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New Zealand Herald

ACC - Pharmac - Cannabis - Body Missing - F16s - Soccer Wages - Champagne - Kirsty Bentley - Smacking - Colin James: Greens - Editorial: F16s

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ACC: The Government is fast-tracking moves to unstitch National's deregulation of workplace accident insurance, and at least part of the planned changes to ACC are likely to be introduced into Parliament next week. Labour's agenda has been well signalled, but some employers and businesses were not expecting such quick action to undo last year's reforms opening the market to private insurers.

PHARMAC: Pharmac has saved taxpayers a further $55 million by driving hard bargains with drug companies, but pharmaceutical and medical interests say some of its practices are bad for patients. The Government agency, which subsidises non-hospital drugs, spent $717 million on pharmaceuticals in the June year, down from $772 million the year before.

CANNABIS: Whangarei psychologist Les Gray had a strange sense of deja vu as he watched Green MP Nandor Tanczos tell the nation on the Holmes show that cannabis was part of his life. Mr Gray was arrested in May 1989 - and lost a year's supply of cannabis - after appearing on the same programme and declaring that he enjoyed the drug.

BODY MISSING: A killer described as a remorseless psychopath is refusing to reveal where he dumped his victim's body. Ian Douglas Johnson, a career criminal who has twice fired shots at police, was convicted in the High Court at Auckland on Monday of murdering his flatmate, drug dealer Stavros Stavrianos. He is serving a life sentence.

F16S: Former National Defence Minister Max Bradford says he knows of no reason New Zealand cannot afford to buy F-16 aircraft from the United States, rejecting budget blowout claims by Prime Minister Helen Clark. He says it will cost taxpayers $200 million to ditch the F-16 deal.

SOCCER WAGES: Players at New Zealand's first professional soccer club are still waiting for outstanding wages. Promises by Football Kingz management that the players would be paid on Monday after a "transfer of funds" have not been met. The club is apparently now saying the money will be paid today.

CHAMPAGNE: Expensive French champagnes are struggling to compete with moderately-priced local bubbly as New Zealanders' choice for toasting a new millennium. Champagne sales have been slow to take off this year, but some of the quality local champenoise, such as Daniel Le Brun and Deutz in the under-$30-a-bottle bracket, are selling well.

KIRSTY BENTLEY: Police hope the release of new information about a rare Commer van will lead to a vital breakthrough in the Kirsty Bentley murder inquiry. The 15-year-old Ashburton girl was last seen alive on December 31, 1998, when she left home to walk her dog on the banks of the Ashburton River.

SMACKING: Paul Holmes, broadcaster: "Roger McClay is right. If you have to smack a child, you've lost the battle. "I'm not pure, and on the odd occasion I may have smacked Reuben on the backside once or twice. But I know that when I've done it, I have failed." Holmes said there were a "million ways" to discipline a child, including time-out.

SMACKING: The toddler is being a brat, screaming in the supermarket and pulling goods off shelves. He gets a slap on the leg for his trouble. Not long ago that scenario was the norm. But a growing number of New Zealanders want smacking outlawed - including the Commissioner for Children, Roger McClay, who ignited the anti-smacking debate this week by calling for Parliament to ban the practice.

OPINION - COLIN JAMES: The Greens want us to care more for the environment and re-anchor ourselves, economically as well as socially, in our local communities. Did you know that Labour and the Alliance want that, too? The Greens would not agree, but Helen Clark's Government will by most standards be green. An environmental and conservation cast pervades wide tracts of Labour's policy: transport and energy, of course, but also economics and aspects of health and other social policy.

EDITORIAL - F16S: The new Government must not underestimate the damage it will do to New Zealand's primary defence relationship if it cancels the lease of F-16 fighters for the Air Force. The lease was a long overdue demonstration of good faith not only to the lessor, the United States, but much more so to Australia, where New Zealand's image as a freeloader in regional security will be sadly confirmed. New Zealanders for the most part are unaware of the depths of derision their defence commitments attract across the Tasman, not only in Government circles but across party lines and frequently in press comment and cartoons as well. Nobody would suggest that defence decisions should be dictated by fear of derision anywhere, but the national reputation should not be ignored, either. If the Government is determined to call off the F-16 deal then it ought also to give a signal that it is treating defence seriously and not looking for collective security on the cheap. But first it should carry out its intended review of the F-16 contract seriously. That means maintaining an open mind until it receives the assessment it will commission from former MP Derek Quigley and then, perhaps, keeping its options open until a complete defence review takes shape.

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