National News Brief, Monday February 2

Crack down on poorly performing schools; $1 billion of Auckland projects at risk; boy racers face Collins' wrath; tax break tipped for small and medium-sized businesses; Waitangi Day to be "more welcoming"; Vegemite under threat from health police

The nation's worst performing schools will be singled out by the Government this year and forced to reform, reports the Dominion Post. Education Minister Anne Tolley has told the Education Review Office to focus on schools that are not up to scratch and is prepared to sack school boards and install commissioners in their place. On the flipside, schools with good track records could be exempt from ERO reports for up to five years.

More than $1 billion worth of Auckland city projects are under threat due to the global recession, reports the Herald. At risk are projects to electrify the city's rail, develop the Tank Farm, and integrate the city's public transport ticketing. A crisis meeting was held on Friday to look at the Auckland Regional Council's books but ended in acrimony.

Police Minister Judith Collins is considering a request by Canterbury police to crush boy racers' cars in cases of repeat illegal street racing. On Friday night a Christchurch officer's car was ambushed, bottled and shot at by boy racers. "We are not going to put up with it, and if it takes a few cars being crushed to get the point through, that may be one of the options," said Ms Collins. Southern Area Commander Inspector Malcolm Johnston told the Press that the planned attack on police "raised the bar" and boy racers were in for "the shock of their lives". "We have never seen anything like it before," he said. "This is thuggery. These are the actions of criminals."

Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce a relaxation of the tax regime on small and medium-sized businesses this week, reports the Dominion Post. Businesses are expected to pay their tax in advance--there is a 14.24 percent penalty for not doing so. Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said easing the provisional tax regime would make a major difference to small and medium-sized businesses, which make up over 90 percent of the sector. "Provisional tax takes cash away from them and a very common reason why small businesses fall over is cash flow."

This year's Waitangi Day celebrations should have a more welcoming atmosphere, says Ngapuhi spokesman Kingi Taurua from Te Tii Marae, Waitangi's lower marae. He acknowledged that last year's Waitangi event had been "slack" and lacked a sense of nationhood. He told the Herald that this year kaumatua who hadn't attended the celebrations for years were returning to the marae.

The Australian government could ban Vegemite from supermarket shelves for its high salt content, reports the Herald. A Canberra task force has been set up to consider taxing foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Vegemite is 8 percent salt.