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National Radio Midday Bulletin

Unemployment Falls - ACC - Petrol Prices - GMO Inquiry - West Coast Development - Austria - Cocaine Bust - HIV Man - Expensive Colt - French Rower Leaves

UNEMPLOYMENT FALLS: Unemployment falls to new low 6.3% in the December quarter. 50,000 new jobs in the last year. The growing economy has absorbed new workers and old workers. Unemployment among Maori has fallen 5% with 17,000 new jobs. Employment Minister Steve Maharey says the improvement is good but not good enough.

ACC: Influence of foreign companies in insurance is being cited as a reason in favour of returning ACC to government ownership. The TUF says that the essence of the ACC scheme is community responsibility and it should be owned in NZ. Earlier Royal and Sun Alliance has said that major savings have been made for employers. Returning to a monopoly situation would create the wrong incentives.

PETROL PRICES: Challenge Petroleum is also raising the cost of petrol by another three cents following all the other oil companies. NZ petrol prices have risen 20 cents a litre.

GMO INQUIRY: An industry group has offered a voluntary moratorium on commercial release of Genetically Modified Organisms while waiting. The NZ Life Scientists network says the group wants the public to debate the issue without having to legislate for a moratorium. A member of the IBAC says the voluntary moratorium is in line with their recommendations. Minister Marion Hobbs will take the offer into account.

WEST COAST DEVELOPMENT: West Coast consultations begin between officials and West Coast leaders. One mayor says his council has 100 suggestions for ideas. One example is a coal-field that wants access granted from the Department of Conservation.

AUSTRIA: With far right poised to join Austrian government the President has asked the far right Freedom Party to sign a declaration of respect for democratic principles. The President says that members of the party have been using language which is unacceptable in a democracy.

COCAINE BUST: Investigations into the biggest cocaine haul in Australasia have extended to London. The arrests come after an 18 month investigation and police say that more inquiries continue. No arrests are imminent but more may follow. Two NZers are among the drug importers

HIV MAN: Discussions are being held over the third escape of a mentally handicapped man Phillip Truscott who has been charged with having unprotected sex with HIV. He escaped last night for three hours.

EXPENSIVE COLT: : The sale of a Zabeel colt for $3.6 million to a Philippines buyer easily tops the previous record of $1.6 million paid for a Zabeel colt two years ago. Business leaders say that this is clear evidence that the thoroughbred industry is a major export earner. The average sale price is up $25,000.

FRENCH ROWER LEAVES: A Frenchman planning to row across the pacific is about to leave now in Wellington - his departure was delayed by bad weather. A very emotional scene on the pier. A blessing by a Kaumatua and a song was followed by a Breton song from the 52-year-old Frenchman. His wife was crying. The man wants to bring attention to the subject of pollution. "This is our planet - we have to take care of it," he said.

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