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Heather Roy's Diary – 7 April 2006

Heather Roy's Diary – 7 April 2006

Welfare for Families Package

The Working for Families package which came into effect on 1st April (the April Fool's joke wasn't lost on commentators) would be better named Welfare for Families. It brings the number of families receiving part of their income from the government to 350,000. Depending on the number of children they have even those considered relatively well off and middle income earning families are eligible.

ACT has always maintained that taxing people heavily, washing this money through the Inland Revenue Department and WINZ, then making people apply for some of it back is particularly dopey. A proportion is lost at every step and letting people keep more or what they earn with a tax cut is much fairer and more efficient. Middle class parents will hate having to apply for welfare and many probably won't. The government is banking on this to ensure that at least some of the massive cost of this package is contained.

For the record applicants who are currently employed, have to fill in a 6 page IRD Family Assistance Regisgration form, a 13 page form disclosing income and assets amongst other personal details if they wish to apply for an Accommodation Suplement, and a further 7 pages if they qualify for Childcare Assistance. In addition to all of these forms each family can apply for an 'in work' payment - $60 (total) per week for up to three children and $15 per child per week thereafter.

International Relations

I usually find left wing political commentators to be tediously dull but one great exception is Chris Trotter who recently wrote a thoughtful piece in "The Independent" on New Zealand's foreign policy.

Trotter postulated that the USA would attack Iran within the next six months to destroy Iran's capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons. As the occupation of the neighbouring country of Iraq is proving increasingly unpopular with American voters such an attack would be unlikely to involve any occupation of land. Special weapons have been developed to destroy bunkers and other "hardened" targets and would be delivered by aircraft. Trotter felt the problem that New Zealand will face is how to deal with the aftermath, and keeping a neutral position will be very difficult.

More recent reports by the British Newspaper, "The Daily Telegraph", suggest that there have been urgent meetings amongst high-ranking British Officers about Iran. Clearly Mr Trotter's position was well researched.

To those who have not been following the story there is an extensive background. The United States was the first country to develop the atomic bomb although the project, the Manhattan Project, was truly international. Some of the world's most famous scientists joined the group. It was Albert Einstein who drew it to the attention of President Roosevelt that it was possible to make an atomic bomb, something he was later to call "my greatest mistake". But at the time there was a real fear the Nazis would get there first and German scientists were indeed working on the project.

After the second war, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and China joined the USA, in quick succession, to develop atomic weapons. These are the original nuclear club and they also happen to be the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Although there was considerable tension between the members of the nuclear club there was an agreement that the club should get no larger. So, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was invented. Any country that signed the Treaty forsook to ever develop an atomic weapon but would, in return, get help with nuclear technology for non-military purposes. At the time nuclear reactors were thought to herald a brave new world of cheap energy.

Most countries have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty including New Zealand. India and Pakistan did not sign and have exploded atomic weapons of their own. Iran did sign but is now suspected of trying to develop weapons anyway. Their nuclear programme goes back to the 1980s when Iran had been fighting a long war with Iraq. The full extent of Iran's progress towards a bomb wasn't known until 2002 when an opposition group in exile described a secret facility.

Many people were dismayed about Iran's nuclear ambitions. If Iran developed nuclear weapons then other Middle Eastern countries would feel the need to develop their own. And Iran's current President has made some belligerent statements that make everyone, particularly Israel, nervous.

As relations between Iran and the USA are often strained a group of British, French and German diplomats engaged with Iran. The particular issue was uranium enrichment.

The element uranium, which is a naturally occurring metal, contains a fraction of radioactive material. The uranium is "enriched" to increase its radioactive fraction for nuclear reactor fuel. However, the technology for making uranium for atom bombs is of a similar type. It's just that the enrichment has to be taken much further.

Because of suspicions of the Iranians' intent the matter has been taken to the United Nations Security Council. It had been expected that China or Russia would oppose such a move but they too, do not seem keen on a nuclear Iran.

It's unsure what will happen next. One possibility is an international trade embargo but Chris Trotter may be correct when he predicts unilateral action by the United States.

The implications for New Zealand if there is a trade boycott will be significant but for the moment we will have to wait and see what develops. Another no-show in the military sense will cause great strain with our traditional allies - something the government must think very carefully about.


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