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PAYOUTS SCANDAL: Public sector payout scandals have flared at the worst possible time for National, leaving ministers on the back foot three days from the election. Labour, which came up with allegations against Work and Income New Zealand and Contact Energy just as National wanted to launch its own negative campaign finale, now promises to expose severance deals if it wins office on Saturday.

AIR NEW ZEALAND: Air New Zealand has asked for talks next week with flight attendants after they stopped work for 12 hours yesterday. However, the Flight Attendants and Related Services Association said more walkouts were likely if the company refused to address their concerns. About 400 flight attendants attended a stopwork meeting in Auckland yesterday.

RACE AND ACCIDENTS: Government accident insurance forms asking the respondent's ethnic background are raising privacy concerns. The Privacy Commissioner, the Race Relations Conciliator, doctors and the Insurance Council have all expressed alarm, but the Government refuses to remove the controversial question.

BAD BLOOD: Another victim of the hepatitis C bad blood scandal has died after receiving compensation, bringing renewed calls for a fair settlement. A spokesman for the Haemophilia Society, Mike Mapperson, said the death of the 19th victim highlighted the need to settle claims before others died.

CAPE PROTEST: Four Maori elders who have taken over an empty house at Cape Reinga plan to block public access to the popular tourism spot if their occupation is challenged. Ngati Kuri kaumatua Reece Burgoyne says he and three other elders have moved into the former lighthouse-keeper's home because they want to use it as a cultural and information centre.

STUDENT LOANS: Young people with large student loans are finding it hard to buy a roof over their heads because they cannot afford the mortgage. An Otago University Students' Association survey of 36 bank managers has found that nearly half have turned people away because their debt repayments, including student loan payments, were too high.

STUD ROW: The future of Shivani Karan, barred from school for wearing a culturally important nose stud, will be discussed at a board of trustees meeting tomorrow night. Race Relations Conciliator Dr Rajen Prasad met the Onehunga High School chairman and principal yesterday and said there was "plenty of goodwill on both sides" to resolve the matter.

ALLIANCE ON THE UP: It seems more than political cosmetics. Something has changed Jim Anderton from a political thunderhead into a sunnier personality. Although a less scary, more user-friendly Alliance is a surer ticket to coalition government, the changes in its leader also appear to spring from within.

RAPE AND RESIDENCY: A Fiji Indian woman who says her husband raped her on their honeymoon has applied for New Zealand residency on humanitarian grounds, a jury in the High Court at Auckland was told yesterday. The 20-year-old woman has spent two days giving evidence against her husband, Vinay Prakash, 29, of South Auckland, whom she wed in an arranged Hindu marriage in February last year.

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