National News Brief, Tuesday February 10

Fire danger extreme in parts of NZ as Victoria burns; Kiwis to help fight fires in Victoria; minimum wage rise smallest in four years; more fat to come off Government budgets; inquiry into Keith Locke's SIS file; teens are getting dumber, says researcher

The country is on high alert for fire danger, with the east coasts of both islands deemed to be at extreme risk, reports the Herald. Paddocks are so dry in Gisborne, Napier, Christchurch and Ashburton that a farmer's plough striking a rock could be enough to start a fire. Meanwhile, in Australia the death toll from Victoria's bush fires is now expected to top 200, with some communities completely wiped out. It is believed arsonists started some of the fires and that up to one third of Victoria is charred, reports the Dominion Post.

New Zealand will give $500,000 aid to the victims of the Victoria bush fires and lend 100 firefighters, reports the Press. The firefighters are on standby, awaiting the call from Victoria, and probably won't be deployed until the end of the week.

The minimum wage is rising from $12 to $12.50 on April 1, the smallest yearly rise since 2005, reports the Herald. About 120,000 New Zealanders will be affected. Yesterday the Unite union, which represents fast food workers, lodged a request for a citizen's referendum on whether the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

John Key wants more fat trimmed from Government budgets, reports the Dominion Post. After rejecting the first round of cuts to departmental spending, Mr Key is looking at shaving tens of millions of dollars from projects including renovations of Government House. He already cancelled a $400,000 upgrade of Premier House.

The Prime Minister has also ordered an inquiry into the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) file kept on Green MP Keith Locke, reports the Press. The SIS opened a file on Locke, son of peace activist and communist Elsie Locke, when he was 11 years old. The SIS is supposed to maintain files only on people posing "a demonstrable risk to the security of New Zealand". Locke said he did not fall into that category. "There is not a shred of evidence on my personal file in the 44 years prior to me becoming an MP that I am in any way dangerous or have done anything illegal."

A New Zealand researcher says teenagers in England are dumber than they were a generation ago, reports the Herald. Professor James Flynn of Otago University found that IQ scores for the average 14-year-old in England had dropped more than two points between 1980 and 2008. He suggests that this could be due to more time spent in front of the television and video games.