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New Zealand Herald

Wife Drowns - Economy Surges - America’s Cup Defence - Tax Plug - Union Blackmail- Man Attacked - Liquor Sting - Bulk Fund Gps - Bentley Investigation - Immigration Law - Motorway Hazards - Jim’s Bank

WIFE DROWNS: In Tutkaka Astrid Malcolm took secret scuba diving lessons in the waters near the Poor Knights Islands to surprise her husband. She told Aussie Malcolm, immigration consultant and a former National Party cabinet minister, about her passion barely a month ago.

ECONOMY SURGES: The economy ended 1999 at the gallop, posting its second successive quarter of rip-roaring growth. Gross domestic product, a measure of the output of goods and services, grew 2.2 per cent in the last three months of the year, showing that the September quarter's 2.5 per cent growth was no flash in the pan.

AMERICA’S CUP DEFENCE: Talks between the old and new guard in the America's Cup defence were delicately poised last night, with the dispute hanging on the multimillion-dollar price for Team New Zealand boats and assets. Sponsors were eagerly awaiting developments, saying they wanted to continue their involvement but that would be subject to negotiations.

TAX PLUG: The Government has put a 5 per cent tax on early withdrawals from employer-funded superannuation schemes to plug a loophole opened by its 39 per cent top tax rate. The "fund withdrawal tax" will apply unless those making the withdrawals are leaving their jobs or need the money because of hardship.

UNION BLACKMAIL: Cereal king Dick Hubbard feels bitten by the hands he has been feeding. The man who pushes messages of social responsibility in business along with his flakes believes he has been singled out for his high profile and "blackmailed" by unionists in a dispute at his Mangere factory.

MAN ATTACKED: A faulty central locking system meant Shane Norton's car was no protection against a band of thugs who hauled him from the car in downtown Auckland and pulverised his face. Mr Norton and his wife, Lianne, yesterday spoke out about the vicious, unprovoked attack in Fort St three weeks ago in the wake of a second assault that has left a city waiter fighting for his life in Auckland Hospital. Police are investigating

LIQUOR STING - In Wellington a "very young-looking" 18-year-old woman bought alcohol from six out of eight Wellington region supermarkets she approached without being asked for age identification. The teenager was part of an undercover sting mounted by Regional Public Health, evidence from which was presented to the Liquor Licensing Authority yesterday.

BULK FUND GPS: The Government has revealed plans to bulk-fund general practitioners based on the number and health of their patients instead of paying for each visit. Health Minister Annette King yesterday released a discussion document recommending major changes to the way doctors are organised. The Future Shape

BENTLEY INVESTIGATION: In Ashburton Kirsty Bentley's family say they felt they were on trial as police investigated her murder. As the $50,000 reward period nears expiry, Kirsty's mother, Jill Bentley, yesterday criticised the manner of officers on the case.

IMMIGRATION LAW: A special law will be passed to give a stay of execution to a group of young New Zealanders under threat of automatically losing their citizenship without their knowledge. A 22-year-old New Zealander has already become persona non grata.

SUPER CITY: A super city to serve the Auckland region is again being mooted as a way to meet the challenges posed by growth. The proposal is one of seven floated yesterday for public debate by the Auckland Mayoral Forum.

TRAFFIC JAMS: Auckland City Council has come up with a tax and spend proposal to beat traffic congestion. Ratepayers will be asked if they would pay a little extra to go into a special public transport fund.

MOTORWAY HAZARDS: Road planners can do nothing about one of the hazards on the Northwestern Motorway - the sun's orbit is a little out of their area. Sunstrike is a factor slowing the daily run from points west to and from the city, but mainly it comes down to the basic problem with Auckland's other main arteries - too many vehicles.

JIM’S BANK: Jim Anderton's proposed bank - known affectionately, he says, as "Jimmy's Bank" - could reinvent the Post Office Savings Bank that was a fixture of a previous era. Reinventing the wheel is not always a bad idea, particularly if new technology has proved unsatisfactory for some. New Zealand Post, the highly successful state company forged from the Post Office, found some years ago that there was a gap in the market for counter services. For all the convenience of telephone banking, Eftpos and automatic teller machines, some people still preferred to pay their accounts in person. Since then post shops have been profitably providing counter services for various billing and cash-handling operations, including those of several insurance companies and banks. When the Alliance leader first suggested

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