National News Brief, Monday February 9

Australia's bushfires from hell; Helen Clark applies for UN job; SIS spies on MP; House values down more than eight percent; minimum wage to rise; and more

The words "Australia" and "hell" feature prominently on the country's front pages today alongside heart-wrenching photos of the bushfires burning through the state of Victoria. The New Zealand Herald gives over its entire front page, saying 84 people were dead and 700 homes destroyed in the worst destruction since 1921. Some of the fires were lit by arsonists and police said suspects would be charged with murder. The Press reports that walls of fire up to "four stories high raced a cross the land like speeding trains", trapping people in their cars as they tried to flee.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has applied to run the multi-billion dollar United Nations Development Programme, and Mike Moore has told the Herald she has a strong chance of being appointed. The DominionPost says John Key has written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon endorsing her bid.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is seeking a copy of her SIS file after her colleague Keith Locke discovered he has been spied on by security services since he was 11 years old. The Greens are furious Locke has been monitored as recently as 2006 while a sitting MP, although John Key says he suspects it was just a matter of Locke's file being updated by "a slightly overzealous staff member".

Kiwi troops in Afghanistan are likely to have to "dig in for longer" as the US pressures its allies to remain in the troubled country, says the DomPost. Cabinet will soon receive a briefing paper on extending the Bayman mission beyond September and unnamed sources have told the paper "it is likely to be rolled over".

The nation's houses lost on average 8.3 per cent of their value in the 12 months to January, the Herald reports. Prices on Auckland's North Shore and in Rotorua were worst hit, down 11.9 percent. The average house sale price according to Quotable Value is now $382,762.

The Otago Daily Times previews the upcoming financial reporting season, predicting flat revenue and dividend downgrades of as much as 20 percent. Retail and tourism business are expected to report losses. Meanwhile, the government is expected to announce a small rise in the minimum wage today, from $12 an hour, to around $12.50.