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Poll – Waitakere Rescue – Economy – Poverty – Australian Economy – New Timber Plant – Rape Apology – Poverty – Australian Economy – New Timber Plant – Rape Apology – Stubborn Storm – Rugby Killing – Drugs At School – Party Police – Hitmen – Rape – Editorial

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POLL: Labour has suffered a morale-sapping slump in the latest pre-election New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll survey, while Act and the Alliance have surged upwards. With just three weeks to polling day, the election has become a cliff-hanger with the gap between Labour and National narrowing to less than two percentage points. The ruling party has also failed to gain traction during the early days of the campaign.

POLL: Labour has suffered a morale-sapping slump in the latest pre-election New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll survey, while Act and the Alliance have surged upwards. With just three weeks to polling day, the election has become a cliff-hanger with the gap between Labour and National narrowing to less than two percentage points. The ruling party has also failed to gain traction during the early days of the campaign. But after months of being well ahead of its rival, Labour now has a struggle on its hands to win power on November 27. Translated into seats in Parliament, the poll gives Labour and the Alliance a combined 57 seats - exactly the same number as National, Act and United would hold.

WAITAKERE RESCUE: A group of schoolchildren trapped in the Waitakere Ranges by a swollen stream were lifted to safety in a hair-raising helicopter rescue late yesterday. The saturated Remuera Intermediate pupils were evacuated in one of two successful rescue operations during a storm that lashed the upper North Island.

ECONOMY: The Government basked in some positive economic news yesterday, with official data showing unemployment at a two-year low and retail sales climbing faster than expected in September. National has been on the back foot since GDP figures showed the economy shrinking in the June quarter and Treasury last month forecast a blowout in the current account deficit.

POVERTY: Since her husband died two years ago while driving a bus, the only way Carolyn Kumia can feed her family is to spend 50 hours a week behind the wheel. Despite warnings from her doctor that she should cut back her hours for Auckland bus company Stagecoach, the Mt Roskill mother takes any overtime she can to support teenage daughters Ana and Renee, even though she knows they need her at home.

AUSTRALIAN ECONOMY: Australia is performing better than us, has higher-paid jobs, nicer shops and superior health care (not to mention its rugby team). But New Zealand has a much more beautiful environment, safer streets and is a better place to raise children. That is why, according to a new survey, we rate ourselves as a better country and the overwhelming majority of us want to stay this side of the Tasman.

NEW TIMBER PLANT: More than 200 jobs are on offer for the construction of a $132 million lumber mill at Marsden Pt. But on the same day that timber giant Carter Holt Harvey confirmed the new mill, it axed 55 jobs from a West Auckland plant.

RAPE APOLOGY: The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services has apologised for not following proper procedure before it placed a 14-year-old Wellington youth with a gang member. Dean Hiroki, aged 31, of Porirua, pleaded guilty yesterday in the Wellington District Court to the abduction and rape of a woman in Wellington in June. The Crown is seeking a sentence of preventive detention.

STUBBORN STORM: Weather forecasters have issued a warning to those caught by yesterday's deluge of rain and wind - get used to it. Stormy but tropical weather blowing in from the Pacific is expected to be a feature of the summer for the top part of the North Island.

RUGBY KILLING: A father who hurled his 17-month-old baby across a room because he grizzled during a televised rugby game has been jailed for 41/2 years. Last month, 20-year-old Matthew Ono Leonard Iorangi was cleared of the murder of Pirimai Simmonds at their isolated home at Waotu, 25km northwest of Tokoroa, on October 17 last year, but the jury convicted him of manslaughter.

DRUGS AT SCHOOL: Two adults face serious drug charges after a 12-year-old boy was found with a large amount of cannabis at a Dargaville school. The incident has sparked a wake-up call over an "inbred" cannabis culture in Northland, and demands for harsher penalties for adults caught with the drug.

PARTY POLICE: Police plan to form their own "party squad" to quell a spate of unruly rave-ups on the North Shore. Last weekend, police struggled with dozens of youth parties and attended more than 100 disorderly incidents in Auckland. Officers on the North Shore

HITMEN: Police believe hired thugs beat an Auckland man and woman during a vicious Labour Weekend attack in their home. Lorraine McEwen, aged 56, and Robert Rogers, 54, suffered horrific head wounds when attacked by three masked men, who used a knife to slash Mr Rogers' face from mouth to ear.

RAPE SENTENCING: A Wellsford man has been jailed for 14 years after raping a 77-year-old woman in her home. John Peter Timi Stenning, aged 21, was sentenced in the North Shore District Court yesterday after earlier admitting raping the woman in her Wellsford home in the early hours of July 15.

EDITORIAL – CAMPAIGN POLICY: Election campaigns were once all about parties selling their policies to the public. Manifestos detailing what a party intended to do if handed the reins of power were released in good time for analysis and debate. Inevitably, of course, additional sweeteners were dispensed and promises made as the candidates became more jittery. But the important details of policy were firmly planted. The electorate had little cause to be confused. Such, unfortunately, is not the case in this year's election race. Barely three weeks out from polling day, we are still being bombarded with significant policy, some of it being made on the hoof. Take the National Party's plan to cut business tax by 3c in the dollar. First, the Treasurer, spooked by the Bendon closure, suggested it would be accommodated at the expense of a corresponding cut in personal income tax.

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