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Political Update Fri 11 May (No. 03/01)

Political Update Fri 11 May (No. 03/01)

RMA still problematic

The select committee examining the Resource Management Amendment Bill has rejected most proposed changes. Proposals to use independent commissioners, allow the private sector to handle consent applications, tighten up the definition of “environment” and “amenity values” and to limit the notifications required for resource consents to those actually affected by the development have all been rejected. Changes it has recommended include greater weight to be given to iwi management plans and historic heritage considerations. The Government is expected to have the support to pass the bill.

Advertised jobs dip in April

ANZ’s job advertisements survey released today shows job ads are up for the year although with a 4.1% dip in the last month, with the largest decline in Wellington and Hawkes Bay. This dip confirms the picture in yesterday’s unemployment figure (5.4%) which evidenced a decline in unemployment due to fewer people seeking work rather than due to economic growth (another factor in the low unemployment rate is the low growth in the working age population - 22,000 new entrants to the workforce last year compared with up to 60,000 per year in the mid 1990s - mostly because of the greater outflow of working age people from NZ).

Budget forecasts difficult

One of the more interesting aspects of this month’s Budget will be the Treasury tax revenue forecasts for 2001/2. Tax revenue this financial year is ahead of budget because of strong growth in company tax receipts, especially commodity exporters, but tax revenue from GST and wage and salary earners has been flat. The economic downturn in our major trading partners and uncertain forecasts for the US$/NZ$ exchange rate will make the Treasury forecast more difficult than usual.

Government e-strategy under way

Commerce Minister Paul Swain’s promotion of an e-government strategy so far boasts a number of results including:
- FoodLink, a website hosted by Trade NZ, which allows potential customers in other countries to contact exporters and order products.
- An electronic Customs system for cargo where low-risk consignments can be processed within minutes.
- The Companies Office use of the Internet for company searches.
- The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s e-cert service for certifying animal product exports.

ASB online leader

ASB Bank has just passed a million online transactions in a month – the highest for online financial services in NZ. 12% of ASB’s customers are registered online.

BNZ boosts profit

The BNZ’s latest six-monthly profit statement shows a 26% increase over last year, with strong growth across all markets including housing, agribusiness and business banking. It also announced a planned 40% increase in ATM machines.

Business sector subsidises jury system

The case of the Whangarei employer criticised for not paying his staff during jury service shows the business sector is subsidising the jury system. A District Court judge said employers who refused to pay might be held in contempt of court and fined. But Justice Minister Phil Goff says employers don’t have to pay, and it would only be contempt if an employee was sacked or had their conditions of employment adversely affected by doing jury service. Jury fees are set around the level of the minimum wage. The Ministry of Justice is considering a Law Commission report recommending changes to the jury system, including the suggestion that the fee should be topped up through taxes.

Bush wants negotiating authority returned

President George Bush has asked the US Senate to restore to him the authority to negotiate trade treaties that would not be subject to Senate amendments – an authority that lapsed during the Clinton administration. He is opposed by Democrats who want to impose trade sanctions on countries without adequate labour and environment standards (Republicans see this as protectionism). The Bush administration is currently pursuing agreements with Jordan, Chile and Singapore, the ‘Americas’ pact and a new round of global trade accords.

Labour standards no longer in Hong Kong package

Labour standards in trade agreements is an issue in NZ too. NZ Government policy expressed in the speech from the throne is that “legitimate issues of labour standards should be better integrated with trade agreements”. However NZ’s trade negotiations with Hong Kong now exclude mention of labour standards. It’s a welcome signal to business that the issue will not derail trade liberalisation, but may cause union concern. The closer economic partnership with Hong Kong would offer more open access to the Hong Kong market for NZ services exporters, especially in education, and could stimulate more investment in NZ by Hong Kong and other Asian investors. More information on the Hong Kong CEP is on www.mfat.govt.nz/teaddiscuss.html

Trade update in Wellington

Meanwhile, leading economist Gerald O’Driscoll will hold a briefing on the state of trade negotiations following the recent Quebec round of meetings, in Wellington on Monday 14 May (contact: cmillard@jmnz.co.nz). As Director of the US Centre for International Trade and Economics, Dr O’Driscoll is in NZ to conduct research for the Annual Index of Economic Freedom – a country-by-country analysis of economic freedom around the world.

Microsoft accused of skewing standards

Microsoft and other companies are working towards an ‘operating system in the sky’ where programmes and data exist on the Internet rather than on individual computers, and where programmes can be run on a variety of different machines, regardless of which operating system they use. Microsoft says its .Net standards for this operating system in the sky will be ‘open’ – meaning any programmer can write software independently of Microsoft that will work with any .Net software. But Internet critic David Winer (http://davenet.userland.com), claims Microsoft is making subtle changes to the standards to make them unusable by any developers except Microsoft’s, to try and ‘lock in’ developers, as it did with the desktop PC in the 1990’s.

Good news – things getting worse more slowly

The US National Association of Production Managers’ April survey shows the US economy is still declining – but more slowly. It’s one of a few straws in the wind giving hope to US commentators, who say the dot.com speculative excess need not necessarily be followed by a recession, as long as interest rates are cut deep and quickly enough to stimulate alternative investments – although capital has been wasted and must be written off, there are still good investments to be made and many profitable opportunities.

ENDS

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