Friday, March 24, 2006

Sideswipe

Spotted in Taipei, Taiwan, by a reader while looking for margarine, this "I can't believe it's, 'I can't believe it's not butter"' butter.

By Ana Samways

A far North ratepayer offers this drivel from a report to the district development sub-committee of the Far North District Council from the community development manager as evidence of why people find dealing with their local council difficult. "Subject: Adoption of Far North local economic development strategy. The key component of the draft strategy (which will be circulated under a separate cover sheet) are the key initiatives that it includes. It should be noted that the key initiatives are not intended to represent a definitive list at this stage. One of the key intentions of the consultation that will be undertaken on the strategy is to identify additional initiatives that will form part of the final plan. That is, it is intended that consultation on the strategy will make a significant contribution to the quality of the final document. A separate report details the process that it is proposed to use to communicate and consult on the strategy."

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Deputy headteacher Sue Storer is suing her former school in Bristol for £1 million ($2.8 million) because she claims that, while two male colleagues were given brand new chairs, she was left with one that made a farting noise every time she sat down or moved. Claiming she never wants to teach again because of the stress her chair caused her, she explained to an employment tribunal: "It was very embarrassing to sit on. It was a regular joke that my chair would make these 'farting' sounds. I had to apologise that it was not me, it was my chair." Her former boss said that he expected "a deputy headteacher, who has the authority to run a school, to have the wit and initiative to sort it out." (Source: worldofwonder.net)

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A smart mathematician with an irreverent sense of humour but little social skills thinks the man drought is a myth. "It's easy to verify that there is no man drought in New Zealand in the 20 to 49 age group. On findsomeone.co.nz men outnumber women 8761 to 4779. On nzdating.com the ratio is 31,868 to 15,808. On the Herald Connexions page the ratio is 133 to 129. Looks like two men for every woman. So if there is a surplus of women then where are they? Certainly not looking for men."

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Responding to Uncyclopedia's lampooning definition of Diocesan School for Girls in yesterday's Sideswipe, a former Dio girl would like to point out " ... Sass and Bide don't have a bikini range."

Editorial: Airport wrong to ignore rail

Auckland Airport this week produced a vision of its probable development over the next 20 years. The airport company envisages new terminals, another runway, hotels, carparks and more commercial property. Its priorities do not include the item its customers might most desire - a railway to the airport.

The company expresses sympathy often for air travellers who face Auckland's congestion and lends its voice to those urging the authorities to do something about it. But the airport shows no interest in a rail solution, though passenger rail is highly favoured at the moment by Auckland's transport authorities and it would not seem to take much to put a loop from the southern line through Manukau City Centre and the airport terminals. Manukau Mayor Barry Curtis is pressing for a spur line to his city centre. He would certainly welcome the airport to his plans.

It is not hard to guess the reason for the company's reticence on the subject of rail. It lies undoubtedly in the earnings of that commercial property and carparking. Of the airport's $282 million revenue last year, $152 million came from non-aeronautical sources such as retail shops, property rentals and parking charges. International airports these days are shopping centres.

It stands to reason the owners of a shopping centre would not like the idea of a train-to-plane service that might severely reduce the numbers using the airport to meet or farewell family and friends. The fear is probably well-founded. Many people would be content to make their farewells at, say, the Britomart rail terminal rather than drive all the way to Mangere.

It is a lucky business that can afford to ignore its customers' convenience in this way. Auckland International Airport can afford to do so because it has no competitors. Its 20-year priorities might look rather different if the Government had given the go-ahead to Infratil to develop a commercial airport at Whenuapai. The greater ease of driving to Whenuapai from northern and western suburbs made the proposal extremely attractive.

Auckland International might have been forced to provide a rail link to offer northern and western residents a competitive journey time. But the airport argued vehemently against Infratil's case and the present Government postponed its plans to relinquish the Air Force base.

Having seen off that threat, the airport company has been able to contemplate an additional runway and terminals sufficient to handle all the projected international air traffic to Auckland to 2025. It is New Zealand's main tourist gateway and intends to remain so. Access apart, its attention to the travelling public cannot be faulted. Many of the services at the international terminal - bar the oppressive baggage hall and slowness of agricultural checks - are first class and the shopping centre it has become does New Zealand proud.

The airport is a collection of licensed retail, accommodation, cargo and road passenger interests that collectively argue against a rail link. If a rail service is to be provided it will have to be done entirely by a public body, though surely the airport company could not oppose such a convenience outright.

Aviation remains an industry far too hidebound by state-favoured services. It is bad enough that at international airports it commonly takes two hours to check in for a flight; it is worse that from many parts of Auckland at certain times of the day it can also take two hours to reach the airport. Sooner or later something must be done to reduce that wasted time. The airport company's 20-year vision suggests it will not be moving to make that happen soon.

Jim Hopkins: SPARC boss slams Kiwi critics of low achievement

Don't be be so b@ #%*y negative!" That's the blunt message from New Zealand Sly Performance boss, Dave Casserole, following scathing criticism of our mediocre performance at the high-profile Commonwealth Shames.

In an exclusive interview with the Harold, Mr Casserole has slammed "those whingeing tossers back home who wouldn't know one end of a tiddlywink from the other" after a firestorm of outrage triggered by our disappointing medal tally deluged the media with waves of hostility.

"I'm not a religious man," says Mr Casserole, who has led SPARC (the Sly Performance and Reprehensible Conduct Agency) for 18 months, "but I take comfort from that Biblical injunction, 'Go fourth and multiply'.

"And we have. We've definitely multiplied the number of times we've gone fourth and I'm proud of that. It shows we're on the right track, that's for sure."

Mr Casserole points out that the Shames aren't over yet and there are some pretty big events still to come, including the synchronised fiddling.

"I'm picking we'll do well in that," he says. "Maybe that'll persuade the moaning Minnies to stop howling and start a haka of hope!"

While acknowledging that England goes into the event as gold medal favourites after shock revelations that Tony Blair "sold" House of Lords seats in exchange for huge loans to his ruling Labour Party, Mr Casserole is urging Kiwi fans to keep their peckers up.

"Sure, we've got all the usual suspects, shonky Pacific micro-states, dodgy Caribbean operators ... and, realistically, this Wheat Board bribery shemozzle means you gotta rate the Aussies a chance, but don't rule the Kiwis out.

"Hell, $400,000 from a leader's parliamentary fund cunningly siphoned off to pay for an election pledge card must put us in contention for a medal, wouldn't you say? When it comes to synchronised fiddling, that's right up there. Let's hope the judges see it that way."

Mr Casserole says the Police decision not to prosecute has definitely boosted New Zealand's chances in one of the Commonwealth Shames' glamour events.

"It's great news," he says. "The team's thrilled to see the rozzers have stuck to their gums and whacked it out of court."

According to the hard-bitten, straight-talking SPARC boss, "consistency was the thing that troubled us. I mean, when you look at the record - two prima facie cases against Government politicians in the last few years, one involving art fraud and the other assault, and no prosecution in either case - it shouldn't be an issue. Based on past performance, you'd have to give our cops a gold medal for consistency. But you never know, do ya?

"There's always the fear they might have peaked too soon and gone belly up in the straight. So we're chuffed they've dug deep and gone for a threepeat. It'll send a clear message to some of those banana republics out there that New Zealand is a force to be reckoned with!"

Clearly angered by what he describes as "pig-ignorant moaners who'd faint if they got off the couch", Mr Casserole insists, "this country's come a b@ #%*y long way in a B@#%*y short time!

"People should remember what we've achieved. Hell, it wasn't that long ago when our biggest successes in this field were a $40 parking ticket and an $80 pair of underpants, plus a late-night dinner with Kevin Roberts. That kind of footling stuff used to be big news. And it wasn't bad for a small country but it wasn't internationally competitive.

"Well, you can't say that now. Not since the Gummint's started taking our reputation in this area seriously. Look at some of our recent high achievers; Ross Armstrong racking up $500,000 on the expense account dash, a world record $200,000,000 toss over at the Wananga, ministers lying to the media, ministers misleading Parliament, ministers falsifying documents, you name it.

"The result is that New Zealanders in their thousands have enjoyed the exhilarating spectacle of watching 10 ministers - that's b@

&*y near a whole All Black team, mate - either jump, leap, dive or get shot put right out of Cabinet. If that's not a gold-medal performance, I don't know what is!

"Tell you what, there's plenty of competitors at these Shames who'd kill for a record like that, although I don't expect our lemon-lipped critics to agree. They'd grizzle if Pharmac put steroids on prescription, wouldn't they?

"The bottom line is, you'll never please some people. I guess even John Major had his critics back in the sleazy days when half his cabinet was either bonking the au pair or doing dodgy deals with foreign gun runners, but I reckon we can hold our heads up low at these Shames.

"In terms of sly performance, we've already achieved a personal best and my message to the world is, 'Bring it on. You ain't seen Taito Philip Field yet!"'

Fortunately, at this point, the interview was concluded so Mr Casserole could handle a growing scandal involving two male cyclists and a female athlete.

"Don't quote me, but I'm picking gold," grinned the gutsy SPARC boss as he rushed from the room.

Te Radar: Planning for the apocalypse beats the banalities of taxes, sex and the haka

I am, at present, rejoicing in the fact that I believe we may be living in The End Times. This era seems a distinct possibility now that the theocracies currently in control of the world's newest nuclear foes, Iran and the United States, both have within their ruling cliques those who believe that only through a fiery Armageddon can the return of their respective messiahs be achieved.

It should come as no surprise that this is rather more of a preoccupation for me than whether an MP falsified tax documents, whether we're boring the world with our haka, or the increasingly explicit details of certain policemen's sexual predilections.

Personally, I thought misleading the Tax Department was a prerequisite of good corporate governance. Perhaps I've been reading the wrong books on successful New Zealand businesses.

Of late, however, I have been enticed by literature of a rather more lurid nature than tales of tax minimisation schemes. This, too, is fatiguing.

Despite being one of the more prurient people I know even I'm weary of the voyeuristic explicitness of a certain rape trial featuring members of our constabulary. Even conservative news agencies' reportage of events are beginning to resemble Penthouse Forum.

Thankfully the Aussies distracted us from this sordid affair by complaining about our overuse of the haka. Oddly, in the resulting furore, no one bothered to ask whether "Ka Mate" is the most appropriate national haka.

Its creator, Te Rauparaha, could be described as a genocidal maniac, whose actions caused the deaths and dislocations of many thousands of people as he rampaged around the country.

I won't go so far as to say that. What I will suggest is that it must be particularly galling for descendants of his victims to be reminded of his antics every time the All Blacks play, too much booze is consumed by Kiwis abroad or, as is presently the case, a New Zealand competitor manages to complete a Commonwealth Games event.

So, it is with great delight that my preparations for the apocalypse are occupying my time, although to date my precautions consist solely of the wearing of spectacles. These not only aid my vision, but also provide useful protection from the consequences of an apocalyptic situation.

Should such an event occur there will no doubt be a lot of apocalyptic detritus flying about, including shattered masonry, splinters of glass, and shards of broken children.

With our health system already stretched, one can scarcely imagine what it will be like in a post-apocalyptic world. Any form of eye injury will no doubt lead to my blindness. Rats will then chew off my manhood, and I will have to endure the mocking laughter of street urchins as they prod sharpened lengths of reinforcing iron into the suppurating wound where my manhood used to be.

When this eventually occurs, I will be ecstatic for no other reason than that it will provide a fitting diversion from the banalities of MPs' fiddled tax returns, cultural cringe and tales of police officers' menage a trois.

Brian Rudman: The BUS is DUE, so expect a short DLY

Auckland City Council bureaucrats have a sense of humour after all. How droll of them to choose April Fool's Day to palm off the city's misleadingly labelled Real Time Passenger Information System to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (Arta).

From my experience, this $6.9 million electronic noticeboard system is about as accurate at predicting bus arrival times as the sports experts were in predicting our medal count at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. As for the token price of $1, it sounds rather expensive.

Each time the indicator board at the bus stop outside TVNZ on Victoria St misleads me with unreal information, I'm reminded of a trip down Dominion Rd I took as a cub reporter a hundred years ago.

In the driving seat of his Morris 1100 was new and eager-to-please MP Jonathan Hunt, and alongside him, playing havoc with the new-fangled hydrolastic suspension, was the large Labour Party leader, Norman Kirk.

I was in the back with veteran Auckland MP Norman Douglas, Norm hanging on for grim life, in those pre-seatbelt days, from the leather strap attached to the door frame.

After we'd dashed through the third intersection in, shall we say, a most adventurous way, a grinning Kirk turned to ashen-faced Douglas and declared how much he loved the way Auckland decorated its intersections with flashing coloured lights.

"One day," he quipped, "you Aucklanders might even discover a way of using them to control the traffic."

I live in hope that on some similar eureka day the electronic sign boards at our bus stops will finally predict accurately the comings and goings of our bus fleet.

Until that glorious time, it's alarming to read reports that Arta plans to expand this flawed system throughout the region.

Surely, the priority should be to fix the existing set-up.

Wednesday was a good example. The 005 I was heading to work in was almost alongside the Ponsonby bus shelter when the woman within erupted in a flurry of waving arms and falling bags. Luckily, the driver took pity and leaped on the anchors. Red faced, she flustered aboard, loudly apologising, "Sorry, the board said you were 12 minutes off".

That evening it happened to me on the way home. The electronic board said the 004 would be there in three minutes, the Link in 13 minutes. As I looked away, both the 004 and a Link bus hove into view. This was better than the day before when I arrived at the stop to read the 004 and Links were both "DUE", which in sign lingo means less than one minute away. I can catch either, but the Link involves a five-minute walk at the other end, so lazily, when the Link turned up first, I ignored it for the still DUE 004. Ten minutes on, the 004 changed from DUE to the dreaded DLY, which in sign talk means "disappeared off the face of the Earth". I was left wishing I'd got the long-gone Link - next one 15 minutes.

My research is hardly scientific, but over the past weeks I have been scribbling down these real-time incidents. Monday the 13th, for example, I arrive at the stop just ahead of a 004 to read it's not due in real time for eight minutes. Wednesday the 15th, Link due in 13 minutes but arrives a minute later.

It's the DLYs that really bug me. How can a real-time system slowly count down the minutes until your bus is about to crest the brow of Hobson St, then suddenly declare it's gone missing? Is there a great taniwha in Queen St that swallows them up?

Auckland City awarded the real-time contract to Saab ITS in March 2002. Two years later, council officials claimed they'd got an initial "missing service" error rate of up to 30 per cent down to 3 to 4 per cent. But an independent audit by Parsons Brinckerhoff concluded that the system should have to continue "to run with far fewer issues" before council proceeded to stage two. Despite the warning, politicians voted to move with stages two and three, spreading the signage throughout the city.

Now it's Arta's turn to spread it regionwide. Mark Lambert, Arta's manager of passenger transport development, acknowledges "there are a number of issues which are affecting the accuracy which we are working on" but says the "core system" is fine.

Until buses turn up when the signs say, I will find that hard to believe.

Graham Reid: Night train to Venice a snore

The night train from Paris to Venice was about to leave when I heard the noise in the corridor outside my sleeper: loud American voices and the banging of baggage against the carriage walls.

A woman carrying a small child and a large suitcase, and an older woman who was obviously her mother, appeared at my door. The older woman was also laden with luggage.

They hauled their heavy cases inside and only then spotted me sitting in the corner. They were alarmed. This was a six-bed sleeper and they assumed they would have it to themselves. I explained that I too had a ticket for this compartment.

They looked aggrieved but came in anyway and tried to heft their cases on to the rack above. I offered to help but they declined. They struggled, succeeded, then slumped on to the bunk opposite.

The husband appeared at the door. He was a big man dragging two huge suitcases, each the size of a tea chest. He also had one of those baby strollers the size of a VW which, when folded down as it now was, looked like a small motorcycle. He also had a baby's car seat.

He manfully dragged all these objects into the tiny compartment while his wife explained my presence. He was annoyed. He'd paid for privacy he thought, but I waved my ticket and told him this was how things worked on European trains.

But they would not be defeated by such customs. While his wife and mother-in-law with baby in tow went off to find a French porter and ask for new accommodation, the big weary man slumped down and we talked.

They came from Pennsylvania and had left from New York a few days previous. They had spent two days in Paris and he hadn't enjoyed it.

Their character-filled hotel hadn't had a decent lift and they had been on the third floor - "which of course isn't, it's the fourth," he said - because in the States the ground floor is considered the first.

He'd had to haul most of their luggage up the stairs because it wouldn't fit in the lift and he would be having a word to his travel agent at home who had recommended it.

It had been awkward getting around by Metro so they'd had to use taxis everywhere and they were expensive, the Louvre had been too big and too crowded, the food wasn't as good as they had expected - and last night a guy had held him up with a knife and demanded money.

Now they were going to Venice and would hire a car and drive around. "That explains the baby's car seat," I said. Yeah, he'd been told they didn't have them in Europe.

Then I mentioned they couldn't drive in Venice, it was a city of canals.

Yeah, but he'd seen photos and they also had streets. I agreed, but asked if he'd seen any cars on them.

Things were unravelling and I felt sorry for him. The holiday had been his wife's idea. She returned and some conversation ensued. The porter had said he would see what he could do.

The big man said he'd go talk to him as well. I said I'd watch their bags but they declined and hauled the whole sorry caravan of cases, car seat, pram and handbags into the corridor and away. They didn't return.

The following morning in Venice I saw them on the platform of Santa Lucia station, their mountain of bags before them.

I went up and said I was pleased things had worked out for them and hoped they would enjoy their time in Venice before going back to Paris.

He grimaced. It had been his first time out of the States, he said, and he doubted he'd do it again.

I got the impression his wife and mother-in-law had done the packing.

Oh, did I mention how long they were going to be away from home? "A fortnight all up," he told me.

Peter Griffin: Ricky Gervais the podcast king

The hot new word in the tech world last year was "podcast". Well, the Oxford University Press seemed to think so. It actually named podcast the most significant new word of 2005.

It seemed like anyone with an internet connection and something to say got into podcasting last year. Even George W. Bush had a go.

Podcasts - or recordings of audio content downloadable to the computers and portable music players of listeners - started out as free bonus material given away to supplement TV shows, massage egos or accommodate the overflow of radio babble.

For the first year, everyone struggled to build a business model that would make podcasting eventually pay. Yet no one managed to come up with a podcast attractive enough to have web surfers reach for their credit cards in sufficient numbers.

Who would have thought the fledgling premium market would have been given its biggest boost by an overweight, middle-aged British comedian?

That's right, Ricky Gervais - creator of the hugely successful TV show The Office - is now the podcast king, credited with bringing podcasting to the mainstream with his downloadable programme, The Ricky Gervais Show (link below).

The podcasts of the show, which has Gervais, his writing partner Stephen Merchant and eccentric producer Karl Pilkington engaged in inane but hilarious conversation for half an hour at a time, emerged in December as a sort of experiment by the Guardian newspaper.

Incidentally, with Guardian Unlimited, the paper has one of the best free news websites in the world.

Posted on the Guardian site and available free for download, the episodes were so popular that by February they had been downloaded two million times. Downloads have now passed the three million mark.

On average, each episode was downloaded 261,000 times, meaning more people were downloading Gervais' show than buying chart-topping CD singles. Gervais was on to another winner and comedy was again his weapon. Gervais is now in the Guinness Book of Records for creating the most popular podcast ever.

After completing the first season of 12 episodes and taking stock of the record-breaking download figures, Gervais and his cohorts decided to make the second series of the show premium content.

Obviously the new shows aren't as heavily downloaded, but they're still the best-selling podcasts in the world.

The episodes top the sales on the iTunes store, where they sell for 95 pence ($2.65) per episode or £3.75 for a series subscription. It's also number one at audible.com, the website that specialises in downloadable audio books and podcasts.

What started out as a bit of fun to keep Gervais' profile up while he develops a second series of his comedy TV show Extras has quickly turned into a thriving business venture.

Now it seems that Britain's radio deejays and comedians are salivating at the prospect of mirroring his success.

While The Ricky Gervais Show is the only major British comedy podcast to take the subscription route, there's fierce competition among radio deejays and comedians battling it out in free download territory.

Most are not tailor-made for podcasting, but consist of the best clips from a week of radio deejay shows. That's certainly the case for popular Virgin Radio deejay Christian O'Connell (www.virginradio.co.uk/djsshows/shows/breakfast/podcast.hyml) who supplements his 30-minute, best-of podcast each week with some unbroadcast content.

His rival at the BBC, Radio 1's breakfast host Chris Moyles (link below) has delved into podcasts with weekly highlights of his own radio chat show.

But at BritPod.com a panel of hosts engage in comedic chat specifically for podcast.

There's also Comedy 365, which has now racked up more than a million podcast downloads and delivers a mix of dirty jokes and humorous banter several times a week.

The trend is mirrored in the United States where the Onion Radio News (www.theonion.com/content/radionews) and The Dawn and Drew Show are two of the better comedy podcasts available for free download.

For some reason, comedy seems to be ideally suited to the podcast format. These podcasts are generally brief - 20 to 30 minutes long, which equates to 20 to 30 megabytes as an MP3 download.

At that size the download isn't too much of a strain on your broadband connection but the programme is long enough to last the morning commute to work and hopefully funny enough to have you arriving at work in a good mood.

Gervais, a self-confessed luddite, is now working on having his show formatted so it can be downloaded as a podcast to mobile smartphones such as Pocket PC devices and Palm Treo.

Stock takes: Rolling in it

Usually the adage "too much of a good thing" doesn't apply to money. But it seems the past few years have been so sweet for Fletcher Building that it can't spend its cash fast enough.

At ABN Amro's "New Zealand day" in Sydney this month, chief executive Ralph Waters told the Aussie brokers that if the company couldn't find something to buy in the next 12 months it would have to start looking at "capital management".

That's a subtle way of saying the company might have to look at a special dividend or some other form of return to shareholders.

Waters went on to say he preferred "not to think about this, as we'd really much rather buy something".

Hmmmm ... could be a few shareholders out there will be hoping that no tempting opportunities cross his path in the next 12 months.

In his report about the day - at which ABN offers New Zealand's blue-chip companies the opportunity to talk their book - Mark Lister notes that Fletcher Building has taken on about $1.6 billion of acquisitions since December 2003. Despite that, cashflows have been so strong that the debt-to-equity ratio has fallen from 48.4 per cent to 40.9 per cent.


Old brother Hubbard

The emperor of Timaru, Allan Hubbard (no relation to Mayor Dick), was in the action this week moving and shaking with a stand in the market for 19.9 per cent of Hirequip.

Despite being 70-something, Hubbard - whom the NBR Rich List values at $400 million - is a director of nearly 230 companies (according to the Companies Office website). That's an incredible number, even though many of them are farm, tiny Timaru-based businesses and holding companies. Clearly, he has no plans for a leisurely retirement.

Hubbard has, however, done a great job of avoiding the stock exchange. None of his directorships are for listed companies - although his biggest firm, South Canterbury Finance, talked up a float before pulling the plug late last year.


Time for a breather

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare shares have been riding the low dollar wave to new highs in the past couple of weeks. They hit $4.09 yesterday before dropping back to close at $4. "Time for a breather," says Goldman Sachs JBWere in a research report. The broker has lowered its short-term recommendation from "outperform" to "market perform" and gives it a valuation of $3.90.

"The innovative export company's share price now fully incorporates the value associated with underlying growth and a depreciating currency," writes analyst Marcus Curley.

It is important to note that since writing the report, Goldman Sachs has further dropped its full-year outlook for the kiwi - but the point is still a good one. It is entirely possible for the market to get ahead of itself on export stocks, opening up the possibility of some short-term risk. If the US dollar dips suddenly, the kiwi could suddenly bounce back up.

But the news is not all good for exporters. Most of them, particularly manufacturers who need to import raw materials, will face rapidly increasing costs in the short term as the kiwi's buying power diminishes.


Endangered species

Now that Graeme Hart has control of Carter Holt Harvey there must be a few nervous executives down at the leafy green head office in Manukau. Hart famously shocked the Australian business community when he got control of Goodman Fielder in 2002. He didn't just downsize head office - he got rid of it. About 500 staff were gone within weeks of the takeover.

The cheery billionaire has a tendency to trust his Rank Group and their professional advisers to look after the big picture. He'll be making sure that CHH's various operations around the country all have good managers in place. That will leave him looking closely at what it is that head office staff actually do - and where they need to be to do. Situated in the heart of Manukau City, the expansive head office grounds must be worth millions.

And as the good Brian Gaynor once pointed out, CHH has one of the highest ratios of staff earning $100,000 plus for the size of its annual revenue.


Marginal play

Interestingly there is still plenty of trading going on in CHH shares. They closed at $2.72 yesterday as some focused money-movers looked to make plays on margins related to how long it will take Hart to mop up and pay the outstanding shareholders.

During the bid, he threatened to make the hold-outs wait the full 30 something days for their money.

Of course, there is a risk for the sellers that Hart was just talking tough. Now he has control, he'll want to get it delisted quickly so he can start work on it.


Tenon malaise

Speaking of forestry companies, it is interesting to see just how spectacularly the falling dollar has failed to boost the fortunes of Tenon.

The former Fletcher Forests did see a small rise this month as the dollar started dropping, but a lot of that is down to a share buyback.

The prospect of improving returns as its US dollar earnings come back to this country has done little to move the stock from its long-term malaise.


Good on ya, cobber

In a business world cluttered with jargon and bumph, it's always refreshing to deal with a straight talker like Briscoe's Aussie boss Rod Duke.

Okay, so the press release that accompanied the strong half-year result last week quoted him as saying: "Despite the general view of a slowing retail environment we are positive about the ensuing year ..." etc etc.

But when you actually get him on the phone, his take on matters is more in the "Mad Butcher" style:

"... even since Christmas some of the other competitors have said it's been crook. Well, not with me, mate. I'm actually doing okay."

And then (not that he's naming any big red competitors in particular): "We just get a sense that customers are no longer looking for cheap, poor-quality rubbish." Maybe they should get rid of that Briscoe woman and let Duke front the TV ads.


The bad old days

Great to the see the 1980s fashion revival boosting profits at Hallenstein Glasson.

Apparently every teenage boy in the country has bought a polo shirt there in past six months (you know, like the ones with the little crocodile on them).

The 80s revival has been gathering pace in the business community for a while. For starters, Allan "The Hawk" Hawkins and Rod Petricevic are back in the news.

But looking even further forward, some other listed companies are likely to benefit from the look. Gold jewellery and ear rings for men were big in the 80s so that has got to be good for Michael Hill ... and hasn't there always been something a little bit 1980s about that guy? Leg warmers, track suit bottoms and aerobics in general were also huge ... so step forward Rebel Sport. And may be Telecom should cash in with a range of giant retro-cellphones.

Of course, the sharemarket had a dream run in the 80s - well mostly. Let's hope the revival never gets past 1986.

Joel Cayford: Levies the way to fix Auckland transport

Ministry of Transport road pricing proposals have again focused attention on how to fund Auckland transport, who should pay, and what is top priority.

Visiting Deloitte's experts say that with the best will in the world, Auckland can't expect revenue from road toll or area cordon systems for at least five years. Experts also advise against such road pricing schemes where public transport alternatives are inadequate.

There is only one conclusion. Auckland needs to make public transport investment its top transport priority now - whether road pricing is implemented or not - and bridge the funding gap.

Earlier this month, Auckland Regional Council announced a $700 million gap between Auckland's public transport funding needs over the next 10 years and what the council could afford through reasonable rates and returns from the Ports of Auckland.

This gap could be met if the Auckland Regional Council imposed a compounding 17 per cent rate increase for each of the next 10 years, or by selling the port.

Neither of these options would be accepted by the public. Nor, it seems, would more fuel taxes.

There is a popular myth that Auckland motorists already pay their way and that the Government should not divert fuel taxes into the consolidated fund.

Although greater transparency in fuel tax expenditure would be appreciated, motorists need to bear in mind the enormous subsidies that make using the car so cheap relative to public transport.

National statistics put the cost of road accidents in New Zealand at $3.4 billion a year, with a road fatality costing $2.84 million at June 2004 values.

At 4 per cent of GDP, this puts our country at the OECD high end, almost double the British figure. This cost is carried by everybody, not just motorists.

Cheap parking is another huge subsidy. In Auckland, most parking charges do not equate to the actual cost of providing a central-city car park, which is conservatively estimated at $7500 a year based on average primary rental rates for commercial land.

The Ministry of Transport is to be commended for including the simple technology of parking levies among its other more technically complex road pricing proposals.

Parking levies rate well as a revenue-earning tool and could be implemented relatively easily.

Many cities throughout the world, including Melbourne, charge an annual levy on commuter car parks to fund public transport systems.

Levy revenue would go a long way towards meeting the costs of new vehicles, drivers, diesel, and maintenance as new bus, train and ferry services are rolled out.

For example, a nominal parking levy of $1000 a year on commuter car parks would raise $50 million a year to devote to better, bus, ferry and train services that would benefit Auckland, Henderson, Takapuna and Manukau city centres, and reduce congestion on surrounding roads.

Although such a scheme would go some way to meeting Auckland's public transport funding gap, considerable funds are needed for capital investment.

A regional infrastructure levy on development could be put in place easily through a small change to the Local Government Act.

Between $10 million and $70 million could be raised each year from this source for public transport projects. The basic legislation is in place and the collection mechanism exists.

For the past two years, city councils throughout the country have been empowered to collect local developer levies that fund city infrastructure.

A charge is made on each new housing unit as a contribution to the cost of additional infrastructure that includes water, wastewater and stormwater pipes, and roads.

On the North Shore, development levies range between $10,000 and $20,000 for each housing unit, depending on location. Greenfield sites demand more new infrastructure but sites within built-up areas can be connected to existing services.

This same system should be applied to regional passenger transport systems and perhaps to regional state highways constructed to accommodate growth.

For example, the northern busway is needed to accommodate demand from greenfield development at Albany, and rail extensions are needed for the increase in commuters from the west and south.

Yet the costs of these projects are borne by all ratepayers and taxpayers - not those giving rise to the demand.

City councils could collect regional development levies at the same time as city development levies payable when a building consent is issued.

Getting the economics of transport right will go further than funding public transport - it will also be fundamental for implementing Auckland's growth strategy.

Perverse incentives such as cheap car parking and cheap motoring, and everybody subsidising growth-related infrastructure will only perpetuate the status quo.

If we want to be in a different place in the future we need to change direction now. Parking levies and regional development levies would be a good start.

* Joel Cayford is chairman of the ARC transport policy committee and the Auckland regional land transport committee.

Terry Carson: Ignore justice at our peril

It is rare to read an article by a lawyer about a legal topic that avoids the use of the word justice.

However, Catriona MacLennan in her article on the Domestic Violence Act has managed it.

In decrying the falling numbers of temporary protection orders issuing from the Family Court she, in effect, asks for standards in the Family Court to be lowered so more orders can be made.

This approach ignores important justice considerations.

The Family Court is foremost a court of justice.

The fundamental principle that underpins all civilised legal systems is that no one should have a court order made against them without first being informed of the allegations made against them and being given an opportunity to be heard.

It follows that any departure from this rule, such as applies in the case of temporary protection orders, should be approached with caution and only be permitted in truly urgent and appropriate cases.

The effect of a temporary protection order on its recipient is immediate and serious.

The man (to follow Ms MacLennan's gendered approach) who kissed his partner goodbye at 8am can find that by 5pm he has been barred from his home with only the clothes he stands up in.

Any attempt, however innocuous, to contact his partner or children can see him arrested without warrant and placed in police custody.

He may then be prosecuted and face a term of imprisonment.

All this can come about on the unchallenged affidavit testimony of a partner with whom he may have been in marital discord for many months.

It is not surprising that any responsible court of law that has such potentially draconian powers to interfere with a subject's liberty without first giving notice to or hearing from that person, might wish to exercise the power cautiously.

The Family Court is also well aware that not all applicants for temporary protection orders are completely reliable with the truth.

Using temporary protection orders to gain the advantage of the possession of a property and to complicate and drag out disputes over childcare are unfortunately all too common.

At the Child and Youth Law Conference in April 2004, Family Court Judge Jan Doogue said she and other Family Court judges had no doubt that in some cases a temporary protection order was being used as a "weapon".

The judge also referred to the difficulties faced by some children who were prevented by a temporary protection order from having beneficial contact with the absent parent.

Ms MacLennan expressed surprise that the fact that a woman was in a refuge was not regarded as sufficient by some judges to prove that an urgent protection order was necessary.

I acted for a young man who was served with a temporary protection order after his former girlfriend went to a women's refuge.

It turned out he had never been violent and had not had any contact with the former girlfriend for some months.

She had been living with her mother who had thrown her out after getting tired of babysitting for days on end while her daughter partied.

The young woman had lied to get into the refuge and later had no compunction in repeating the lies in her affidavit to get the temporary protection order the refuge had insisted on.

Justice finally prevailed at some expense to the innocent young man.

Clearly there is a need to ensure that any person suffering domestic violence receives proper protection.

The Domestic Violence Act already contains wide definitions of what constitutes domestic violence.

In clear and serious cases a well-drafted application will usually secure a temporary protection order.

There will always be borderline cases where a judge will wish to hear both sides of the story before making an order that significantly affects the fundamental civil rights of one of the parties.

Such an approach is entirely consistent with the function of a proper court of law.

The thousands of temporary protection orders made over the past 10 years do not seem to have made any real impact upon domestic violence in our community.

It is unlikely that making more orders against men, where the evidence has not clearly proved them to be violent, will alter that situation.

It will, however, increase the numbers suffering injustice and will lower respect for the Family Court.

* Terry Carson is a barrister and solicitor who has practised in the field of family law for 35 years.