National News Brief, Friday January 30

Banks under pressure to cut mortgage "break fees"; OCR at record low, but can't stop job cuts; Otago health chair refuses to resign; Aucklanders earn 20% more; and more

The New Zealand Herald and DominionPost share the same lead story this morning – pressure on banks to lower their home loan "break fees". Finance minister Bill English yesterday said he expected customers would be pushing banks to reduce the penalties for breaking their mortgages, which can run to tens of thousands of dollars. According to the Herald, bank chiefs are resisting the pressure, saying they are only passing on "actual costs". The DomPost says English is "putting the hard word" on state-owned Kiwibank, which has one of the highest penalty rates. But Kiwibank CEO Sam Knowles has said previously he doesn't expect political interference.

Banks were also being ordered around by Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard yesterday, after he cut the Official Cash Rate (OCR) by 150 basis points to 3.5 percent, the lowest rate ever. The Press quotes Bollard saying he expects banks to pass the cuts on to their customers. Kiwibank led the way, dropping its floating rate to 6.49% and its one-year fixed rate to 5.69%. The Otago Daily Times says house prices are still falling, however. In the Business Herald, Brian Fallow says markets expect the OCR to go as low as 2-2.5 percent.

The Press leads with comments from "experts" saying the OCR cut would do little to avert "a wave of job cuts and business failures". They predicted 50,000 New Zealanders could lose their jobs in the first half of the year. Backing up the claim, the DomPost says hundreds of Telecom jobs are in danger as the company looks to expand its call-centre in the Philippines. The Herald says Stevenson Group, one of the country's oldest building material manufacturers, expects to lay off about 100 people.

The government wants DHBs to focus on cutting waiting times to no more than six hours in over-crowded Emergency Departments (ED). The Press says doctors welcome the recommendations, as long as patient care isn't compromised and rushed. The Herald says leaving patients waiting too long leads to about 400 deaths in New Zealand each year and some hospitals are leaving patients in ambulances to "game" their processing times.

The ODT reports that Otago District Health Board chair Richard Thomson has rejected the health minister's invitation to resign and will now wait until next week to "learn his fate". Minister Tony Ryall has written to the board saying he's considering sacking Thomson following a $16.9m fraud case that has rocked the DHB. Board members are rallying behind Thomson.

Economic consultants Covec have released a report saying Aucklanders earn 20 percent more than other New Zealanders and work harder, with a gross domestic product 33 percent higher than the rest of New Zealand. The report says Auckland is home to 33 percent of New Zealanders, rising to 40 percent, or two million people, by 2031.