the temporary signage hadn't been briefed on this brainwave. So he plonked a big sign at the beginning of the new diversion which displayed a bent arrow directing drivers back into the clogged single lane. To the shame of all Westies, most were too scared, or confused, to make a break for it.

I rang Des Hughes, Auckland City's manager of utility relationships, the next morning and he went to check it out - and got caught up in the congestion himself. The good news was that the Victoria St work should have been completed by today.

And to think people seriously believed that a V8 car street race around Victoria Park, including weeks of set-up, would have not gridlocked the city. On that cheery thought, Auckland City councillor Penny Sefuiva rang with her own little traffic tale - not her council's fault, she insisted, but Transit New Zealand's.

Seems it is doing motorway realignment at Western Springs and has temporarily reduced the underpass at Ivanhoe Rd to a single lane, controlled by portable lights.

Councillor Sefuiva was patiently queued at the red light on Friday when someone drove past her and others waiting, through the red light and down the one-way passage. He stopped at the other end and furiously beckoned them to come through. Nervously they did.

When they got through he revealed he was a local and the lights had been stuck on red for two weeks. Manana.

But nothing embodies the manana approach quite as dramatically as the continuing leisurely approach to clearing roads after a serious accident.

In mid-January a fatal crash north of Wellsford on State Highway 1 shut the main road north for five hours.

Despite a diversion, holiday traffic remained bumper to bumper for hours after the road reopened.

In mid-July 2004, after a major crash closed Fanshawe St links to the harbour bridge for 3 1/2 hours, everyone from the Minister of Transport down promised action. The Minister for Auckland Affairs, Judith Tizard, declared ministers were "just about at the end of our tether" about such delays in reopening the roads.

In November 2002, the emergency services and Transit signed an "open roads philosophy", backing the idea that reopening the road after an accident would be a prime focus. From when, though?

Gary Taylor: Dumping carbon tax mad move

The announcement before Christmas that the Government was dropping the proposed carbon tax was bad news for business, the country and the environment.

An analysis of the 475-page report from the Ministry for the Environment and the consequent Cabinet paper reveals it to be a poorly justified, rushed decision that effectively replaces a robust policy framework with possible soft measures that will not work.

And what is not well understood is that it will increase New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

The decision will undermine New Zealand's credibility internationally. We have been a leader at the United Nations negotiations and have had the political courage to differentiate ourselves from the United States, which strenuously opposes price-based measures at least at federal Government level.

We are now stepping more in line with the US position, even though the international community strongly rejected its approach at the Montreal summit in December.

Some business leaders have praised the decision, but the effect is to create a long period of uncertainty for the market over just how to factor the cost of carbon emissions into investment decisions.

Just how does a director of a large power company make decisions on significant new projects without clear Government policy? This is why it is important to put a price on carbon.

Many OECD countries have carbon taxes. Europe has emissions trading which is another way of putting a price on carbon. State Governments in Australia and the US are going the same way, although their respective federal Governments oppose Kyoto.

Business New Zealand, however, supports voluntary measures to tackle our emissions deficit. But they will not work. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change tried the voluntary approach internationally in the early 1990s - and emissions went up. That led to the Kyoto Protocol, which sets up a cap-and-trade mechanism and puts a price on carbon.

It is ironic to have some business leaders arguing for non-price measures when they understand better than most that if you really want to change behaviour, you need to put a price signal into the market that encourages that.

New Zealand's carbon tax would have done exactly that. It was supposed to be introduced in April next year. Because of the tax, the Resource Management Act was amended to take consideration of greenhouse gases out of the realm of local and regional councils.

The idea was to avoid double jeopardy - where a company paid once through the tax and then had to show how greenhouse gases would be avoided or mitigated on resource consents for new projects.

Now the tax has been cancelled the RMA needs to be changed back to where it was, otherwise not only do polluters not pay their environmental costs, they also get a free ride in consenting processes.

Negotiated Greenhouse Agreements were designed to give exporters that were energy-intensive exemptions from the tax in return for moving towards world's best practice in emissions management for their sector. Millions of dollars were spent on NGAs. Now they are worthless because everyone is exempt. The lack of stability and consistency in government policy must be galling for those businesses that took it seriously.

A key reason given for dropping the tax, in the ministry's report, is that it is too late to put it in place by next year. But that is because officials who should have been working up the final design of the tax have been preoccupied writing the review itself, which has been some months in gestation, presumably in the expectation of a change of government. That's a bureaucratic catch 22 resonant of a "Yes Minister" approach.

The report itself fails to properly analyse the justification for dropping the tax and fails to come up with any sound replacement policy mix. It turns the clock back to the early 90s when countries thought they didn't have to take climate change seriously.

But now the evolving science is firming and the worst-case scenarios are looking more probable. It is ironic that Australian farmers, who are seeing the red centre expanding and the coastal fringe contracting, are calling for more robust action from their Government while New Zealand farming leaders, and Business New Zealand, are at the "do little" end of the spectrum.

The net effect of dropping the carbon tax, if you interpret the ministry's own numbers, is that New Zealand's excess emissions in the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period will rise substantially. They will go up from 33 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent to 49 million tonnes, an increase of 36 per cent. This is quite extraordinary given the commitment to put New Zealand on a downward path in gross emissions by 2012.

Indeed, the ministry's report concedes that our emissions will continue to grow. They certainly will if the Government is advised to drop effective policies to reduce emissions.

Where do we go from here? That's not clear. We could have a carbon tax on everything except transport fuels if that was the area of political sensitivity. Or we could introduce full-blown emissions trading and devolve the forest sinks and go the European route.

Or we could follow the voluntary approach which would be a cop-out. The way ahead may be made clearer when Climate Change Minister David Parker speaks at the Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference this month.

* Gary Taylor is the chairman of the Environmental Defence Society and convener of the 2nd Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference in Adelaide on February 20-21.

Claire Harvey: Deniers are blind to the power of hope

Gullible fools, all of us.

Anyone who was thrilled by the survival story of Robert Hewitt; all those media organisations from Newsweek to the Guardian who loved his endurance of three days lost at sea, all the politicians who offered congratulations to the former Navy diver and his overwhelmed family; we've all shown ourselves up as misty-eyed nancies who can't tell when we're being taken for a ride.

Thank God the good people at Truth Radio weren't sucked in.

Ex-politician John Banks, once a police minister and mayor of Auckland, now hosts a talkback programme on Radio Pacific on weekday mornings. It's the standard talkback format; the host opines on matters contentious, and people who agree with his views ring up to congratulate him.

Banks employs the controversiality template for talkback hosts discussing current affairs; sniff the prevailing wind and go the other way.

Last Thursday morning, his topic was "what we are loosely calling the survival hoax".

More specifically, Banks wanted everyone to know that he was way too smart to fall for the story of rescue that has captivated the world.

"There are a lot of Maoris in the Navy," Banks said, just before 7am. "You'll never find a better Maori than the one that's in the military uniform. These blokes must be able to swim at least 400m. They've got to be able to swim with tanks, boots, respirators, and gear, 400m. Mr Hewitt was only 200m off Mana when he, quote, went missing, or found himself missing, or decided to go missing, or just missing," Banks said. "Why didn't he swim to Mana?"

Annie from Waiheke Island rang in with her version. "Your brother's Norm Hewitt, he's got all the publicity over the past year, he's been on television, he's been dancing ... what better way to upstage him?" Annie asked. "Go missing, and then miraculously appear again. There you are bro, I rest my case," she said, drawing out the vowel in "bro" for emphasis.

As Banks put it, Hewitt's story was so incredible he must have "faked his own missing. I maintain a healthy scepticism. I am just not sucked in that easy. I'm glad Mr Hewitt's alive now, having a lovely breakfast wherever he is," the host said, "but we're not going to buy that.

"Government TV may be sucked in; state radio may have swallowed the dead rat; the two tabloids, the Dominion and the Herald, have been sucked in. We here at Truth Radio believe it was a beat-up from the start."

Great way to wake up, isn't it, Breakfast with Banksie, as the show is so chummily named?

Thank goodness we've got a host who is free to tell us the Truth, someone to see through all the sentimentality of the so-called happy stories, to prove that there isn't anything to feel glad about after all, no matter how credulous the bureaucrats working for the Pravda commentariat may be.

The Hewitt yarn was such an uplifting story - so touching, so sweet, so drenched in familial love and romance and the loyalty of friends who wouldn't give up the search, even when the officials had abandoned hope, even when brother Norm, the battler, the hard man, was expecting a corpse - it had to be a load of rubbish, according to Truth Radio.

The reality is Robert Hewitt's story was a ripsnorting adventure with the happiest of endings, and that is why it has flashed around the world.

More than just a nice story, the 38-year-old's experience is so appealing because it is evidence - despite what they say at Truth Radio - of the endurance of which a human being is capable, and the importance of never giving up hope.

What an eloquent contrast there was between the words of Annie from Waiheke and Robert from the ocean, even though Robert's words were slightly muffled by the Hollywood dimensions of his swollen, sunburnt lips.

He spoke of how he sustained himself through the loneliness by thinking about the goodness of life.

"I said a little prayer to God and thanked him for the day, then asked him to look after me during the night, and I felt a real warm air come through, so I knew someone was there," Hewitt said after his rescue.

"Love you, Rang!" he had shouted across the emptiness to his partner, Rangi, even though she could not hear.

"I love you Kiriana, Meripi, Casey!" he called to his children. "Love you Norm!" he shouted to his brother.

Robert Hewitt survived by clinging to hope, to the idea of a miracle.

The Truth Radio crowd clearly take pride in adhering firmly to the darkest interpretations of human nature, the worst parts of life, even when evidence to the contrary is so apparent.

I wonder how long those thoughts would keep you alive?

Don Donovan: Grey power guardians of good manners and dress

Lynne Truss in her book Talk to the Hand deplores the utter rudeness of everyday life and the loss of respect for others which is the inevitable outcome.

For this she tends to blame those who lack respect and are rude, but one does not have to look far to see that it is the abdication of control of standards by our elders that is really the culprit.

It is the responsibility of the older generations (people like Truss and me) to observe the shortcomings of the young, to criticise them forcefully, to speak of better times past and generally not to let neo-Philistines get away with their slack and sloppy ways.

It's no good saying that they don't know any better; we are obliged to tell them, and to maintain those old standards despite any charges of being old-fashioned and out-of-date.

We oldies must regain the high ground in a country that is in danger of completely marginalising anybody aged over 50.

On that score, it's interesting to me that when I tune in to CNN or ABC news I see a presenter well into his 60s; grey-haired, face lined, wearing a suit and tie and speaking with great authority.

There's no way that you'd see such a geriatric fronting television in New Zealand; Television New Zealand churns its presenters, never allowing them to grow old. What happens to all that wasted experience? Do the Phillip Sherrys - who? - of our media end up in land-fills?

I sent an email to TVNZ the other day complaining about the dress standard of one of their sports presenters. Was he, I asked, wearing a nightshirt? Interestingly, while I did not receive a reply, the man in question has been 1000 per cent better dressed since! Had I not complained he might next day have appeared in a jock strap and gumboots.

I believe that it's in this area of presentation that the seeds of the decay of respect thrive.

All male Queen St lawyers, accountants, stockbrokers and shop workers should wear suits with ties and should polish their shoes. (My father would have clobbered me if I had left the house wearing dirty or unpolished shoes.)

How can we possibly expect respect from people who wear their shirts hanging out, or who walk along the street shouting into cellphones or eating hamburgers?

I wish to insist that yawners put their hands over their mouths; that we stamp out hoons who travel the city streets in lowered Civics blasting bypassers with the mindless bass boomings that emerge from their open windows.

Let us try to get the peaks of caps facing the front again for fear of their wearers' small brains turning 180 degrees.

Let us ban the word "bugger" from TV commercials (because, if we don't, it'll be a short step from there to the "F" word).

I yearn for the day when all policemen will walk helmeted and with measured tread along the pavements with their hands behind their backs occasionally stopping to bend their knee joints and, saluting the public, to say: " 'Allo,'allo,'allo, what's all this then?"

And I pine for earlier days when rugby players, footballers and cricketers didn't spit all over the grass because they knew that it was not only unhygienic but also disgusting and offensive.

(Netball girls don't spit. Are women better behaved? I have my doubts when I see the bulging bellies and navel studs of style-less teens.)

I desire to be addressed as "Mr Donovan" until I have given permission to call me "Don" to people to whom I have never been introduced.

This particularly applies to young men and women working in the "customer relations" telephone centres of banks, insurance and finance companies and local and central government departments and SOEs.

While I realise that none of them is prepared to divulge their surnames, preferring to be "Tracy" or "Mark", I find the intimacy of a Christian or forename embarrassing; it offends me.

So I claim that good manners is the art of not giving offence. In the first instance that's a matter of physical and verbal presentation.

What's more, the right dress and body language inspire confidence in the observer. How can anybody possibly believe in the authenticity of a hospital doctor who isn't wearing a white coat, preferably with a stethoscope draped around his (her) shoulders?

And, by the way, isn't it about time that all ward and practice nurses reverted to wearing pert white caps, starched aprons with little upside down watches pinned to them, and black stockings with seams up the back?

* Don Donovan is an Albany writer and illustrator.

Bali Haque: Zoning guards a basic right

The following is clear about Auckland Grammar: it is a popular school. It has had substantial roll growth in the past five years or so (as secondary rolls throughout the country have peaked). It has had a substantial number of late enrolments. It has problems dealing with parents who try to cheat the zoning legislation.

What John Morris needs to be clear about, however, is that there are plenty of other schools in New Zealand which are dealing with exactly the same issues.

The difference between Auckland Grammar and many of these other schools is that most manage the problem effectively, sensitively, quietly and reasonably fairly without resorting to making illegal and public threats to bar students from attending their local school.

At our college we ensure we leave space for the expected late enrolments. This year Pakuranga College has had 70 such enrolments on a roll of 2100 students. The principals of two other large Auckland colleges were quoted in the Herald recently as saying they, too, planned effectively for late enrolments.

Late or illegal enrolments may point to the need for some schools to address their planning processes, but they do not provide any basis upon which to throw out our zoning legislation.

The zoning legislation as it stands is not perfect. Popular schools may well attract students into their geographical zone, and this can create a problem in terms of raised property prices. However, there is no doubt that this has actually always been a problem, mainly because the majority of people prefer to attend their local school, regardless of zoning legislation.

The key principle which the current legislation does enshrine is the right of local students to attend their local school. This is fundamental and should be non-negotiable if we are to maintain our social cohesiveness.

John Morris suggests that this principle is somehow outdated but conspicuously fails to offer any workable alternative, and I think this is a pity.

Here are two alternatives:

Allow schools to set their own selection criteria. If we allow this, we can be sure that some schools will cherry-pick the best, and local students will miss out on the opportunity to attend their local schools.

The long-term effect of this approach will be to create social division and a two-tier state education system. There is plenty of evidence that this happened in Auckland when we did not have a system based around geographical zoning.

Allocate all places by ballot. This approach really makes education provision a lottery, will make for enormous traffic problems, but has the virtue of being fair.

Of course there are variations galore, but the fact is that we must choose between differing options, none of which are perfect.

The debate about education is, rightly, a hugely important and emotional one. Every parent has a right to be assured that the quality of education provided to their child is of the highest standard.

The best way to achieve this is to ensure that every school does provide the highest standards. Instead of expending our energies on ideologically based debates about zoning, and parent cheats, it might be more appropriate to consider how we address the issue of schools which are not meeting the needs of their communities.

This may mean much heavier interventions by government in cases of poor performance, better training for leaders, more flexible employment contracts for teachers, and better resourcing.

I am sure that Auckland Grammar is having a hard time at the moment, but the issues raised by John Morris can be dealt with internally without making the rest of New Zealand deal with the consequences of the precipitous action he seems to be advocating.

* Bali Haque is Principal of Pakuranga College

Christopher Niesche: Crunch time as the slowdown begins to bite

The reporting season begins in earnest this week but, unlike other recent reporting seasons, the next fortnight won't bring too much good news. Instead, it's likely to cast a pall over the share market.

Over the past few years equity investors have watched company after company line up to report impressive earnings growth on the back of New Zealand's strongly expanding economy.

The stock market has had several years of fantastic gains. From the beginning of 2003 to the end of last year the NZX-50 rose nearly 73 per cent. A monkey with a pin could pick winners in a market like that, one broker remarked a couple of years ago.

But the easy gains have come to an end, a fact that will be brought home over the next couple of weeks. Tourism Holdings, Michael Hill and Fletcher Building, among others, report this week, followed by Sky City, Vector, Auckland Airport next week.

In general, we're likely to see the high currency, high interest rates and the slowing economy start to bite into earnings growth.

Indeed, brokerage First New Zealand Capital expects profit declines will slightly outweigh companies reporting profit growth - the first time we've seen that in several years.

Sky City, Auckland Airport and Air New Zealand are all expected to report lower profits than last year.

But there's likely to be more bad news. Even those companies that are still reporting earnings growth are likely to point to softer growth in the months to come.

Alongside this, we've got a backdrop of a stock market that's struggling to add to the gains of the past few years. At 3348 on Friday, the NZX-50 is down 0.7 per cent so far this year, while most other markets have grown strongly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 1.9 per cent, London's FTSE-100 is up 2.6 per cent and the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong is up 3.7 per cent.

In New Zealand, investors, aware of the tougher times ahead, are treading cautiously and putting money into offshore markets instead, brokers say. The number of trades on the NZX-50 in January - always a quiet month anyway - was down 15 per cent on January last year.

In such a negative environment, the market is proving hard to please, even with good news.

Take Freightways. Last week the courier company reported a 20 per cent increase in first-half net profit to $13.5 million. The earnings were good enough to prompt some brokers to upgrade their recommendations on the stock, but it didn't do anything for the share price.

In fact, the shares fell 3 cents on the day it reported and have dropped 4 cents more since then to close at $3.21 on Friday - not the sort of reaction you'd expect from a stock that beat market expectations.

True, Freightways did say trading conditions were "challenging", but it reiterated that it could meet the market's expectations for full-year net profit - so the outlook could hardly be called a surprise.

The negative mood in the market doesn't necessarily mean there'll be a sell-off or that the market as a whole is in for steep falls. But the torpor with which the market started the year will continue.

Even so, sentiment can change very quickly. A quick drop in the dollar and an indication from the Reserve Bank that it's going to start cutting interest rates and there'll be a fresh sense of optimism.

Doug Leeder: Attracting dairying staff is a challenge

During the past couple of weeks, you may have spotted Dairy InSight's recruitment campaign on TV or in the newspapers.

This is the third successive year the organisation, buoyed by positive feedback, has invested in a major promotional campaign.

Like its predecessors, this year's campaign raises awareness of the dairy industry and its massive contribution to the national economy.

This time, however, following market research and dairy-farmer feedback, its focus is on promoting dairying as a place to work and pursue a lifestyle. The series' theme is "dairy farming for a real change".

Attracting staff is often cited by dairy farmers as one of their major business challenges.

Not only is the dairy sector contending with the tightest labour market in 20 years, but it is also paddling against the tide of long-term urban drift and facing stiff competition from other industries - notably the booming construction and roading sectors.

The dairy industry needs to work harder and smarter than others just to retain its workforce, let alone to increase it.

A Lincoln University study, Future Dairy Farm Employment, has estimated that by 2030 the dairy industry will require 25,500 staff equivalents.

This may not seem too daunting (it is only slightly less than the total number of people identifying themselves as working in the dairy industry in the 2001 census), that is, until other factors impacting on the dairy industry are considered. Supply is set to diminish. The number of school leavers entering tertiary education or the workforce is forecast to peak in 2008 and begin to fall.

The type of workforce required by dairying is also likely to change.

Well before 2030 the dairy industry will require greater skills and personal attributes in its workforce as technology gears up and dairyfarming becomes increasingly sophisticated.

Public awareness of the importance of agriculture and dairying to our national well-being is not high enough.

The campaign stresses this contribution and the fact that working on a dairy farm means being part of New Zealand's number one export industry.

Farmer feedback has also signalled the need to promote all the different career opportunities in dairying - ie beyond owning a dairy farm or share-milking.

So, Dairy InSight has made a point of profiling real dairy people across the range of employment opportunities - from farm assistant to farm manager to farm owner.

It has also showcased people who have actively taken a career and lifestyle shift into dairying and never looked back.

The campaign profiles people of varied backgrounds such as a mechanic, pharmacy manager, nurse, avionics technician and international rower.

It is their genuine enthusiasm and experiences that bring the adverts to life.

Lifestyle is another important theme. It is a critical point of difference with urban-based careers. Sure, dairying can be hard work and we need to acknowledge that.

But it can also be extremely rewarding financially and in terms of family lifestyle. Unfortunately, not enough New Zealanders are aware of these opportunities.

We need to make dairying "top of mind" for those considering change.

This campaign represents only a thin slice of Dairy InSight's annual $40 million investment, most of which is channelled into more traditional industry-good activities, such as research and development or disease management such as tuberculosis eradication.

This year's campaign will continue through February and March.

For more information on a career in dairying ring 0800 GO DAIRY.

Libby Purves: All this nonsense makes me weep

In the innocence of my twenties I laughed at the Valentine messages from Hugga Bear, Hunky Monkey and the rest. On Tuesday I'll just snivel.

It's like crying at weddings. The young never understand why women over 50 dive for the Kleenex when the bride floats up the aisle. They think it must be disappointment or envy. It isn't. It's experience. We know too much about the bumpy road ahead, the pitfalls, the briars. We cry because they are so hopeful, and if we are reasonably happy ourselves, we wish them to reach that plateau too, and hope they recognise it when they get there.

But you'd be a fool to bet on it. Life is long, women are independent, expectations are high. Divorces end two in five UK marriages, nearly three-quarters being initiated by the wife. Cohabitation has only a 4 per cent chance of lasting 10 years. A quarter of British children see their parents split. Divorce doesn't suit children: at best it is disruptive and saddening, at worst catastrophic. The next film to wring our withers is The Squid and the Whale. Based on the childhood of its creator, Noah Baumbach, it shows with rare and raw explicitness how boys of 12 and 16 suffer when their parents divorce. Sounds like a grand night out.

The course of true love never did run smooth: but nowadays the smooth bit comes first. Think of almost any classic love story from Romeo and Juliet on, and the lovers are beset by outside pressures. There are class or race divisions, social disapproval, religion, family feuds, war, poverty. In Jane Austen, the lovers' personal misunderstandings are generally compounded by social or financial pressure; their resolution involves a practical improvement like Captain Wentworth making his fortune at sea or some clerical Edward or Edmund getting a living. Thus when we reach the happy marital ending we tend to believe in it. They've come through a lot.

Today, however, almost nothing external is allowed to separate real or fictional Western lovers. Anyone can date anyone, even if they're married to someone else or of the same gender. Even Brokeback Mountain had to be set 40 years ago in Wyoming in order to make us believe that the cowboy lovers couldn't just make a life together.

Modern lovers stroll in a leisurely fashion towards marriage or cohabitation or just bed, and only then hit turbulence. Films and novels are now about people managing to make themselves miserable without external help.

It may be men who "won't commit" or women who "want more". It may be disillusion with humdrum life after a starry wedding.

How much, I wonder, does the divorce rate tie up with the fact that UK weddings cost, on average, £12,000 ($31,000), including a £3000 honeymoon? It may be sexual boredom, casual infidelity or the shocking discovery that babies are hard work. Often the problem seems to be competition for status, or inequality of professional success.

No wonder the wartime generation throws up its hands in despair at the selfishness, the materialism, the childishness of it all. If you started out with domineering parents, five years of bomb-scarred separation, two nights in Margate and a few sticks of furniture, it must be hard to see why sleek young newlyweds back from the Maldives can't seem to rub along.

Above it all hover two absurd illusions: the old romantic nonsense that love conquers all, and the new romantic nonsense that a man and a woman can be equal in everything and yet utterly sufficient to one another's every need, never having to say sorry.

But again, fiction comes to our aid with fables for our own time. A slew of chick-flicks offers women the escape clause of female bonding (both In Her Shoes and Rumor Has It ... offer the message that men are all very well, but what a girl most needs is a hug with her sister and a tough granny played by Shirley MacLaine). Friends offer the puppyish security of a gang. Bridget Jones peddles the delusion that selfish, idle ignorance makes you so sweet you'll attract a handsome lawyer rich enough to keep you in Agas and girls' lunches.

It's a wonder that even three in five marriages turn out just fine.