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New Zealand Herald

Cocaine Bust – Gang Gun – Tennis Queen – Weather Buoy – Electricity Report – Screwdriver Gang – National Caucus – MMP – INCIS – Hawkesby – HFA – Waitangi – Japanese Whaling

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COCAINE BUST: Two New Zealanders are in custody after police intercepted the biggest shipment of cocaine seized in Australia. Yesterday's seizure of 500kg of Colombian cocaine came after an 18-month, multinational, multi-agency operation including satellite tracking of a yacht as it sailed from New Zealand.

GANG GUN: Police investigating the death of a gang associate in South Auckland say the weapon used was a tiny, prohibited semi-automatic pistol which may have been smuggled into the country. As police went over the Tribesmen gang's Papatoetoe house for evidence yesterday, a gang member charged with murder tried unsuccessfully to plead guilty to the charge.

TENNIS QUEEN: "Don't mention the 'A' words" was the edict when tennis great Steffi Graf arrived in Auckland yesterday for exhibition matches. The potential offenders were "Andre" and "Agassi." At a tightly controlled press conference, journalists had to agree before the star entered that no nasty or curly questions would be asked about the high-profile love affair between two of the world's best tennis players.

WEATHER BUOY: The AmericaOne team worried that someone would sabotage the New Zealand-made weather buoy they have been using in the middle of the America's Cup course in the Hauraki Gulf. The $250,000 buoy, owned by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa), has been badly damaged by vandals who removed covers, cut wiring and smashed solar panels.

ELECTRICITY REPORT: Power bills would drop by an average of 10 per cent if line companies were made more efficient, says a report by Ernst & Young. The report, released just days before the Government unveils an inquiry by former Labour cabinet minister David Caygill into the electricity sector, said charges nationwide could fall by $70 million.

SCREWDRIVER GANG: The Screwdriver Gang wants to enjoy a few more moments of freedom before its members consider surrender. The gang members - alleged bank robbers John Koteka, Elder Brown and Paul Tipene - have been evading police since the first heist on December 29.

NATIONAL CAUCUS: National will zero in on a handful of Coalition ministers it sees as weak, inexperienced, error-prone or overconfident when Parliament resumes next week. But the major Opposition party will steer away from the Prime Minister, acknowledging that targeting Helen Clark is pointless, given her strong and decisive performance so far.

MMP: The Prime Minister wants the select committee reviewing MMP to be bipartisan, but there is trouble over who should chair it. Helen Clark believes the Speaker, Jonathan Hunt, "has all the skills to do the job."

INCIS: The Government feared that the taxpayer bill for the Incis commission of inquiry, scrapped yesterday in favour of a one-man investigation, would skyrocket to $7 million. More than $500,000 was spent on the inquiry in its preliminary stages as against the one-man probe that is expected to cost $200,000.

HAWKESBY: The multimillion-dollar payout dispute between newsreader John Hawkesby and Television New Zealand will go to court this Friday - but neither party is saying if the case will be argued in public. The exact amount of the controversial compensation deal - understood to be $5.8 million - has not been divulged since it was awarded to Hawkesby by a private arbitrator.

HFA: Another Health Funding Authority chief is about to leave as the Coalition Government's health changes gather speed, fuelling fears of a widespread flight of expertise from the sector. Sally Wilkinson, appointed last June, will finish her $240,000-a-year job as interim chief executive on Friday week, 18 days before the end of her contract.

WAITANGI: Waitangi marae chairman Kingi Taurua is refusing to lift a ban on veteran activist Titewhai Harawira attending Waitangi Day commemorations. Mr Taurua and marae trustees recently barred Mrs Harawira from attending this Sunday's event because of her stance on speaking rights for Maori women.

JAPANESE WHALING: The Government seems set for a continuing standoff with Japan over whaling. The diplomatic dispute between the two countries, over what Japan calls its scientific whaling programme, saw both Governments trade terse statements yesterday.

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