Monday, March 13, 2006

Sideswipe

Do they sell big Americans here? (Source: Mwasatoshi's photostream on flickr.com)

By Ana Samways

On Tuesday while driving to Hamilton a reader was pulled over by police. She writes: "Knowing I wasn't speeding, I wondered what all the fuss was about. The policeman came to the window and reassured me that I wasn't doing anything wrong. He explained that when I drove past he thought I was wearing a hoodie (I was not wearing a hoodie, it was my hair) and all the naughty people wear hoodies. So beware - what type of sweatshirt you're wearing is a valid reason for the police to pull you over."

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Forget the rip-offs at Eden Park, Auckland City Council takes the cake with their "txt 2 park" pay and display machines, says one reader. "Short of change, I thought I'd give it a try, getting half an hour for $2. The text cost me 20c, there was a 50c "transaction fee", they sent back two texts thanking me for using the service which took a minute each to read and delete (a conservative $2 at my hourly rate) so another 40c (to them, not me). For me a total of $4.70 for $2 value. Why don't they take into account that I have saved them collecting and banking the multitudes of $1 and $2 coins by direct debiting the $2 into their account. I might just make sure I have plenty of change next time I plan to park in town."

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Reader Andrew Stevenson writes: "You mentioning 'Newmarket's 277 uber-mall' reminded me that when I was there last week, on one of the huge plasma-screen televisions located in their food court, they were screening a Discovery Channel documentary preceded by the warning 'contains live surgical procedures, viewer discretion advised'. Is this part of a plan to combat obesity by putting diners off their meals?"

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Simon Thompson was surprised when two cops knocked on his door, then stunned when he found the reason for their visit. They gave him a ticket for flashing a finger at a traffic speed camera 30 minutes earlier. They said he made an offensive gesture, a violation of the Public Order Act. But Thompson didn't get a ticket for speeding; he was driving under the limit. (Source: reason.com)

Brian Rudman: If we ditch the monarchy, who gets the house?

Just how seriously we should take National MP Richard Worth's list of frontrunners for the job of next governor-general is a moot point. It's hard to imagine Helen would have called in the failed Epsom electorate MP for a pre-appointment briefing.

Still, the pool of suitable politically neutered wannabes, itching to play the Queen, must be very small, so for all I know, among Mr Worth's select four, may well be our next head of state.

They are Professor Mason Durie, former ombudsman Anand Satyanand and retiring defence chief Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson. But it's the No 1 on his team that caught my eye, Auckland compost king Rob Fenwick.

Where did that come from?

Maybe it's just a case of Mr Worth wanting one of his own kind back ruling the roost. The parallel life-paths of he and Mr Fenwick are spooky. King's College old boys, both one-time presidents of the Northern Club, both St John bigwigs, Fenwick as chancellor, both executive members of the National Party's Bluegreen "taskforce", Fenwick the founder convenor in 1998 after his short-lived Progressive Green Party sank without trace. Both also on the Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Of course if it was up to Prince Charles, a gentlemanly Green would be the obvious choice. Think of the small talk about composting toilets and conversing with plants they could get up during those awkward silences at Government House. But Charles isn't king of New Zealand yet, and I hope, as a good republican, he never will be. Which in a roundabout sort of way, is the key to my fascination with the idea of Rob Fenwick as viceroy.

Because as I see it, if Mr Fenwick takes up residence at Birchlands, the Governor-General's Auckland residence in Mountain Rd, and we subsequently ditch the monarchy, then Mr Fenwick and his cuzzies will inherit the palatial residence and the nearly 5 hectares of inner-city parkland that goes with it.

Not as some sort of TVNZ-like consolation prize for losing one's job, but because, back in 1962, Mr Fenwick's grandfather, Sir Frank Mappin, generously gifted this very property - his family home - to the Queen, for the use of her representatives and her successors in Auckland.

The deed of gift, signed by Sir Frank, and Prime Minister Keith Holyoake on May 23, 1962, declares that "the donor [was] moved by his duty and loyalty to Her Majesty and by a desire to benefit her present and future subjects in New Zealand by the provision of a site of dignity and beauty for the residence in Auckland for Her Majesty's Representative in New Zealand".

The deed states the property is gifted "upon trust for Her Majesty her heirs and successors according to law as a site for Government House in Auckland for ever ..".

Back then the thought of ditching the monarchy was unthinkable. As for the gift, it was a wonderful solution to the big political row brewing in downtown Princes St, where the academics were winning the battle to seize Old Government House for university use.

A politically fortuitous gift then, but also an expensive one to maintain, and in the late 1980s, when the Lange government was exploring ways of cutting costs, the prime minister raised the idea of selling Birchlands and housing the governor-general, on his/her infrequent sorties north, in suitable, and much cheaper, hotel accommodation. In Cabinet, I'm told, one of his colleagues suggested it might be wise to examine the deed of gift before doing anything rash. It seems the PM did, because the issue never surfaced again.

One bush lawyer I was talking to over the weekend suggested that if we went republican but retained the British monarch as head of the Commonwealth, then that might be enough to honour the deed of trust. Otherwise, there could be problems.

Let me hasten to add I have no idea what the heirs to Sir Frank's estate think about republicanism or the old family homestead. But you can imagine a certain amount of nostalgia around the dining table of a late night if one of Sir Frank's descendants were to become the official occupant and republicanism was in the air.

Editorial: Coast study to justify an injustice

A great deal of tendentious tripe is spoken and written about New Zealand's coastal development. Conservation Minister Chris Carter is likely to add to the pile with a review of the Government's coastal policy statement, a guideline to local authorities. Mr Carter has announced his review hard on the heels of his decision to veto the Whangamata marina development that had survived public hearings by the Environment Court. The minister appears to be looking for national justification of the injustice he has done.

It was "really important" he said, to lay out some environmental bottom lines. "I guess most of all the public needs to have a conversation about the coast ... For New Zealanders especially the coastline is something that is really important. And what we were very clear with Whangamata is that there is a deep vein of discontent. Are we going down the right path about what we do with the coastline?"

There rambles a man who does not sound very clear about much at all. What was very clear at Whangamata was that objectors to a marina that would have buried a saltmarsh and some shellfish beds failed to convince the Environment Court that the loss was sufficient to deny the applicants a facility they have sought to build for 14 years. They followed the public process of resource consents at a cost exceeding $1 million and satisfied an independent tribunal of the case for a marina. It is nothing less than injustice that the law empowers a politician to override a court, acting on the advice he chooses to heed, and information that cannot be contested in the way that evidence before a court is tested.

Having given iwi and other objectors the victory they failed to gain in open court, Mr Carter now pretends the issue was wider than Whangamata. He invited a conversation about the coast. Let us ensure it is not one-sided.

New Zealand is a thinly populated place. These islands support four million people in an area the size of Great Britain which supports 60 million. It is still possible to drive for hours near the coasts of this country and see mostly an uncluttered landscape of farmland, tidal flats, sand dunes, estuaries and bays big or small with largely empty beaches.

That is the reality. Yet to hear or read the views of environmental groups, you would imagine the march of development has turned the country into a creeping Club Med where the coastline is being steadily alienated by foreign ownership, the delicate ecology of the inter-tidal zones being destroyed and the dubious charms of the fibrolite bach giving way to havens of the rich and famous.

There may be an element of truth in that but only an element and whether that is to be regretted should be a matter of contention. The country needs comfortable coastal resorts as well as mangrove swamps. Happily, there is still plenty of room for both, though we are still not nearly as rich in world-class resorts as we are in mangroves.

Coastal housing is changing and arguably for the better. The much-lamented baches of yesteryear were usually a blot on the coastal landscape, if truth be told. Compare the coastal developments of the far North or the Coromandel today with the rough settlements of the past and few would really want to wind the clock back.

Progress must always be carefully monitored, and certain parts of the coast kept in a reasonably pristine condition. But a balance must be maintained. Decisions such as the minister has made at Whangamata show how unbalanced coastal protection has become. The review would be worthwhile if it challenges the conservation lobby. But nobody should bank on it.

Claire Harvey: Pastors footed the bill but the parishioners still paid

Not many of the passengers on the Queen Mary II, the Cunard Line's most luxurious cruise ship, are impoverished Maori and Pacific Islanders - the kind of people who dominate the congregations of Destiny Church.

So in March last year, as the Queen Mary weighed anchor and prepared to fire up its "unprecedented cache of luxuries and innovations" to set sail for the Caribbean from New York, barely anyone recognised Brian Tamaki and his wife Hannah.

The Destiny leaders (or, to give them their correct titles, Bishop Tamaki and Pastor Tamaki respectively), were on a $40,000 holiday, visiting San Juan, St Kitts and St Maarten, sleeping in a two-storey suite worth up to $30,000 for the nine-day cruise, having flown to New York at a cost of several thousand dollars each.

But one or two New Zealanders were aboard. They knew who the Tamakis were, and they were not impressed - for there is something strange about seeing two self-proclaimed missionaries of Jesus Christ on a ship which boasts the only planetarium afloat, 14 decks of sports facilities including a basketball court and virtual golf, 10 restaurants, five pools, shops, bars, and lounges.

The trip was a gift to the Tamakis, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, from the pastors of Destiny Church, who collectively are 22 of the Tamakis' greatest fans.

This trip, according to Destiny spokesman Richard Lewis, was "completely above board, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing secret. We see it as entirely appropriate. The Destiny network is fully aware that they went on the trip."

This trip was definitely not funded by the 10 per cent which parishioners were required to tithe to Destiny, he added.

"The pastors pooled their resources, and I'm talking about their own personal resources, to gift, and it was a surprise gift to the Tamakis as a thank you for all their years of service to the church. It was an arrangement made collectively, and collectively it's not too much of a challenge financially. The pastors receive wages as full-time senior ministers of their churches, and some have other sources of income; some of their wives have secular jobs too."

Brian and Hannah Tamaki like being rich, and doing the things that rich people do.

There is nothing wrong with money. But Brian and Hannah Tamaki are, together, heads of a church which preaches (along with the notions that homosexuality is sinful, multiculturalism is divisive and religious diversity is dangerous) the virtues of responsible spending.

Their wages, and the wages of the pastors who gave them this anniversary present, are paid by the compulsory donations of some of New Zealand's poorest people; people who could do with the money, and who might be able to spend it on something that doesn't involve snorkelling, seasickness, sun-lounges or organised fun on the activities deck.

The pastors could have given this money to charity, in the Tamakis' name. The Tamakis could have said, "Thanks very much, but we don't need this gift; the money's better spent on something else."

That's what makes this holiday rankle.

Brian Tamaki is only wealthy because he presents himself as a saviour to people who are vulnerable and needy.

Interviewing Destiny followers after the Enough is Enough rally, when they marched upon Parliament to decry homosexuality, gay marriage, transsexualism, secularity, tax, Helen Clark and other assorted works of Satan, I discovered it was clear that many believed Destiny had saved them from drug addiction, violence or alcoholism. It was also clear that they saw "Bishop" Tamaki (surely he must be ready for promotion to Archbishop by now) as a personal saviour.

Many of Tamaki's followers were so grateful that they voluntarily gave him far greater proportions of their income than 10 per cent - one man said he gave every cent he could spare, because he believed the money was going to help save other people, as he himself had been saved.

Destiny requires parishioners to give the church their money as the price of salvation. That's why it is so disappointing to see the church's leaders indulging in such ostentatious consumption; this money has come from the pockets of people who gave it, literally, in good faith.

The Destiny Church makes a virtue of aspiration - in fact Lewis says, "It is completely in line with Christian teaching and philosophy, that wealth is an outcome of living according to the path that God puts in the Bible."

Part of that path is learning the wisest way to spend and save money, Lewis says.

"We've got a social service network, a pastoral support team, we have a food bank, but we don't offer a handout service. We require that the members commit themselves to proper budgeting, getting debt under control, managing their money. We do our best to help people along, but in the end it is up to them."

That's a valuable message; one Brian and Hannah Tamaki would have had time to contemplate as they relaxed by one of the five pools.

Sandra Coney: We have time to get creative

Wynyard Point is a hidden gem on Auckland's city foreshore. Known primarily by fishermen and tour-bus operators, the tip of this piece of reclaimed land is a spectacular spot to from which to see the harbour. Passing yachts are an ever-changing interest and the white tanks of the promontory can be seen from the harbour entrance in the east and from Te Atatu in the west.

A number of people say this area needs an iconic building or structure - art galleries and museums have been mentioned. Whatever is chosen should meet a number of criteria - and be of interest to the city's diverse communities. It should attract people of all ages, especially families, and be involving and interactive, rather than passive. The new development should be democratic, not just the for the elite.

The concept of an Arrival Museum could well fit the bill. All the early peoples of Auckland had to cross the sea to settle here. Maori arrived first in their waka, followed hundreds of years later by settlers from the United Kingdom in sailing boats. After World War II refugees arrived from many parts of Europe, and from the 50s onwards people migrated from the Pacific Islands. The first inward flights were by flying boats, which arrived further along the waterfront at Teal Park (another great view). Later arrivals, such as immigrants from China, Korea, India and so on, may have flown in, but they too had the cross the great oceans.

An Arrival Museum would celebrate these diverse groups by recording their histories and cultures and providing the space for cultural performances and events, exhibitions and displays, story telling, teaching, research and study. Imagine a great forecourt or marae in the front, where by day or on summer nights, Aucklanders and visitors could be treated to the best of the city's rich talent in dance, song, and music. This would be a living museum, dedicated to Auckland people's past, present and future.

People could be encouraged to see the Arrival Museum as the repository for their cultural and family histories. Perhaps Archives New Zealand could move there, instead of in the industrial zone of Mt Wellington. The Family Research Centre at Auckland Library could be located there, so that the museum could be a centre of excellence in research on the settlement and development of the Auckland region.

It would be a great building, with presence and mana. But it would also be exciting, welcoming, alive, and "owned" by the people of Auckland.

Something like this concept is needed to lift the waterfront redevelopment from just another configuration of bars, cafes, shops and apartments.

Viaduct Harbour is just that, and many businesses struggle to stay afloat. There is a "dumbing down" going on in the Viaduct. The wide choice of eateries is succumbing to a slightly upscale version of the 60s beer barns. Several established quality retail businesses are shifting out as the ground rents go up.

The Viaduct remains colourful and active because of the presence of boats. Much of the time, and especially in summer there is a constant flow of boats into the basin. People come to see what the boats are up to. I've seen people happily watch a mast being stepped for hours.

The Viaduct Harbour is the only waterfront water space which provides full public access for viewing activities on the water. The former New Zealand and Alinghi cup base area is being used for marine fitting out and servicing. Dragon boats are racing from this area.

The proliferation of apartment and commercial buildings on the harbour edge means that the old Team New Zealand cup base area is the only place where there is a constant interaction between land and water. Take that away, and Viaduct Harbour will lose its purpose and its interest.

Auckland City Council has ambitions for a marine events centre in this location which would keep it alive. But the council's plan locates this further north. It is vital the old cup base area is used for a purpose that keeps an active edge with the water.

The plan also puts a bridge from Te Wero across to the western side which would further doom Viaduct Harbour to be a dull water space with nothing happening on it.

The bridge is being described as a pedestrian bridge but the plan involves buses crossing. With any sort of regular service, the bridge would be closed more often than open, and the Te Wero area - originally planned as an open plaza - would become a bus route. I have asked in vain for any modelling of the effect of a bridge that is only open twice an hour, on boat traffic into Viaduct Harbour. It hasn't been done. Viaduct Harbour, as a pedestrian precinct and maritime area, should not be sacrificed to the next grand scheme.

Why not a more innovative solution? Use water transport to get people across, like the gondolas or vaporetto of Venice. That wouldn't solve the horrendous problem of how to get the 20,000 projected inhabitants of the Western Reclamation out of the area; that will involve at the very least grade separation at Fanshawe St.

The Wynyard Point redevelopment will take decades to achieve. Plenty of time to think creatively about something splendid, rather than Viaduct Harbour Mark II. The council's plan change, however, will set the parameters of what can happen, so this imminent process is critical to the future success of the whole scheme.

* Sandra Coney lives at Viaduct Harbour and is an Auckland Regional Councillor. This article is her personal opinion.

Chris Gallavin: When feelings are irrelevant

Criminals, those shifty and malicious people who wait in eager anticipation for their next victim, or those whose behaviour falls below the standard that can be expected of responsible citizens? While both definitions are correct it is the former definition that appears to have caught the imagination of the public, and defence council, in light of the Vanner prosecution.

The horrific events that led to the death of little Molly Vanner can only be described as tragic. However, in allowing a 4-year-old child to ride a 368kg quad bike, the issue of gross negligence is legitimately raised.

When considering whether a charge of manslaughter has been made out, the issue of grief or emotional distress is largely irrelevant. This position may appear heartless, or inconsiderate, but it represents a fundamental tenet of our criminal justice system, equality under the law. That is not to say that the circumstances surrounding a case ought not to be considered by a prosecutor when deciding whether to instigate an investigation. But, by and large, grief ought to be left to a judge when sentencing.

Comments associated with the Vanner case represent a troubling lack of appreciation on behalf of the public. Mr Vanner's sister has been reported as saying, "Thank God it's come out on the right side. My brother's not a criminal."

The defence case has been described as an "impassioned plea". Further, council for the defence, Susan Hughes, has been quoted as saying to the jury that, "The Vanners have paid the ultimate price for that mistake. That does not make Gavin Vanner a criminal", and "Molly is his precious eldest daughter. To suggest that this man would deliberately risk the life, safety or health of his daughter simply beggars belief."

I do not suggest that Ms Hughes in some way operated outside the law. Neither do I suggest that Mr Vanner was improperly acquitted. By all accounts Ms Hughes performed admirably as a very competent defence council within our adversarial system.

Further, it is for the trial judge to correct anything said in a closing address that he or she believes has left the jury mistaken as to the law.

What I do take exception to is the suggestion that, first, the case was incorrectly brought before the courts, and second that Mr Vanner was not a "criminal" merely by the fact that the events were an "accident" and therefore lacked intention.

The case was an appropriate one to bring to court and it was appropriate for the prosecution to emphasise that the family's grief was not the issue. Serious crime can be committed where there is no direct intention or even recklessness. If, for example, I were to ride a jetski at speed around a busy beach and in the process hit and kill a swimmer and I could show that I had not foreseen a risk (recklessness), then I could still be found guilty of manslaughter if my conduct could have been viewed as a substantial departure from that which is expected of a reasonable citizen (gross negligence).

Few people would have a difficulty with that. Should my culpability be based upon the fact of whether I knew the victim? No. We do not, in this country, have a system where the police act as judge and jury and I certainly hope it stays that way.

Debate is always healthy within a society.

The Vanner case may give rise to important discussion over the notion of reasonable conduct. However, ill-informed criticism of the decision to bring the case before the courts or inappropriate consideration of details that are appropriately relevant to sentencing only, and not conviction, represents at best, gross ignorance of our utilitarian criminal justice system and at worst exposes the frailties of our jury-based system.

* Dr Chris Gallavin is a lecturer in law, School of Law, University of Canterbury.

Jim Anderton: European agriculture reforms have not gone far enough

The Minister of Agriculture responds to Mark Peart's comment last week

Mark Peart completely misses the point by asserting I "waxed lyrical" about European agriculture reforms. New Zealand's position - and mine - is that while some progress has been made, further progress, in the form of a level international trade environment, is urgently needed.

When addressing nearly 1000 British farmers on the subject of agricultural subsidies, it would be misguided to go in all guns blazing. The point made was that while some progress was apparent - the only point Peart picked up on - further progress should be a priority. What I then said is far more relevant both to European and New Zealand farmers, and ultimately all New Zealanders.

In the absence of subsidies, New Zealand agriculture is performing better now than it ever has. While the process of adjustment was not easy, today sheep farming is highly profitable, producing more sheep meat of a higher quality than ever before because our industry is market-led. In Europe, despite progress, subsidies remain.

New Zealand's position is that it is only fair for the global trading environment to allow others to make best use of their own competitive advantages - just as we expect to.

If the international trading field was even, our producers would be able to connect directly with customers around the world, and respond to market demand that was not distorted.

Those distortions include a 600 per cent duty on New Zealand beef imports to Norway, while Japan charges a 360 per cent duty on New Zealand butter.

It is nearly impossible to quantify the losses to New Zealand of such policies because of the range of markets and products affected. Removing these obstacles would allow customers to enjoy a wider range of products of varying prices and attributes.

It is noteworthy that EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel chose to visit New Zealand to see for herself how our agriculture industry performs so well.

Allan Barber: Asure should consider merger

The dispute between the meat inspectors and their employer, Asure New Zealand, which dragged on for four months and was settled late last week, happened at a bad time for the meat industry.

The season was finally getting into gear after a very difficult first few months, with livestock volumes on the point of enabling processors to open all their plants with good throughputs, when - hey, presto! - the meat inspectors decided to take action in support of their wage claim.

The impact on the industry so far has been more of an irritation than a serious problem, because when the meat inspectors work to rule, they are doing only what their contract specifies, instead of performing extra duties on behalf of the plant.

This can cause severe disruption depending on how well the individual plant's quality-assurance systems are working.

The dispute appears to have been over only a small amount of money: Asure offered 4.5 per cent in response to the employees' demand of 5 per cent.

Details of the final settlement haven't yet been made public, but it appears the costs of meat inspection have risen by at least 37 per cent since Asure was established in 1999.

The immediate question is why the meat inspectors' award took so long to settle, from the early part of the season into nearly the busiest period.

If agreement hadn't been reached last week, further extension of the work to rule would have had a severe impact on the industry.

A more far reaching question is whether the meat industry should be forced to rely on a unionised labour pool which it doesn't control but whose costs it has to carry. The fact that it's still a Government-owned, mandatory monopoly adds insult to injury when meat processors spend enormous resources on employment relations strategies to keep costs down.

The Chairman's Review in Asure's recently published annual report contains some relevant points.

The first indicates that, although Government organisations have always been allowed to provide meat inspection services, industry or third-party competition is now legislatively permitted in the local sector, but not yet for export markets,

The next highlights a proposal from AgriQuality, the other SOE spun out of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, to merge with Asure.

Although AgriQuality is already allowed to offer meat inspection because it is Government-owned, and Asure is resigned to the fact that competition is inevitable, Asure's board would rather remain separate - and possibly weaker as a result - than merge to form a stronger entity.

The third point is that industrial relations may pose a challenge because "changing operating requirements create ongoing issues that require attention. Asure intends to address these issues in good faith recognising both the role of key staff and the future contestability of meat inspection".

It appears the writing was already on the wall for industrial unrest.

Asure should look seriously at whether it is better off merging with its sister SOE to form a stronger entity with greater flexibility in its employment base.

The meat industry has long awaited a greater degree of influence over an important group of employees that work for another party. It may not welcome the merger of two Government-owned organisations, but this may bring contestability closer.

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

Phil Pryke: Merger is good for business

Contact Energy's independent directors are not surprised that shareholders are questioning if the proposed Contact-Origin merger is in the company's best interests. Much of the coverage to date has misunderstood the transaction and its strategic rationale.

The issues at stake are simple:

Is combining the two companies into one business a good idea? And are the terms fair?

The independent directors of Contact believe this is the best way to bring the companies closer, unlock value and achieve long-term growth.

The proposed merger will create the largest integrated energy company operating across Australasia, while allowing us to secure Contact's continuing momentum as a strong locally listed company.

The scale and diversity of the merged company will allow the Contact Energy business in New Zealand to address more effectively the key strategic challenges it faces in securing fuel for its current and proposed thermal generation plants. This will be good for shareholders and good for New Zealand consumers.

Contact will remain listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, with fully imputed dividends intact.

This is not "another takeover proposal" (Herald, February 24). If it were a takeover there would be no Contact shareholders after the transaction was completed.

Contact shareholders will retain their shares and have the opportunity to go along for the ride in a much bigger and more diversified business.

Claims that Origin is planning to take over Contact without paying a premium for control also fail to acknowledge the reality - Australian-based Origin is Contact's majority and controlling shareholder, and has been for around 18 months.

Contact minority shareholders' voice will be enhanced, compared with the current situation where they can always be outvoted by the majority shareholder. Under the merger Origin's Contact shareholding will be cancelled.

The relevant question now is the relative valuation of Contact and Origin. The merger values both companies based on market prices over the last nine months.

The independent directors consider that the proposed calculation is fair to Contact shareholders. The independent advisers report that has been commissioned will further inform that issue.

We agree that Contact's minority shareholders have not been "meek followers of trends", as the Herald put it. The proposed merger explicitly recognises this. As directors, we have made a judgement call.

Based on the best advice available and a deep knowledge of the company, we have negotiated a structure that will allow shareholders to remain in a major New Zealand listed energy company, while taking part in a wider growth opportunity.

The board is highly conscious of the challenges faced by the company. Contact has been through two growth stages in its first decade; the original formation in 1995 followed by privatisation in 1999, and our subsequent and very successful consolidation as a high-performing retail and generation company.

But we are now entering a third phase in which Contact shareholders are exposed to many significant long-term business risks. Maui Gas has almost run out, and for the company to have a more certain future it has to secure fuel for existing and proposed gas-fuelled stations. There is no doubt that the merger reduces the risks inherent in meeting these challenges. The group will be much stronger financially, with a combined skill and asset base, and will have a common goal in pursuing its aligned interests.

Finally, there has been some speculation that the merger would somehow result in New Zealand becoming totally reliant on imported liquefied natural gas and would foreclose all other energy options. The fact is that LNG will only make sense if it is competitive with other sources of electricity generation. The energy sector is competitive and other companies and the Government will continue to develop and promote a balanced mix of thermal and renewable technologies.

The bottom line is that the proposed merger gives Contact's shareholders an immediate investment in an integrated energy business that is much larger, financially stronger and more diverse. That means a greater capacity to manage risk and capture growth opportunities while retaining our brand and company in the New Zealand energy and share market.

The alternative is more uncertain and could see us not fully realising the potential long-term shareholder value of a combined Contact and Origin.

Karyn Scherer: Bloodhound for a watchdog

Paula Rebstock can legitimately claim to be one of the most powerful women in New Zealand.

The Commerce Commission chairwoman has certainly made her mark since taking over as head of our competition watchdog less than three years ago.

Her first major case was rejecting the merger of Qantas and Air New Zealand - a brave move for someone who is supposed to be independent, but who is nevertheless appointed by the Government.

And in that first major decision, she set the pattern for what was to follow. Like a good journalist, she has upset just about everyone, yet ultimately managed to win plaudits for being tough but fair.

Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr is right to point out that New Zealand is beginning to buckle under the weight of ever more regulation.

But those who fret the CC has become too much like the ACCC underline the weakness of their own case.

The watchdog was never a poodle, and has not exactly transformed into a rottweiler overnight. But it does seem to have acquired some bloodhound genes - sniffing out what it perceives as odd smells in all sorts of curious places.

Under Rebstock's reign, the commission has questioned vertical integration and the benefits of implied competition (the Stevenson/Fletcher Building decision), rates of return on network monopolies - among other things - in the energy sector; the relationship between newspaper and online classified advertising markets (Fairfax's bid for Trade Me); and examined the necessity of maintaining viable competitors when competition for business occurs only once or twice a year.

It has gone after small business, too. Cardboard box makers, funeral directors, car dealers and eye surgeons are among those who have felt its wet nose press rather too close to their more private parts.

Rebstock insists she isn't being any more aggressive than her predecessor. She has more regulation to oversee - and more resources to match. The commission is, she says, simply going after cases that give "more bang for the taxpayer's buck".

Regardless of whether that is actually true, we should remind ourselves that the Australians put up with much worse under what probably seemed like the very long reign of Professor Allan Fels. And as Fels quite rightly points out, what New Zealand is now experiencing is the norm in many other countries.

The old rule of commerce - buyer beware - has been turned on its head. The new mantra is: business beware. You are being watched.

Leile Sims: High-fidelity in the office

Parliament's privileges committee is considering whether to charge TVNZ with contempt. TVNZ had censured Ian Fraser, then its chief executive, for his alleged serious misconduct in giving evidence critical of TVNZ to a parliamentary select committee enquiry. (TVNZ has since apologised for, and withdrawn, its censure of Fraser.) But TVNZ has also been criticised for interfering with Fraser's freedom of speech, and for trying to keep its internal workings secret.

Under Parliament's Standing Orders, it is a contempt to "intimidate, prevent, or hinder" a committee witness from giving evidence. The Standing Order is similar to the offence of criminal contempt, which is committed by doing anything that obstructs or interferes with the administration of justice. In an employment context, it is a criminal contempt to discipline, or to threaten disciplinary action against an employee, for having given evidence against the employer. And the "whistleblowing" legislation - the Protected Disclosures Act - prohibits employers from taking disciplinary action against employees who make statements under that act.

Have employers any control over what their employees may say about them? Employers can control employees' disclosure of information obtained in the course of their employment. This is useful when it comes to protecting confidential information or trade secrets, but may not provide protection from the employee's more generally critical statements about the employer. The answer instead lies in the implied duty of fidelity that exists in every employment relationship.

Fidelity essentially means loyalty. During employment, employees are required to be loyal to their employers. That extends to employees having an eye for their employer's interests, and not acting contrary to them. Whether employees' criticisms of their employers breach the duty of fidelity is to be determined by the particular factual circumstances of the statement, and the nature of the employment relationship concerned. But a breach of fidelity, as going to the heart of the employment relationship, is likely to amount to conduct that justifies dismissal or other sanction.

Examples are legion. The Employment Tribunal accepted that a local council was entitled to be aggrieved by its employee's newspaper publicity, critical of the council. The tribunal said the employee, a sewer worker, had "attempted to tiptoe through the tulips of [free] expression, but forgot he had his gumboots on".

In another case involving a council employee (this time expressing distaste at the impending demise of her position via statement at a public meeting) the Employment Court commented that it is open for employers to rule that statements in its name can only be made by designated officers. And that a breach of such a rule could legitimately lead to disciplinary action as long as the rule's scope and intent is clear.

The Court of Appeal has held that it is the duty of an employee to report to their employer a third party's approach contrary to the employer's interests, to report any criticisms made of the employer, and to work with the employer to rectify any perceived shortcomings.

Except in circumstances in which the statements are protected (for example, because they are made in evidence, or under the whistleblowing legislation), employers can rely on their employees' duty of fidelity to avoid employees making statements contrary to the employer's interests.

Dishonesty or bad faith is not a necessary element of a breach of the duty of fidelity, so negative statements made by the employee need not be false or malicious to breach the duty. The duty of fidelity is a higher threshold than the good faith obligations imposed on employers and employees under the Employment Relations Act.

However, employees may pursue their own legitimate self-interest, even where that is contrary to the employer's interests. It will be rare, though, that legitimate self-interest permits open criticism of the employer, except in connection with the employee's own case against it. An employer could reasonably expect and require that its employees not lend their support to third parties' complaints against the employer, or otherwise act in a manner contrary to the employer's interests. Indeed, overseas there is a move towards more onerous fidelity obligations on employees exercising a high level of control within the employer's business. Such employees are viewed as having equitable obligations of loyalty, requiring that they positively act with a view to advancing the employer's best interests.

The result is that, except in formal circumstances, employees may not subject their employer's internal affairs to public scrutiny. Employers are entitled to prevent and punish their employees' other public criticisms of them, as being inconsistent with their employees' obligations of loyalty. Employers are entitled to restrict public knowledge of their internal affairs; employers may interfere with their employees' freedom of speech.

* Leile Sims is a solicitor in Chapman Tripp's Wellington employment law team. Her practice also includes wider corporate and commercial litigation.