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Brothers In Welfare – Long flight Home – Polls – Man Bashed – Prison – Birth Choices – Punch Reward – Drive Enzymes – MMP – East Timor – Clark On Uni Fees – Party Police – Taupo Rates – Alliance on Electricity – Editorial: Winston

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BROTHERS IN WELFARE: The Government agency charged with the care of at-risk children was under renewed fire last night, this time over the brother of a teenager taken out to rape by his Mongrel Mob caregiver. The brother has been placed in the care of their sister, who is herself not long out of jail and whose two babies are being looked after by social services.

LONG FLIGHT HOME: No flight on Earth is longer. But the second leg of Air New Zealand flight TE2 from London via Los Angeles overnight will have dragged most for the 19 men who step onto home soil this morning, leaving their dreams half a world away. The luxury of business-class seats will have offered cold comfort to the 18 All Blacks and their coach who dashed the hopes of their fans in their final appearances in the Rugby World Cup.

POLLS: New political polls have brought bad news for the National Party and its ally, Act leader Richard Prebble. Recent surveys had put left and right neck-and-neck, but Labour has opened up a 13-point gap over National in a TV3-CM Research poll released yesterday. Labour's ally, the Alliance, is steady on 7 per cent.

MAN BASHED: An elderly man slashed with a machete and doused in boiling broth by home invaders received two unexpected young visitors to his hospital bedside yesterday. Tracey Aydon and Hinemoa Toko do not know 69-year-old Naenae resident Barry Cholmondeley, but they learned of his plight and wanted to let him know that "not all young teenagers are bad."

PRISON: Doctors say two mentally ill prison inmates stopped taking their medication knowing they would be transferred to a psychiatric unit and collect sickness benefits. Inmates are not normally entitled to Government handouts, but can get the sickness benefit if sent to a psychiatric unit.

BIRTH CHOICES: Six per cent of the women who gave birth by caesarean section at National Women's Hospital in Auckland last year had the operation mainly or solely because they requested it. They comprised 111 of the 1851 women who had caesareans, says the hospital's 1998 clinical report, just made public.

PUNCH REWARD: Taranaki rugby chiefs are weathering a storm of protest after they named a punch as the most memorable moment of their season. Eight judges chose the swing of Taranaki flanker Darryl Fale at the nose of Counties-Manukau flanker Koula Tukino for the honour.

DRIVE ENZYMES: The hungry enzymes in packets of Drive Concentrate laundry powder may be new and improved but they are also eating up more of shoppers' money, says Consumer magazine. It says the powder scoops in Drive, Persil and Surf laundry concentrate are much larger than the old ones, so people may be using much more powder without realising it.

MMP: The attack by Prime Minister Jenny Shipley on New Zealand First's decision to stay out of government and vote issue by issue is defeating the spirit of MMP, says political scientist Barry Gustafson. And Mr Peters said talk of his position as "holding the country to ransom" or forcing another election was political and constitutional drivel.

EAST TIMOR: The East Timor crisis is being blamed for a further 40 job losses at the Devonport naval dockyards. Workers at the privately run yard were told yesterday that the redundancies - caused by a drop in Navy repair work, which is now $20 million a year lower than five years ago - would take effect a week before Christmas.

CLARK ON UNI FEES: Labour leader Helen Clark yesterday pounced on an 11 per cent hike in Auckland University fees to accuse National of imposing "stealth" taxes on students and families. In a new pitch for middle-class votes, Helen Clark told 300 students at the Auckland College of Education that while a National-Act government would cut taxes, it would load more tertiary costs on students.

PARTY POLICE: Police and local authorities will crack down on drinking in public places for the biggest party of the century - but only at the usual beach hot spots and popular party towns. Bans on alcohol have been widened in some areas, but police and local authorities say they don't want to dampen celebrations with undue restrictions.

TAUPO RATES: The Taupo District Council will take its fight against a family home being ruled a rates-free "meeting house" to the Maori Appellate Court in February. With the backing of Local Government New Zealand, the council is contesting a 1998 Maori Land Court decision that Waihi Village resident Maihi Mariu's modest three-bedroom house is a traditional meeting place, meaning that no rates are payable on the property.

ALLIANCE – ELECTRICITY: The Alliance wants to bring back under the wing of state control all the electricity companies hived off by National over the past two years. They would be run by a single trading enterprise, similar to a state-owned enterprise but with energy efficiency, not just profits, among its aims.

EDITORIAL: - WINSTON: Winston Peters claims to be acting in the interests of MMP when he declares he will enter no coalition after the next election but will support the governing party on votes it needs for the money to govern. Whatever interests he is pursuing, they are not those of MMP. The system was designed to strike a balance between proportional representation and the country's need of stable government. The attitude that Mr Peters now displays can only produce instability and ultimately the downfall of the system he claims to uphold. Neither National nor Labour can seriously contemplate trying to govern if their ability to carry out any sort of legislative programme depends on the day-to-day whims of Mr Peters and his party. Jenny Shipley does the electorate a service in giving due warning that every vote for NZ First increases the likelihood that another election would be needed in short order. Helen Clark ought to reinforce that warning rather than pretend that she could govern without a guarantee of support on confidence issues from Mr Peters, should voters give him the balance of power.

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