National News Brief, Thursday February 26

Now is the time to buy a house; surgical super-hubs planned; pilots' union member joins Airbus investigation team; crime-stopping phone-line talks begin; identity fraudsters could be responsible for missing passports; and more

Now is the perfect time to buy a house--if your job is secure and you have enough money saved, reports the Herald. BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander said house prices might fall another 5 percent but would stabilise by the end of the year and begin to rise next year. He also advised home buyers to seek mortgage interest rates of around 5.5 percent.

Three Auckland district health boards are proposing the establishment of surgery "super-hubs" to deal with non-urgent elective procedures. Theirs would be the first cluster of 20 new elective surgery theatres planned by the Government, reports the Dominion Post. A Health Ministry report made public by Tony Ryall yesterday says the country needs 26 extra operating theatres by 2026 to treat about 1500 patients each a year.

The New Zealand pilots' union says it will feel more confident with the Airbus crash investigation now that one of its members has joined the French team. An interim report released yesterday suggested pilot error as the cause of the crash off the coast of Perpignan, upsetting Air New Zealand and members of the Air Line Pilots' Association, reports the Press.

The British billionaire who put up money for the safe return of the stolen Waiouru medals is in New Zealand to speak with Police Commissioner Howard Broad and Police Minister Judith Collins about establishing a telephone crime-line. Lord Michael Ashcroft set up the Crimestoppers line in Britain 20 years ago, enabling 90,000 arrests including 800 for murder, reports the Herald.

Identity fraudsters may be behind the disappearance of 13 passports that went missing between Auckland and the Indian High Commission in Wellington, reports the Herald. New Zealand Post spokesman Keith Fitzpatrick said the company had started an inquiry.

Finance Minister Bill English is keeping expectations low for tomorrow's jobs summit in Auckland, reports the Dominion Post. He said yesterday, "We're open to proposals that have some cost, but they have to be realistic and they have to reach a pretty high hurdle of long-term effectiveness." More than 200 business, union, local and central government leaders, led by NZX chief executive Mark Weldon, will discuss ways to head off the most severe effects of a long-term recession and save jobs.