National News Brief, Tuesday September 23

US to negotiate free trade deal; Peters found guilty by privileges committee; Key changes tune on rail shares; science funding up 23%; and more

The front pages are crammed with three big stories today that would each warrant a splash on any other day.

  • The US is to join negotiations with New Zealand and three other Pacific Rim nations on a free trade deal, a decision Helen Clark has hailed as a "major step forward". The Dominion Post says the negotiations, also including Singapore, Chile and Brunei, could lead to a "$1 billion bonanza" for the New Zealand economy, as the US accounts for 10% of our total trade. The Herald points out that America started talks on investment and financial services in March, but has now extended the remit to cover all trade. It says just how the talks proceed will be decided by the next administration.
  • Winston Peters has been found guilty of misleading Parliament about the Owen Glenn donation and will be formally censured in the House today, The Press reports. Peters has declared it "a legal charade". Audrey Young, who broke the story, writes that the privileges committee issued a "damning" report endorsed by "wide-ranging party support". Only New Zealand First and Labour MPs dissented. The report urged Peters to make new declarations of interest from 2006, 2007, and this year, but Clark has indicated Peters will not be sacked, saying the committee process has been "tainted". Peters is expected to attack his accusers in the House today.
  • "Key accused of lying over rail shares", says the Dom Post's headline. Vernon Small writes, "John Key is struggling to explain why he did not disclose he had a much bigger stake in Tranz Rail, and traded in the shares when he was seeking official information about them and publicly commenting on them." Key told TVNZ that his family trust held 25-50,000 shares in Tranz Rail, but when asked if he had owned more shares himself he corrected himself, "Actually maybe 100,000 from memory, sometimes 50,000, sometimes 100,000, yep," he said. "Yeah, sorry, there was 100,000 in total." Labour says Key lied, Key says he's a victim of a smear campaign.
  • The Prime Minister says Fonterra bungled the Chinese milk crisis, the Press reports. As Beijing increased estimates of sick babies to 13,000, Clark has said Fonterra was too slow to speak out and lacked proper quality controls. Meanwhile, the Herald reports that a Chinese lolly contaminated with melamine and banned overseas has been found on sale in New Zealand.
  • New Zealand scientists have received $54m in this year's Marsden Fund announcement. That's $10m or 23% more than last year, meaning 90 more projects have been funded. However it's not the threefold increase called for by leading scientists earlier in the year.