Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sideswipe

By Ana Samways

Even more publicity for C4 ... Isaac Hayes has quit South Park, saying he can no longer stomach its take on religion. An outspoken Scientologist, Hayes has played the ladies' man/school cook in the show since 1997. The 63-year-old soul singer says although there is a place in this world for satire, "there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins". But South Park co-creator Matt Stone said Hayes' decision to quit is about his own religious faith - Scientology. "He's cashed plenty of cheques from our show making fun of Christians." So why the sudden change of conscience? Last year South Park had a go at the Church of Scientology in an episode called Trapped in the Closet. In the episode, Stan, one of the show's four mischievous fourth-graders, is hailed as a reluctant saviour by Scientology leaders, while a cartoon Tom Cruise locks himself in a closet and won't come out. Stone said he and co-creator Trey Parker "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin". (Source: Associated Press)

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You're in Speights territory now, boys: while in Greymouth for a gig, an unnamed New Zealand band wandered in their usual attire (jaunty hats and op-shop jackets) down the main drag. A couple of local fellas drove slowly past and through an open window said in a reassuring drawl, " Don't worry, mate, Calvin Klein lives here too."

* * *

Reader Vasanti reckons it's not just the hoodie that gets unwarranted police attention. "I was standing outside my house contemplating life, the universe and painting the house when a policeman pulled over. He walked up to me and as he got closer, and saw I was female, he started apologising. He thought because I was wearing a hoodie (and I've got brown skin) that I was a burglar."

* * *

Maybe headwear in general sparks suspicion? Another reader was followed by a police car for three blocks. "When I finally stopped at my destination the officer also stopped and wanted my name and contact details, which I provided, asking why they were required. He said because I was wearing a hat. He was apparently following a lead on a recent burglary, where the offender was also said to have been wearing a hat. Go figure ... "

* * *

A Greymouth freight company has been ordered to pay almost $15,000 to former driver Hamish Timmins, sacked after sending a text message saying he was too ill to work which simply read: "2sick". Mr Timmins became ill with a head cold and earache on March 14 last year and his doctor wrote him a medical certificate excusing him from work until March 21. He worked on March 14 and 15, but sent in his text the next day. He was sacked, but the Employment Relations Authority ruled absenteeism was not grounds for dismissal, and the reasons for the sacking were unclear. A letter outlining the reasons for Mr Timmins' firing, including incompatibility with other staff members and mood swings caused by suspected drug use, was not written until April 18. The authority found Mr Timmins was unjustifiably dismissed and ordered his ex-employer, Aratuna Freighters, to pay him $5000 for humiliation and loss of dignity, and $9795.50 for three months' lost wages. (Source: NZPA)

Editorial: A perfect chance to go for gold

The start of the Commonwealth Games is, seemingly inevitably, accompanied by queries about their relevance and suggestions of third-rate competition. But try telling that to the young sportsmen and women now gathered in Melbourne. For them, these Games, the 18th, are an important measure of their development and hopefully a stepping stone to the Beijing Olympics. For the first time, some will feel the weight of national expectations on their shoulders. And the exhilaration associated with meeting them.

Some Commonwealth Games do, in truth, have a rather flat feel about them. If host cities fail to embrace them, a lack of enthusiasm can pervade the whole event. The withdrawal of top athletes does not help. Already, these Games have been hit by the absence of swimming phenomenon Ian Thorpe and England's world champion marathon runner Paula Radcliffe. But Melbourne's self-proclaimed status as the sporting capital of Australia - and Australians' love of sport - ensure there will be no shortage of passion this time. These Games will be a success; that much is guaranteed.

For New Zealand's competitors, Melbourne is almost the perfect location. There can be no excuses of travel weariness, or complaints about the standard of accommodation, infrastructure or venues. The latter, starting with the redeveloped Melbourne Cricket Ground, where tonight's opening ceremony will be held, will be first-class. Indeed, the quality and size of the stadiums should put teeth-gnashing about unsold tickets firmly into perspective. Already, 1.3 million tickets have been sold, a record for any Commonwealth Games.

This is an ideal opportunity for one other reason. New Zealanders, unlike their British counterparts, do not have world-class competition virtually at their doorstep. And that makes it reasonable for New Zealand to have sent 255 athletes, its biggest team since the Games were first held in 1930.

That convenience factor applies, of course, in even greater proportion to Australia's athletes. The withdrawal of Thorpe has done nothing to dispel their supreme confidence. The Australian team manager, Perry Crosswhite, is continuing to predict that the host nation will win 208 medals, including 88 golds. Even if that target is not met, New Zealand television viewers will still get thoroughly tired of hearing Advance Australia Fair.

This country's aspirations are, of course, rather more mundane. Sport and Recreation New Zealand hopes the 45 medals, including 11 golds, that were claimed at the last Games in Manchester will be bettered. The half-century mark, it says, would represent significant progress, while fewer than 40 medals would raise serious questions about our high-performance systems.

That is an important point. This country has tried to take the best of the methods used by the Australian Institute of Sport, if in a far less extravagant way. Anything less than an increased medal haul would reflect as much on the skills and knowledge imparted by our high-performance centres as the athletes themselves.

We can, in fact, be reasonably optimistic about New Zealand claiming more medals than ever before. Best of all, New Zealand is well positioned to dent Australian pride in a number of blue riband events. In athletics, swimming and cycling, the high-performance work should bear fruit. And the netball final, the climax of the Games, should see the Silver Ferns gain the sweetest of revenge. Victory in this most Commonwealth-focused of sports would provide the icing on a successful Games cake.

Fran O'Sullivan: Why power to the people is killing off the middlemen

Here's to consumer power 21st century style and the demise of the traditional middleman, leading to the tech savvy "auteur" becoming a new force in business.

That's the challenge far-sighted internet entrepreneurs like Sam Morgan, with his phenomenally successful online trading business, pose to traditional industries.

Among the publicity Morgan generated when he sold Trade Me to Fairfax last week for $700 million was the point that technologies like the internet transfer power to users.

Many of what I call tech savvy "auteurs", for instance, would rather use Skype to place seriously cheaper "phone" calls over the internet than wait around for McKinsey to "teach elephants [like Telecom] to dance" as the management consulting jargon goes.

The technology is still a bit rocky and it takes time getting used to using your PC as a phone. But once you get the hang of it, there's little going back.

Skype's business has yet to reach the tipping point that Trade Me achieved with online auctions. But take a look at the business cards your more interesting contacts are now handing out, the prevalence of Skype numbers is an unmistakable sign that another significant shift is in the wind.

Take "tablet" laptops (today's university students do) also, which, as the technology gets better, now translate even scratchy handwriting into type and are increasingly armed with new generation voice software. When these students get real world jobs, will they rely on "gofers" or, will they be so self-reliant they opt not to delegate work which would once have been considered menial?

Digital technology enables anyone with an up-to-date cellphone to become a "citizen reporter" at a disaster site and catch the news by photographing the scene ahead of traditional media.

Technological advances are so great that anyone with a modicum of intelligence and an individualist bent can squeeze out middlemen.

"Newspapers just don't get it" - is how Morgan himself put it when he was chivvied late last year on the extent of Trade Me's galloping growth rates as his company capitalised on consumers' desires to "do deals" themselves in real-time, rather than comb through newspaper "for sale" notices a day later and place phone calls only to find the item had been sold or did not match requirements.

By choosing Trade Me, they substituted an online middleman for local newspapers "for sale" notices.

It's in Morgan's best interests to promote the notion the newspaper business is on the verge of being buried by the impact of the disruptive technology which he has used to devastating effect.

It's not (yet) of course.

Elephants can change. McKinsey is right. They can even dance. IBM proved that.

But the less adept will be hammered if they do not move swiftly to capitalise on real differences - not just try to mine ever elusive synergies.

Newspaper companies began flirting with the internet in the late 1990s. But many backed away from establishing paid news websites, or, putting their "rivers of gold" (classified advertising) on the net, for fear it erode earnings from their printed products.

The "dotcom bomb" - when tech stocks were hammered as a result of some rather "blue sky" projections which did not translate into earnings - slowed their strategies.

But now the companies are clambering back, either by beefing up their sites, or doing what Fairfax CEO David Kirk has done: Buy an online competitor before it demolishes your underlying cashflows and use it as a Trojan horse to try to attack the advertising revenues of competitors.

Disruptive technologies or disruptive innovations - as Clayton Christensen who has written extensively on this issue (and claims to have coined the term "disruptive technology") is that they have the potential to overturn the existing dominant technology in the market.

That's what Morgan was on about in the days when (free from the corporate constraints he will increasingly feel) he boasted that "newspapers just don't get it".

Christensen's books - The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution - are worth a read for anyone seeking more information.

The game gets more interesting when the number of other middlemen - real estate agents with their absurdly high fees, conveyancing lawyers, car salesmen and employment companies - find vast parts of their businesses migrating as tech savvy "auteurs" want to do more of their own deals online.

Morgan doesn't have a monopoly on the developing online markets.

Players like Telecom, the real estate companies, newspaper companies, motoring firms, employment agencies are all getting into the game themselves.

They have the ability - Commerce Commission willing - to protect their businesses through defensive convergence moves. But it is a stiff call trying to aggregate real market power in our small market where the commission is quick to smack down any so-called dominant moves.

In Morgan's case, he is blessed by good genes.

His hippie dad, turned first-class economist and latterly a businessman, has always thought outside the square and is not afraid to attack players that he believes abuse their own market dominance.

Gareth Morgan, who portrays himself now as "just papa on the porch", has had a serious whack at Telecom over the way it squeezes out broadband competition through its ownership of the local loop or copper wire phone network.

Sam Morgan makes the point that as more New Zealanders take up broadband, they will increasingly use Trade Me to do deals.

Dad Gareth may not approve.

But it's quite likely that Kirk - and his deal-making chairman Ron Walker - who admit they are poring over other New Zealand acquisition prospects - might also be under scrutiny from Telecom itself.

It's not as if there are no parallels.

Australian telecoms giant Telstra seriously canvassed buying Fairfax a couple of years ago. It probably makes more sense for Telecom and Fairfax - two transtasman companies - to talk merger.

Our tech savvy "auteurs" will not be concerned as long as prices stay down and functionality increases.

Tapu Misa: Busy parents as much to blame for bullying as technology

Not long ago, a friend found out her 9-year-old daughter was being bullied at school. The tormentors were girls in her daughter's class, some of whom had once been friendly enough to have played at her house. The bullying included nasty name-calling and the kind of social exclusion that girls are especially good at - birthday parties where the victimised girl was pointedly the only one in the class not invited.

The friend didn't wait for the school to take action. As soon as she found out, she got in her car and visited the girls' families, with whom she had a nodding acquaintance.

The reactions were mixed. One mother seemed to treat it as a joke, not quite managing to suppress a smile as she listened to what her girl had been up to. The next mum was more concerned but suggested that my friend do the telling off. Her daughter would take it more seriously, she said, if it came from someone other than her. I thought of that mother when I read about Alex Teka, the 12-year-old girl found dead the day before school started this year, apparently as a result of a concerted bullying campaign by girls at her Putaruru high school.

According to the Weekend Herald report, Alex's mother found out about the text and email bullying midway through last year. She complained to the school, which contacted the parents of those involved. Despite this, the bullying continued, even over the summer holidays, presumably by the same girls.

You have to wonder why, after being alerted of the bullying, the parents of those girls didn't immediately deprive their offspring of the means by which they were able to inflict harm on another child.

If their threatening texts contributed to Alex's death, who is more culpable - the children who sent the texts, or the parents who continued to pay for their phone use, knowing their children had already misused them?

Another city, and another friend with a 9-year-old girl. This friend discovers, months after the fact, that her daughter had been the instigator of a prank in which a male classmate had been sent a pizza that her daughter had ordered while staying with a friend.

My friend finds, to her dismay, that her daughter's friend's mother had kept quiet about the incident because she'd promised her own daughter that she wouldn't tell, thereby depriving my friend of the opportunity to discipline her child and make amends to the family of the male classmate, whom she knows.

She is still livid that the other mother was too consumed with being "a cool mum" to act like a responsible grown-up. So it's not only technology that conspires against our efforts to protect our children.

The rise in cyber bullying hasn't been helped by a rise in the number of parents who are too busy, too distracted or too spineless to keep a vigilant eye on their children's online activities.
How big a problem is cyber bullying? A British survey in 2002 found one in four youngsters, aged 11 to 19, had experienced some form of bullying through texts and email. The first known instance in this country to have tragic consequences was Oamaru student Daniel Gillies, who took his own life in 2003 after a barrage of text messages making fun of his physical disfigurement.

Many schools acknowledge cyber bullying as a problem but most are still trying to work out how to deal with it.

My sons' intermediate school allows cellphones only when accompanied by a written request from parents, but even then the phone must be handed in to the office in the morning, with a photo, and picked up again at 3pm.

I'd happily support a similar ban at my daughter's school if it saved even one child, but it isn't enough. I agree with the Secondary Principals' Association that this isn't just a problem for schools.

My 15-year-old is horrified at the suggestion that the school might ban what she considers a lifeline. She reckons cellphones are especially useful for kids who live a long way from school and need to connect with busy parents to organise a ride home after extra curricular activities. She can't conceive of a time when we managed all this without cellphones.

She argues, rightly, that school bans won't stop the after-school bullies, or websites like the one started by an old girl at her school. Though it began innocently enough, it has since morphed into a forum for bitchy gossip and abusive comments about named students.

Bullies and the disaffected have found texting and instant messaging to be a useful part of their arsenal.

But fighting back requires more than a ban. Children need to be armed with the knowledge of how to protect themselves in the online world, including the fact that Vodafone and Telecom already have the means to track and block malicious callers. Parents need to keep more than a cursory eye on their children's interactions, and exert parental muscle when necessary - just like the old days.

As the Canadian anti-bullying expert Bill Kelsey writes, this is the "Always On" generation, a generation for whom cellphones and instant messaging are a necessary "umbilical cord to their peer group".

Technology isn't an evil - and yes, I'm surprised to hear myself saying that too. I came to this realisation in the summer holidays, when my daughter was attending one school party after another, some with current classmates, and others with friends she'd kept in contact with since intermediate, despite not attending the same high school.

She took a girl called Lucy to one party. She hadn't seen her since primary school, four years before, but you'd never have known it.

Thanks to texting and instant messaging, they'd never lost contact.

Graham Reid: Godfather you couldn't refuse

This may seem unusual - especially as I was born in Scotland - but it is true: my godfather was Italian.

And I say that hoping never to be troubled again by pesky creditors or door-to-door religious groups.

When I was born, my parents, who weren't especially religious, had me baptised and asked their good friend Dominic Valente - who we always called Uncle Dom - to be my godfather. I guess he was made an offer he couldn't refuse.

So here I am with an Italian godfather. Does that make me a made man?

Among other business interests, Uncle Dom had a cafe-cum-icecream parlour on Edinburgh's Princes St until the late 50s.

I am told he was well known and much respected. There is certainly a seat on the opposite side of the street donated by local businessmen in his honour.

My mum and dad loved him for his flamboyance and generosity, and his wife Aunty Meg for all kinds of reasons, not the least her ability to punctuate sentences with unintentional profanity and occasional lapses into hilariously inept attempts at sophistication.

"Was you really?" was one of her more famous clangers ... and I have edited out the profanity.

Stories about Uncle Dom were legion in our family, like the time he put signs up in a factory he owned which read: "If you are reading this you aren't working hard enough."

He didn't like to take time out from work, and his idea of exercise was to walk to the cinema next door and have a cigarette while watching a movie, as you could do in those days.

When my dad suggested this would kill him, Uncle Dom's reply was: "Maybe, but I'll be the richest man in the cemetery."

Dad later said he probably was.

Recently I met my two sisters in Singapore and for some reason - all that distance and time from the Scotland of our childhood - Uncle Dom came up and we swapped stories.

Like how - and we wondered why - he had bought the Shah of Iran's car which was bullet-proof and could hold an armed bodyguard in the boot.

And how he and a friend had some money-laundering scheme which involved boxes of bills to be smuggled to the States, which one of his cronies hid in an attic where they were eaten by mice.

And how he never did anything to a car but put petrol in it and would sell it after a year, believing that no one cared about the condition or cleanliness of a car, only the model.

There was a dark side to Uncle Dom which was seldom spoken about, but I remember my father being enraged by something he did to his employees who threatened to go on strike if he didn't pay them more. He said he would beat them to it and he would go on strike himself.

He shut out the workers until they came begging to have their jobs back.

Then there was the famous story: one day as a prank someone hung a pair of women's panties in the back window of his car parked outside his home.

He saw them, told Aunty Meg to pack their bags and that very day they left the house, abandoned the car and never went back. He never knew or cared about what happened to the car.

We exchanged these funny and slightly odd stories about my godfather that day in Singapore. It was as if a handbrake had been pulled on our lives as we remembered Uncle Dom and Aunty Meg, and an Edinburgh which has long since passed into our memories.

A week later I was remembering them as I sat in Malone's Irish pub in Brisbane killing time before I flew home.

I scribbled these notes beneath an old clock and a sign which read: "Time is a great storyteller."

Jim Eagles: A country's soul exposed

How do you capture the soul of a country in a book? Not easy, maybe impossible. But some travel books certainly convey some of the flavour of what it is like to be in a foreign land.

Australian journalist Tim Elliott got close to the essence of Spain by studying bullfighting - even though he found it vaguely repugnant.

English Francofile Louise Luiggi discovers the heart of Corsica is in its food - even though she doesn't really like living there.

Kira Salak comes close to the spirit of Africa by journeying to the mythical city of Timbuktu - though it turns out to be hardly worth visiting.

What these three marvellous stories have in common is a delight in the cultures and people of the places they are writing about.

And that, surely, is the essence of what it takes to be a successful travel writer - and traveller.

Spain by the horns
by Tim Elliott.
Random House, $29.99

Aussie journalist Tim Elliott has always been fascinated by things Spanish but his day-to-day life involves writing real estate copy for a Sydney newspaper. Then a meeting with an exiled Spanish bullfighter, who practises his matadorial moves on Manly Beach, inspires him to go to Spain to write a book.

But what should his theme be? His bullfighting friend convinces him to base it around the life of rockstar bullfighter Jesulin de Ubrique. "Si, si," he says, "if you want to write a book about Spain, Jesulin is your man."

So Elliott leaves wife, child, job and mortgage in Sydney and heads for Spain - luckily he learned to speak Spanish in South America - in pursuit of the great bullfighter and the meaning of Spain.

It proves a difficult quest. Like many stars Jesulin is protected by a wall of managers who give the Australian interloper the brush-off.

Some bullfighting experts are equally unhelpful, though others are happy to sharetheir knowledge. But Elliott persists. He goes to a bullfight and is embarrassed to find himself excited by the bloody spectacle.

He tracks down the matador's fan club, shares a drink with its ageing members and discovers that Jesulin has never gone there.

He checks out the bullfighting school where Jesulin learned his trade and finds not everyone likes the star's style. And he visits cities and towns important in the great bullfighter's life, but the man himself proves elusive.

Eventually, against all odds, he manages to meet Jesulin ... and finds himself face-to-face with a dull, monosyllabic youth with nothing much to say.

Suddenly, this modern day Don Quixote realises he has achieved his aim and is free to return home to his family. The Jesulin he was chasing may have proved to be a mere windmill but, in the course of pursuing him, he has discovered warm, wonderful, colourful, exciting, unique Spain.

It is a delightful story and a great introduction for anyone intending to visit Spain, even if you don't plan to go to a bullfight.

Come to my table
by Louise Luiggi.
Portrait, $29.95

When an Englishwoman marries a Corsican in France she finds herself suffocating in the restricted lifestyle his family expect to her lead.

Eventually, she persuades him to return to Britain with her but now it is her husband who is unhappy.

To save her marriage, Louise Luiggi decides to provide a French oasis in the middle of Nottingham, a seemingly impossible task given the conservatism of the English, but against all the odds she succeeds.

Her shop French Living provides an interest and an occupation for husband Stephane and, as it turns out, for herself as well.

Luiggi's addiction to France began during family holidays to Normandy. In her late teens she becomes an au pair in Paris and is captivated by her employer's ability to make delicious meals from the simplest of ingredients. Then she meets Stephane and is even more captivated.

She finds life in a Corsican family is not all great eating and smooth sailing. But visits to the island over the years gradually allow her to come to understand the way of life.

Her descriptions of the scenery alone are enough to inspire a visit. And then there's the food which, she discovers, tastes just as good cooked outside of France.

Just in case you want to find out for yourself, the story is interspersed with delicious French recipes and ideas. It's a delectable combination.

The cruellest journey
by Kira Salak
Bantam, $27.99

Paddling an inflatable kayak into one of the most dangerous parts of Africa, on the trail of an explorer whose journey ended in an unmarked grave, sounds like a recipe for disaster.

But then, by her own admission, Kira Salak has never felt comfortable with a cosy, predictable life.

So she takes her tiny craft to the Malian town of Old Segou, from where 206 years before British explorer Mungo Park left on his ill-fated attempt to reach the legendary city of Timbuktu, and boldly sets a course down the great Niger River. In the course of her 900km journey, Salak strikes plenty of discomfort and danger - storms and food-poisoning, hippos and bandits - but she also encounters hospitable people, stunning scenery and fascinating wildlife.

It is a remarkable story - though I'm not sure it quite lives up to its name as The Cruellest Journey - but what makes this book special is not the level of privation Salak endures but the quality of her writing, her obvious empathy with people of different cultures and the depth of her thinking about what she is experiencing.

At the end of her journey she discovers, like others before her, that the Timbuktu of legend was lost about 600 years ago and what remains today is a dirty, dusty, disappointing township.

But that doesn't matter, as Salak concludes. What matters is what the journey has taught her about Africa, and most importantly about herself.

Destination Southern Lakes New Zealand
by Gillian and Darryl Torckler,
Reed Children's Books, $17.99

An entertaining and imaginative look at one of our most popular tourist destinations from the point of view of the kids.

It is primarily aimed at young visitors coming from overseas so has a lot of information you would hope New Zealand children would already be aware of: there are three main islands, we call "cookies" "biscuits", or that Maori got here first but Dutch explorer Abel Tasman gave the country its name.

It also has many interesting stories and snippets of information that are likely to appeal to any visitors of whatever age or nationality: the legend of how Lake Wakatipu was created, the story of the grand old TS Earnslaw, or a good summary of the 1860s gold rush.

If you're heading south with the family it would be a useful resource to have in the glovebox.

Barry Matthews: Help unlock our future potential

Herald readers could hardly have failed to notice Simon Collins' in-depth analysis of the issues around the prison system activities of the Corrections Department (see link to series of articles below).

Collins' considered discussion comes when the prisons are coping with high "musters" and are in the spotlight from media and politicians.

Of course, there is more to Corrections, which, in addition to managing 7500 prisoners each day, runs the Community Probation Service and looks after more than 65,000 sentences and orders a year.

In a just and humane society, this kind of debate is timely as prison "musters" run at all-time highs and are poised to get larger. Prisons are the managers of last resort of what is too often a long line of social failure. Losing your freedom to come and go is not a pleasant experience - you are not sent to prison to be punished, the fact you are there is the punishment.

It goes almost without saying that the efforts made to prepare and assist prisoners before and when they leave prison can improve their capacity to become successful citizens.

Having a job to go to can make a big difference, but this may be a test for communities, as was the case in Hawkes Bay when prisoners gained meaningful activity and filled a local labour shortage by picking apples. It would be fair to say that opinion on this seemed reasonably divided.

While much has been said about Corrections closing gardens and depriving prisoners of work, the reality is that as some work activities have ceased, many new ones better meet Corrections' objective of providing training and education in a more sustainable environment.

In fact, the number of hours worked by prisoners is much the same as it was three or four years ago, and more prisoners are getting qualifications that are relevant for their release. However, it is true that more work opportunities have yet to be provided for the surge in prisoner numbers, and that needs to be done.

Corrections has also been taken to task for not doing enough to rehabilitate people with substance dependencies and those with mental health issues. Prisoners are generally entitled to the same health care as other members of the community, and that includes addiction treatment. Corrections provides a lot of support and assistance for prisoners suffering from mental illnesses.

With a limit on resources, we have to prioritise rehabilitation and treatment towards those prisoners whose substance dependencies are giving rise to offending and those prisoners who are motivated to change.

Corrections does not limit its interventions to any one model and we do not think we can succeed in preventing reoffending without close partnerships with other organisations within and outside government.

We know a one-size rehabilitation programme does not fit all and the best solution must be tailored to the individual's risks and needs.

As around 50 per cent of offenders are Maori, focus units that aim to give Maori offenders an appreciation of their cultural roots are a feature in some prisons. As violence is a growing concern, more initiatives that help offenders to understand and manage their propensity for violence are also being offered.

Initiatives include the provision of $100,000 to the Books In Prison Trust to set up libraries in four women's prisons and this is being repeated this year.

Corrections is also providing $200,000 for temporary flats for newly released prisoners in Auckland in a partnership with Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society (Pars) and Housing New Zealand. Other initiatives are taking place with organisations as diverse as the Prison Fellowship New Zealand and Pars, which runs the Montgomery House violence prevention programme.

Prison Fellowship New Zealand is working with us to provide programmes in the faith-based unit at Rimutaka Prison and to foster restorative justice through the Sycamore Tree programme and prisoner reintegration through mentoring of Operation Jericho.

Other activities aimed at reducing reoffending by improving the likelihood of a successful return to the community include a growing number of self-care units where prisoners close to release live in a flatting environment and are responsible for managing their household, including budgeting and buying food.

Work and Income has workbrokers and case managers in all prisons who undertake pre-release skills assessments and match the prisoners to employment opportunities in their regions.

In the context of funding, locking offenders up is expensive. Again, Corrections has been in the news for the cost of new prisons. Last year, we added 700 beds on time and on budget. But the cost of another three prisons in the building programme will be higher than anticipated, largely because of a doubling in the number of additional beds to nearly 1300, and the inevitable cost increases associated with a buoyant economy.

Anyone who has visited a prison will be aware of the effort that goes into preventing escapes and stopping prohibited items getting in. It is much harder to get contraband into prisons and this is showing up in a reduced rate of positive random drug tests.

All but a handful of the worst prisoners will return to the community at some time. If this is the case, logic suggests that everything reasonable should be done to ensure they make the most successful return possible.

Corrections has a role to ensure time in prison is spent constructively. But it is also up to communities and business to provide support and employment to prisoners who really want to change their behaviour.

It will be important that we work through the competing themes that prisons are too soft, they are too hard; prisoners don't get enough work in the community, the public is endangered by them working in the community; and not enough is done to rehabilitate or make prisoners well.

We would like to give them more activities, and that includes work. We are trying to reform, but we need the community's support. We can't be ambivalent or confused about our objectives.

Now is the time for New Zealanders to decide how our prison system can best meet the interests of us all, and that should include offenders.

* Barry Matthews is chief executive of the Department of Corrections.