National News Brief, Friday October 31

Taxpayers pay to dig dirt on Key; more charges for Urewera accused; business confidence takes a tumble; workers get support from Labour and National; Port Otago to become South Island's biggest; Wellington trick-or-treaters face Vomit Man

Taxpayer money was used to try to dig up dirt on National leader John Key, reports Colin Espiner, political editor of The Press. Labour Party president Mike Williams flew to Melbourne to go through 13,000 pages of court documents relating to the trial of Equiticorp bosses over fake foreign transactions 20 years ago. Key worked for one of the companies involved in the deal but was not himself involved. Mike Williams says the Labour Party paid for his trip to Australia, but Helen Clark says Williams paid for it himself.

Five of those arrested in the Urewera police raid last year are to be charged with participating in a criminal gang. Activist Tame Iti is among those to be charged, reports the Herald. The accused are already up for firearms-related charges. Police originally wanted to charge them under the Terrorism Suppression Act but Solicitor-General David Collins did not allow it.

More on the "Urewera terror raid": Missing Auckland woman Iraena Asher's sister was yesterday discharged without conviction on a firearms charge. Tamara Asher was the only one of the Urewera accused to plead guilty, says the Dominion Post. Her older sister, model Iraena, disappeared from Piha four years ago after making a 111 call to police.

Unsurprisingly, business confidence took a tumble in October. A National Bank survey found business confidence had dropped 44 points, the biggest fall in the survey's history. Forty-two percent of survey respondents expected business conditions to continue to deteriorate in the coming year.

Whichever party ends up leading the next government, workers laid off in the economic downturn will get an extra $50 million in support, according to the Press. Helen Clark announced Labour's Job Search Allowance yesterday, which would be paid at the same rate as the unemployment benefit and last for 13 weeks, regardless of whether the newly jobless had assets or a partner with an income. John Key has not announced National's plan but said it was about the same size as Labour's although "better structured".

Port Otago will become the South Island's dominant port if a proposed merger with long-time rival Lyttelton Port, reports the Otago Daily Times. "This [merger] will be positive because the ports will not be fighting each other for market share," said Mark Willis, managing director for freight broker DCB International.

Miramar woman Michelle Lamb, perhaps the country's biggest Halloween enthusiast, unveils her latest decorative creation tonight—Vomit Man. The expected 1200 children who will come to her home for tricks and treats will also pass fake graves, and monsters named Mother-in-Law and the Mad Irishman. Lamb has spent $600 on lollies.