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New Zealand Herald

Student Loans – Train Crash – East Timor – Incis – Values Study – Nurses Prescribing – Terminator Gene – Problem Gambling – Intellectual Incarceration – Bus Strike – Waitakere Row – Editoral On Politics

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STUDENT LOANS: The Government is considering last-minute changes to the student loans scheme in a bid to defuse one of its biggest election campaign handicaps. A background paper prepared for the Minister for Tertiary Education, Max Bradford, shows National is weighing up the cost of lowering interest rates for students a year earlier than planned.

TRAIN CRASH: Rescuers predict the death toll from the collision of two packed commuter trains near Paddington could be as many as 90. They resumed their search of the wreckage last night (NZT) and almost immediately found a body, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 27.

TRAIN CRASH:Graham and Wendy Bentley were asleep in their home in Lowry Bay, Wellington, at 3.15 am yesterday when they got the phone call from London. Their son Brendon, aged 24, was in hospital - a survivor of the horrific crash near Paddington Station about seven hours earlier.

EAST TIMOR: One of our top soldiers has been made a brigadier in East Timor and given the command of Dili. Brigadier Martyn Dunne, commander of New Zealand's forces in the province, will be responsible for the security of Dili, including facilities such as the airfield and port, and for forces assigned to him. He will also formally accept into Dili the international forces entering East Timor.

INCIS: Computer giant IBM is suing the Crown for more than $75 million over the failed police Incis computer system. Papers filed in the High Court at Wellington show IBM is seeking $75 million and court costs in compensation for losses it says it sustained from the project.

VALUES STUDY: A study into New Zealanders' values has found confidence in politicians is at an all-time low and many people might not bother voting this year. Fifteen years ago half of us were bursting with confidence in our Government, but that figure has dropped to 16 per cent.

NURSES PRESCRIBING: Doctors fear more people will die from wrong treatment when nurses are allowed to independently prescribe drugs, possibly including morphine. Parliament has now passed the Medicines Amendment Bill, which aims to give nurses, pharmacists and other health workers the independent prescribing rights now held by doctors and, to a lesser extent, by dentists and midwives.

TERMINATOR GENE: Monsanto's decision not to commercialise technology that makes plants sterile is a relief to New Zealand arable farmers, who feared it could eventually be introduced here. The concept of a terminator gene was "something of a concern to all farmers," the national grain council chairman of Federated Farmers, Neil Barton, said yesterday.

PROBLEM GAMBLING: Thousands of people with serious gambling problems are seeking help for the first time, as the gaming industry pumps millions into counselling services. Figures released by the Problem Gambling Purchasing Agency yesterday showed nearly 2000 new callers used the gambling telephone helpline between January and August.

INTELLECTUAL INCARCERATION: Support groups have condemned a Government plan to lock up some intellectually disabled people considered dangerous. "This is going to cause re-institutionalisation," said Justice Action Group convener Colin Burgering yesterday.

BUS STRIKE: More transport disruption faces Aucklanders tomorrow with Stagecoach bus drivers planning another possible strike in the morning peak hours. Up to 300 drivers may strike from 7 am, although their employer is trying to whittle down the number by extending a financial sweetener to sign a new employment contract.

WAITAKERE ROW: Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey is siding with environmentalists against his own council in the escalating dispute over housing in the Waitakere Ranges. The Waitakere Ranges Protection Society has asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, to investigate the way the Waitakere City Council is handling its environmental responsibilities.

EDITORIAL – POLITICS: This week a few members of Parliament hear what their colleagues really think of them. Those not standing again at the election receive, from allies and opponents, tributes that can all be distilled to one unspoken truth - that beneath their political differences MPs know each other to be human beings striving for the national good. It is a rare moment of recognition before the House is dissolved and the parties descend into the ritual antagonism of an election campaign. It is a moment worth taking. Among the departing this time are several MPs of long standing, Sir Douglas Graham, John Banks, Christine Fletcher, Denis Marshall, Roger Maxwell, Jack Elder, Larry Sutherland, Peter McCardle, and one of very long service, Sir William Birch. His contribution to government not only spanned 25 years but has seemed in recent times essential to economic stability. It certainly seemed so when his career-long companion, Jim Bolger, was toppled as Prime Minister and the usurper quickly ensured that Bill Birch would stay at the Finance post.

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