National News Brief Thursday, March 12

Super fund contributions could be reduced; workers to get just $62.50 on the tenth day; OCR to fall again today; are the National Front targeting school kids?; and more

The government is considering reducing its contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund in response of the global recession, the New Zealand Herald reports. John Key told parliament yesterday that Treasury has been asked to look into temporarily cutting back on the $2 billion annual contributions so the government didn't have to borrow to invest. But critics said the low price of shares meant it was a good time for the fund's guardians to be buying.

Details of the government's support for a nine-day fortnight were released yesterday. The DominionPost says that businesses with more than 100 employees will be able to opt into the scheme, but only if they promise not to make workers redundant. The Herald reports that the government will pay workers $62.50 – or five hours of the minimum wage – on the tenth day. But unions say employers will have to top up that pay to convince workers.

The Reserve Bank is expected to cut the official cash rate to another record low today. Bankers and analysts expect the rate to come down by between a half and a full percentage point, but say that banks aren't likely to lower fixed mortgage rates unless Governor Alan Bollard signals further cuts. Floating rates though should fall.

The Press says that the ultra-right wing National Front is targeting school children amidst the deepening economic crisis. The Race Relations Commissioner Jorie de Bres pointed to pamphlets being handed out in Kapiti Coast schools, but police said they were not aware of increasing membership of far-right groups.

The men behind the fraud that rocked the Otago District Health Board were sentenced yesterday, with the judge accusing the pair of "astonishing greed". Michael Swann was jailed for nine years and six months, while his business associate Kerry Hartford was sentenced to four years and three months in prison. The $17m fraud was probably the largest in New Zealand history.

Auckland councils say they will not be able to stop people cutting down native bush and coastal pohutukawa under new environment laws. Proposed changes by government would mean landowners would be free to chop down any tree on their land unless it was listed, but opponents say listing thousands of individual trees would cause legal problems and be expensive.