Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sideswipe

Reader Jim Tobin snapped this easily misconstrued sign outside a church in Taradale, Napier

By Ana Samways

Two Act staffers used footage of Nazis to entertain guests at a private party at the weekend. The cheeky righties were Act's communications manager Gavin Middleton and an unnamed researcher. Party guest and prolific blogger David Farrar from Kiwiblog site said it was "very weird to be singing along to Uptown Girl while the projector is showing Nazi propaganda films. Very bad taste humour but, hey, if people call Actoids Nazis then [sic] might as well live up to the stereotype". Reactions to this behaviour split on predictable lines. Act leader Rodney Hide said: "What people do at private parties I think is their own business." National's Richard Worth said: "There's a strong Jewish community in Epsom and it's not appropriate for Mr Hide's staffer to hold such parties." Later Farrar updated that the film was actually a documentary on the war, not a propaganda film, that was being used as wallpaper at the booze-fuelled party. Which makes it better how? The Nazi footage aside, other issues of taste at the Act event that should be reprimanded include playing Billy Joel's Uptown Girl (even if it is Act's unofficial theme song), blogging during a party ("The vodka and bailys [sic] is flowing well and all are happy. A good crowd and a superb view from the Penthouse. It may be a long night. DPF from the Penthouse!") and yes, grown-ups bragging about booze (see above).

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Fendall Hill of Northcote writes: "Malcolm Walker's story on the leather jacket's reputation in the 80s reminds me of the time I was ejected from the ten-pin bowling centre in Takapuna for wearing a "patch". As a student in 1985, I had tipped battery acid on the lap of my brand-new jeans, and had to sew on a small brown leather elbow patch to cover the holes. I was asked by the manager to "finish my game and leave" as the wearing of "patches" was specifically prohibited in the house rules posted on the wall behind us. My church friends and I restrained ourselves from wrecking the joint and left compliantly."

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Perhaps we are looking in the wrong place for our Games cyclists. This from the NZ Post careers website: "The role of postie suits someone who is passionate about delivering great service ... We think of our posties as athletes and can provide advice on nutrition and hydration."

John Armstrong: Latest 'mistake' forces Clark into no-win situation

It would be easy to mistake David Parker's forced resignation as Attorney-General as a sign that the Labour Party - currently looking somewhat shabby and accident-prone - is going to clean up its act.

Labour will certainly be hoping yesterday's decisiveness will give that impression and be seen as a return to the days when the Prime Minister expected her ministers to meet the standards required of Cabinet office.

Yet, while the Prime Minister may have dispensed some political disinfectant around the Beehive in nudging Mr Parker out of one of his portfolios, his exit had the appearance of something done reluctantly and all too grudgingly.

Right now, the one thing Labour needs to display is some contrition following David Benson-Pope's misleading statements to Parliament and the more damaging rort on the taxpayer which saw Labour caught using parliamentary funds for blatant electioneering.

An apology for that rort would have done Labour a power of good - and taken some of the wind out of National's sails.

However, Labour seems incapable of uttering the word "sorry" at the very time it most needs to do so.

It is suffering from a siege mentality which is daily evident in Parliament and which yesterday's events will likely only intensify.

In the process, Labour is unwittingly auditioning for the very role which National seeks to ascribe it - arrogant and out-of-touch.

Mr Parker lost his portfolio because the role of Attorney-General as the senior law officer of the Crown made his position untenable and his immediate resignation a necessity.

Unlike Mr Benson-Pope, the circumstances were black and white. This time there could be no equivocation and no hesitation.

But he still holds his other, weighty portfolios of Transport and Energy.

It is an awful quandary for Helen Clark. It is understandable she has not sacked him completely. He is one of Labour's brightest stars. Neither does she want to bring his political career to an abrupt halt.

She obviously feels that would be unfair and inconsistent given the leniency shown to Mr Benson-Pope.

Yet, keeping Mr Parker after retaining Mr Benson-Pope risks exponentially increasing the political cost incurred by Labour.

Recognising the dilemma, she yesterday sought to paint Mr Parker as an honourable person who had made a mistake. She then attacked Investigate magazine and Rodney Hide as if Mr Parker's predicament was somehow all their fault. She then dropped another hint that Labour might retaliate in kind to what were "smear" campaigns against its ministers.

That warning is an indication that Labour has drawn a line in the sand and Helen Clark and her senior colleagues are not going to allow National and Act to pick off Cabinet ministers one by one to paint a picture of a Government in decay.

Yet, Labour's anger is blinding it to the extent that the Prime Minister is now gambling on Mr Parker not being prosecuted for making a false declaration.

If he is prosecuted, he will surely have to stand down from his other portfolios at least temporarily.

If he escapes prosecution, that will only reinforce the growing perception that the "mistakes" of Labour politicians are treated differently when it comes to the application of the law.

Either way, Labour is the loser.

Editorial: To unclog the roads, try tolls

Despite his terminal problems with the Attorney-General's portfolio, Transport Minister David Parker deserves credit for putting a concrete proposal to Aucklanders that might relieve their traffic congestion by charging for peak time road use. It is a tentative step. Citizens and councils have been given six weeks to respond and the Government says it will not pursue the idea if feeling is against it. Mr Parker says the Government has no preferred road charging scheme, nor has it a timetable for introducing charges. The next step would not be to adopt a scheme, he says, but merely to decide if further investigation is worthwhile.

If he sounds less than bold, he is being positively courageous in comparison to his predecessors in two Governments. The Ministry of Transport has long advised ministers that some form of road pricing will be needed to deal with the country's worst urban congestion but no minister has paid more than lip service to the idea. Mr Parker has published a set of options that would involve either tolls on certain parts of the motorways and arterial roads or a parking charge in commercial centres, or cordons that would register a charge every time a private vehicle crossed them during peak times, weekdays from 6am to 10am.

A cordon of some sort seems to be favoured by those Auckland local body leaders who have dared endorse road pricing. The ministry's report offers three cordon possibilities. The largest and simplest would encircle the isthmus, charging vehicles $6 at the harbour bridge or $3 at any of 14 other charging points on the Northwestern Motorway, Mangere Bridge, the Tamaki River crossings and roads through Avondale and Otahuhu. It is not evident why travellers from the North Shore should pay double the rate.

A second option proposes two cordons, one inside the other. The inner cordon appears to enclose Remuera, Epsom, Mt Eden, Mt Albert and Grey Lynn-Westmere. It too would carry a $3 charge when it was crossed. A third option, called an area charge, would apply only inside the inner cordon and a one-off charge of $5 would be made not only to enter that area but to drive past certain points within it.

Why, it must be wondered, has so much attention been given to cordons when the fairest form of road pricing is an electronic toll? Tolling technology nowadays enables a charge to be placed on roads as they become congested, discouraging their use by drivers with more time to spare. Thus a toll can be avoided by those who do not wish to pay it. A cordon charge cannot be avoided, except by living and working entirely on one side of the cordon or crossing it by public transport.

The ministry's study argues that cordon charges are simpler, less expensive and more practical and transparent. But more likely the ministry prefers them because they would generate more net revenue. Tolling technology is expensive and a system that allowed motorists a free alternative might barely cover costs. It would, though, be much more effective at rationing road use.

An inescapable cordon would probably not much reduce road use - not at $3 or $6 a day. People would complain bitterly at the introduction of such a charge but once in force, most people would pay it and make little or no change to their commuting habits. Congestion would continue while the authorities raked in revenue from the cordon to put towards building new roads or covering the operating losses of public transport.

Auckland sorely needs a source of additional revenue for the roading programme the public purse will not fully fund. But cordon revenue will provide more roads to become congested in their turn. Only tolls will ultimately reduce the congestion. The cordon system is not the answer.

Peter Nowak: Xtra plans don't live up to their billing

"Coming soon: faster, cheaper broadband," pronounce the Telecom ads. Yeah right.

The company is rolling out its new Xtra plans on April 2, which is a good idea because launching them a day earlier would really highlight how much of a joke they are.

The problem is, the services won't be either faster or cheaper. The ads, if they were accurate, should read: "Coming soon ... broadband." And given the superior services offered elsewhere in the world, which make New Zealand's broadband look pathetic, even that would be generous.

The Commerce Commission is looking into complaints of misleading advertising, and Telecom admitted last week to the Dominion Post that its services were not necessarily cheaper for residential customers.

There is little doubt the prices are better for businesses - top-end plans will cost $150, compared with up to thousands of dollars previously. But for residential customers, the pricing propositions can work out for the worse.

Xtra's current entry-level plan - 256 kilobits per second download, 128 kilobits upload, and 1 gigabyte data usage - is priced at $39.95 a month. The new plan will have the same speeds but a much lower data limit of 200 megabytes and will cost $29.95. Going over that limit will cost 2c per megabyte, which means an extra $16 to equal the previous 1 gigabyte. That's a grand total of $45.95 - hardly cheaper.

The next new plan will have a download speed of 2 megabits, upload of 128 kilobits, and 1 gigabyte of data, for $39.95. The existing plan has the same speeds with 10 gigabytes of data for $59.95. The new plan will technically be cheaper as there are no excess charges once the user exceeds their data cap.

But wait, not so fast - literally. That 1 gigabyte limit is one tenth of the existing plan and once it is reached, the download speed will be throttled down to 54 kilobits per second. This doesn't look like such a deal - $40 for dial-up access? No thank you.

The new top speeds won't provide much value either. The basic 3.5 megabit download service, with 128 kilobit upload and 5 gigabytes, will cost $49.95. Users who go over the limit also get shunted down to dial-up speed.

Stepping up to 3.5 megabit download and 512 upload with a 10 gigabyte limit will cost $79.95. This particular service is really what should be considered entry-level, and it's shocking that Telecom is making consumers pay so much simply for the privilege of a faster upload. The fact that better upload speeds improve real-time internet phone services such as Skype - a big threat to Telecom's traditional calling revenue - wouldn't have anything to do with it, would it?

Then there's the issue of speed itself. It's commonly understood and accepted that advertised broadband speeds are best-case scenarios, and not necessarily what users get all the time. A 2-megabit download connection, therefore, is likely to be slower if the user lives far from a telephone exchange, or if many others are online at the same time.

In this respect, customers essentially have to trust Telecom to maximise those high-speed times and minimises slowdowns.

The main way Telecom does this is through setting something called the contention ratio, which is how many people share one connection. According to several internet service providers who resell Telecom's broadband, their existing contracts guarantee this ratio at 50:1, which means 50 users share one line.

This is bad to start with. If there are 50 users on one 2-megabit line at the same time, they're getting 40 kilobits of download speed each. That's slower than dial-up.

Telecom has refused to specify what the ratio will be under the new plans, but says it will be a "best-efforts" service. The ISPs say Telecom has indicated the ratio will be worse, and a customer could end up sharing a line with 124 others. If that's so, a quick calculation shows that 3.5-megabit download speeds could slow to as bad as 28 kilobits per second - half the speed of dial-up - at busy times.

Is this scaremongering on the part of the ISPs, who simply want a better deal out of Telecom? Hardly. If Telecom won't specify or guarantee its contention ratio - and it has declined several requests to do so - its claim of faster services has no credibility.

Telecom has been trying to foist similar "cheaper and faster" services on its resellers. It's no surprise the two biggest - ihug and CallPlus - have told the company to shove it and are seeking better terms from the Commerce Commission. Smaller ISPs, unfortunately, have to either resell Telecom's swill or face extinction.

Telecom will soon try to stave off or water down looming regulation with the promise of ADSL2+ services - rumours of up to 24-megabit speeds are swirling - in a move that will amount to yet another promise of "cheaper and faster" broadband.

But there is increasing evidence - including the plans being rolled out in two weeks - that Telecom's broadband promises can't be believed.

Eye on China: Capitalism served up raw

An annoying editorial was published in the Financial Times on March 16 arguing, in the usual liberal-economic view, that the Chinese were being silly to complain about reform (as they have recently being doing) and that what they needed was more reform rather than less.

It was annoying partly because it was plain wrong, arguing that "the logic of liberalisation had not been challenged to this extent since the aftermath of the crackdown in 1989".

This is quite untrue: The "logic of liberalisation" was being challenged before 1989. The protests of 1989 were not pro-market and anti-Government; they were above all anti-market.

Despite the students' use of the plaster model of the Statue of Liberty (a clever and successful stunt to attract foreign media coverage), this was a left-wing movement punishing the Government for its economic policies - "reforms" not being a description shared by everyone.

The writer goes on to make a distinction between the state and the market, arguing that the reform of the state is trailing the reforms of the market. This disingenuous comment sent me running back to my history books. As I suspected, Marx and Lenin don't protest against the idea of a market; they protest against capitalism. This is defined very simply as putting the hyper-profitability of the wealthy few above the interests of the working masses.

While in the West, capitalism has gone through a taming process, this is not the case in China. It's plain silly to make a distinction between state and markets. Here we have capitalism in its raw form - a tight interconnection of capital providers and Government officials working for their own private interests.

They only make concessions if they are forced to.

That's exactly what they did after 1989. That is, they pacified urban residents by enabling them to get the lion's share of the economic restructuring, shifting resources away from the countryside in the process. That's precisely why today's Chinese farmers are screaming blue murder.

Here's an amusing anecdote. I was talking to a private banker based in Hong Kong. He was telling me how private bankers have become more prominent because of the rise of the mainland Chinese tycoons.

I asked him if that meant he didn't have any role to play in the Chinese state sector, in particular when Chinese state-owned enterprises are listed in Hong Kong. He tapped his nose and assured me they were just as busy on those. "You have to look after people," he said.

One common way, he explained, was for a bank executive to get a huge allocation of stock options. In fact, these are not all for him. They will later be distributed to the people who gave the approval for the listing but only in the event they personally benefit.

Especially invidious is the fact that stock options encourage undervaluing the company by Chinese bank executives. Remember, option-holders are not interested in the absolute value of the share price after listing but in the spread between the face value of the option and the target price. If you set the former very low and the latter low, you ensure a fat spread with little risk the counter won't hit the target price.

It is practices like these that Chinese people are complaining about, and rightly so.

Of course, no one is too interested in exploring these shenanigans in Hong Kong and that's one powerful reason these Chinese banks don't list in New York, where the Sarbanes Oxley Act is in place to ensure corporate governance standards.

In Hong Kong, apart from the feisty local papers (whose influence is diminished by the fact that they are not written in English and, hence, inaccessible to the foreign fund managers who are the principal buyers of China stocks) there are only two English-language papers. I literally can't remember the last time either of them broke a scandal and the bigger of the two has been going through transformation involving the removal of several foreign managers.

Chinese capitalism, bringing disproportionate benefits to a minority of the population, is not dissimilar to Western capitalism, increasingly represented by the multinationals who have benefited under globalisation at the expense of the domestic population.

The multinationals have few local ties any longer, a process accelerated by "off-shoring" jobs out of Europe and the US to places like China.

Multinationals such as Wal-Mart make vast profits selling cheap goods to consumers back home. And that's just as well, given that off-shoring has ensured that more and more US families can't afford anything else.

James Kynge, the former Financial Times China correspondent, recently wrote a wonderful book about this mutually reinforcing trend.

On his visit to Rockford, Illinois, the home of what was the premier US machine tool manufacturer, Ingersoll-Rand, he describes how the vitality has been drained out of the town under the twin onslaught of a Wal-Mart on the edge of town and the sale of part of Ingersoll's operations to a Chinese outfit.

The Chinese buyers of the Ingersoll division were caught making a bid for the principal part of the business under the cover of the unit they had just bought. Only at the last minute was a deal averted - a lucky escape, considering Ingersoll makes top secret military components.

Kynge describes an alliance between multinationals concerned only with profit and a China willing to beg, buy or steal products and technology to catch up with the West.

Ironically, just as China's capitalism is leaving behind the weak and the powerless, it is pushing Western capitalism in the same direction.

* Each week, the Business Herald's columnists track the latest developments in the world's two emerging economic superpowers, China and India. Dan Slater is a Beijing-based journalist.

Stephen Franks: No excuses when it comes to the law

The Attorney-General has to be the highest law officer in the land, Cabinet's legal conscience.

So when questions arose about the legalities of his dealings, David Parker had to resign his position.

Rightly, he did.

Thousands of ordinary business people probably make false annual returns like he is alleged to have done, because they regard the return formalities as just more of the meaningless compliance redtape in which they are drowning.

But we lawyers know that we can not do that.

A lawyer who signs false statements or even blank documents knows that no excuse is acceptable.

The profession is privileged to be a gatekeeper. Our certificates are taken as near conclusive proof of facts under scores of acts and regulations. The price is scrupulous care about the veracity of our certificates.

There is an interesting potential consequence.

I think most lawyers will be unequivocal about Parker having to stand down as Attorney-General, no matter how much he was admired. They might have less concern about him retaining his other portfolios.

But eventually, if he is tried and convicted for making a false statement under section 377 of the Companies Act, he must not thereafter "directly or indirectly be concerned in or take part in the management of a company" unless the court says otherwise.

That might cramp his style as Minister of Energy and shareholder of the state generators.

* Stephen Franks is a commercial lawyer and former Act MP.

Simon Collins: To stay or go to Australia - it's all down to money

If you were single and were suddenly made redundant, would you stay in New Zealand?

That's the question that electrician Grahame Boyd faced when the former Ford steel-alloy wheel plant in Wiri, now owned by Ion, said last year that it would close next month.

The answer was easy. He took a job as an electrician on the construction site for the new Blackwater coal mine 200km west of Rockhampton - and doubled what he earned at Ion.

"I looked at my opportunities in Australia and New Zealand at my age, 54, and even though there was a trade shortage in New Zealand I got this. Once you're over 50 you are consigned to the scrapheap [in NZ]," he says.

"In Australia I didn't get that feeling at all. I was told that age equals experience and that's exactly what Australian industry was looking for."

The explanation for the broader Kiwi exodus to Australia is just as simple. It's the money. Not everyone can double their pay like Mr Boyd, but on average Australia's real income per person is 32 per cent higher than ours.

As the ratio of New Zealand to Australian incomes slid from 104 per cent in 1966 down to a low of 73 per cent in 1999, before recovering slightly to 76 per cent, so transtasman migration switched from a slight net inflow in the early 1960s to outflows in all but five of the past 38 years.

At first migration swung wildly from small inflows when Australian economic growth faltered to net outflows of about 30,000 a year in 1978-79 and in 1988-89, when oil shocks and policy-induced recessions in New Zealand coincided with stronger growth in Australia.

That pattern has changed since 1991, the last year when economic output dropped in Australia. New Zealand's output has grown faster than Australia's in nine of the 14 years since then - yet our net migration to Australia has steadily widened, apart from a blip caused by the fear of terrorism after the Bali bombing in 2002.

This time, says Auckland University economist Sholeh Maani, we may be settling into a long-term outflow to our larger neighbour.

"If both economies are growing, it's more of a pull factor if economically the returns to our work are higher over there," she says. "I think it will be long-term if salaries and earnings for the same education level continue to be higher in Australia."

Of course money is never the sole factor in migration. Young people may leave to escape from their parents and see the world; the middle-aged may flee from broken marriages; the elderly may follow their children - and the sun.

Wellington economist Arthur Grimes says New Zealanders now behave almost as if this country was just another state of Australia.

"It's not too surprising that people go to the Big Smoke, just as they go from Te Kuiti to Auckland," he says.

New Zealand's incomes per head are lower than seven of the eight Australian states and territories, but are slightly higher than Tasmania's and only just below South Australia's.

In the decade to 2004, New Zealand lost an average of 0.4 per cent of its population each year to Australian states. In the same period, Tasmania also lost a net 0.4 per cent of its people each year to other states, New South Wales lost 0.3 per cent a year and South Australia 0.2 per cent.

The only winners were booming Queensland, which gained 0.7 per cent of its population each year from other states, and Western Australia, which gained less than 0.1 per cent a year.

In 2001, 35 per cent of NZ-born people in Australia were in Queensland, followed by 30 per cent in New South Wales.

The director of Waikato University's Population Studies Centre, Professor Jacques Poot, says cheap air fares have made it much easier to cross the Tasman.

"It needs less of an incentive to move than it used to, because they can always change their minds, and the cost of keeping up with friends and relatives is less."

A masters student at Waikato, Lynda Sanderson, has tracked 80,074 transtasman travellers who said they were leaving NZ permanently between 1999 and 2002. She found that 33 per cent had left Australia by last June, and 87 per cent of those had come back.

Dr Maani believes the Government's promise last July to scrap interest on student loans for those who stay in New Zealand may reduce the incentive to leave.

There is some evidence that the exodus may indeed be slowing. The net loss to Australia widened by 4354 from 15,547 in the year to last January to 19,901 in the year to July, but by only a further 1538 people to 21,439 in the year to this January.

On the other hand, the kiwi dollar's 7.4 per cent drop against the Australian dollar so far this year has made Australian wages more attractive, and the Reserve Bank forecasts that NZ growth will drop to only 2 per cent a year for the next three years, compared with 3.3 per cent in Australia.

Catriona MacLennan: Law fails to protect abused

A review of the Domestic Violence Act being carried out this year needs to make major changes to ensure the law lives up to its aim of providing greater protection from domestic violence.

So far, the legislation has not done that. It has proved disappointing in practice, and New Zealand's shocking record of violence against women and children has continued.

Two key problems with the act are the difficulty in obtaining emergency protection orders and problems in having orders enforced by the police.

Urgent protection orders are supposed to be available when the court is satisfied that a delay in granting an order might cause harm or undue hardship to the domestic violence victim or her children.

However, the orders are difficult to obtain, with judges being increasingly reluctant to grant them.

As long ago as 1999, a group of South Auckland family lawyers wrote to the Family Court judges at the Manukau District Court to express concern about our perception that fewer emergency orders were being granted. The position has not improved.

The number of protection orders granted fell from 4066 in 1999 to 2645 in 2004, despite a rise in recorded assaults by males on females from 6949 to 7526 in the same period.

One cause of the problem is that some judges are simply not applying the law when dealing with protection order applications.

The test for granting an order is clearly set out in section 17 of the act. It requires the court to be satisfied that domestic violence has been used against the woman or her children, and that an order is necessary to protect them.

The emphasis of the legislation is plainly on protecting the victims.

However, some judges in considering applications focus on the position of the violence perpetrator. That is clearly not what Parliament intended. Other judges take into account irrelevant considerations, such as the age of the parties.

I used to think that stating in the application that the women and children were in a refuge made clear they were in danger and needed an emergency order.

However, some judges take the view that if the victims are in a refuge they do not require an urgent order as they are safe there.

Further, despite the fact that the act includes psychological abuse as domestic violence, it is well established that unless there has been recent physical violence it will be extremely difficult to obtain an order. That unstated criterion has become even tougher in recent years.

Last year an emergency application was declined as the most recent physical violence had been the previous weekend and the application was not filed until the following Thursday, As a result, the judge said the order was not required urgently.

The review of the legislation therefore needs to spell out even more clearly to judges that Parliament's intention in passing the law was to protect women and children, and this should be the focus in dealing with applications.

The difficulty in obtaining emergency orders in recent years has led to an increase in the number of applications being placed "on notice". This means they will not be granted until a copy of the application has been served on the violent partner and he has had a chance to respond.

When I act for clients, if it is my view that an order will not be granted on an emergency basis, I now advise clients simply not to proceed with the application.

It will take weeks to be dealt with by the courts, and the danger to the victims is increased during this period when the violent partner is aware of the application and angered by it.

What the woman has to go through to obtain the order is just not worth the end result.

A second key problem with orders is seeking to have them enforced by the police.

The police are overworked and understaffed. Although their response to domestic violence has improved greatly, domestic violence-inspired behaviour can sometimes appear trivial to them.

They may pay insufficient attention to the overall picture of abuse and intimidation, and the escalation in threatening behaviour. They may thus be reluctant to enforce the order, particularly if it is not a recent one.

This places the women and children in great danger, as analysis of cases in which women are killed by their partners generally reveals a clear pattern of escalating, violent behaviour.

If the system does not protect the woman, she learns that she is at the mercy of the abuser, and he learns that he can intimidate her without consequences.

In some overseas jurisdictions, death reviews are conducted in every case in which a woman is killed by her partner. That should be done in New Zealand so that police and others can learn lessons.

If protection orders are not enforced, they are literally no more than pieces of paper. The cost of obtaining a protection order is also a major barrier for many women.

Women on benefits will receive legal aid to apply for orders, but women who are working and earning more than $19,060 are considered too well-off and have to pay lawyers themselves.

This is simply not an option for most women, meaning they can't even apply for orders.

The review should also make it plain that family pets can be included on orders. Violent partners often threaten, abuse or kill pets as a means of controlling the woman. Including pets would mean that they could be removed to a place of safety.

It is to be hoped that changes to the act will mean it delivers better protection in its second 10 years of operation than it has done in the first 10.

* Catriona MacLennan is a South Auckland barrister.

Alan Charman: Those who wait patiently in line say it's worth it

There is a quiet revolution happening in New Zealand and it will change the face of the country. It's all about the current wave of immigrants.

If the first wave of immigration is said to be British from 1769 to the 1960s, and the second, the Asian, British and South African mix from 1970 to 2000, the third wave has started - and the difference to the others is stark.

The majority of migrants during the past 20 years have been tertiary-qualified men and their families.

As a technical recruiter, I talk to many of these people as they arrive in New Zealand and search for jobs.

Being a proud, if somewhat sceptical Kiwi, I am interested in why people move here, and always ask candidates why they have chosen to do so.

Most Asian migrants quote our quality of life, especially in terms of their children's futures. These migrants often include the ones you see pumping gas and scanning groceries.

As one of them told me: "I am nothing; my children are everything. I will happily work here, knowing that my children will have a greater chance of success than at home." This from a master's level, internationally chartered engineer from India.

South Africans have moved here for a variety of reasons; some for financial reasons and many, again, for the perceived quality of life - less crime, less unemployment.

One among the South Africans' stories stands out. It was that of a "Cape coloured" man whose response was: "For the past 400 years, I and my family have been non-white. For the next 400 we are going to be non-black."

The constant among people before 2000 was a desire to improve their lives and the futures of their children - after all you're not likely to move to somewhere you think is a dump.

During the huge, global population shift, New Zealand tended to rank a little down the list of desired destinations for emigres.

The list usually went something like this, in order of preference: US, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

So, what has changed? I am hearing a completely different kind of answer, and with increasing frequency and stridency.

From the Canadian PhD who wants to live in a country with a social conscience, to the South American welder who sees New Zealand at the cutting edge of social innovation, to the Australian gutted at John Howard's response to Iraq, I am hearing reasons which make one sit up and take notice.

It appears the Government's recent rule changes to immigration have produced a useful side-effect.

The bar has been raised to work being all-important and we are importing specialist workers by the thousand.

Because it is so hard to gain entry into New Zealand, intending migrants are those to whom the battle with bureaucracy is less important than the final result.

I speak daily to people who will wait years if necessary to move here.

New Zealand is no longer the third or fifth preferred destination - it is first, and a lonely first, in the eyes of most people coming here.

There are Brits who see our society as colourful and integrated, there are Zimbabweans moved by equality, and Arabs by peace.

The attraction is no longer wholly economic but what the migrants believe about the nature of our society.

We've already seen the results of our previously high immigration standards in the foreign names that feature so strongly on our dux lists.

What height will the bar reach when the children of these new migrants - children who will be smart, politically aware and socially responsible - hit Year 13? I can't wait to find out.

* Alan Charman is a consultant and recruiting agent who deals with candidates from more than 70 countries.