The Insider

What they're whispering about in Parliament...

The insider: Legally high profits

The rights and wrongs of selling synthetic highs may be debatable, but there seems no doubt that the business was incredibly profitable. Ministry of Health figures show those doing the importing and selling were making mammoth margins. Synthetic psychoactive substances were mainly imported from China, for about $1500 to $2000 a kilogram. A kilogram was enough to make about 10,000 small to medium sized packets of smokable product. The most popular products were selling in packets of 1.5 to 2.5 grams, for $20 or so. The cost of manufacturing was about $1 to $2 a packet, resulting in a profit of about $18 a packet. As 3.5 million packets were sold since July last year, it seems operators raked in more than $60 million in profit in less than a year.

One of the shortcomings of the old policy on the sale of legal highs was the failure to get even close to a system for testing their safety. Two associate health ministers had responsibility for this during the period in question. One was Todd McClay, the other was Peter Dunne. Both were attending to business overseas this week when Health Minister Tony Ryall patched things up, introducing legislation prohibiting the drugs until safety regulations are ready.

Dunne got the better of the deal, with a meeting of the Open Government Partnership in Bali. McClay was dispatched to Kazakhstan for a meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

Kiwisaver comfort

Ex-MP Peter Neilson, indefatigable head of the Financial Services Council, continues to battle for more generous tax treatment of KiwiSaver schemes. His latest release this week pushes for changes to deliver "a comfortable retirement at about two times NZ Super alone". Super now gives a couple $29,355 a year, after tax, so that would mean almost $59,000 a year after tax. Comfortable? Depends on your definition.

Political football

The MPs' Register of Pecuniary Interests has always been a bit of a smoke and mirrors exercise, because many assets are held in trusts. Registrar Sir Maarten Wevers is aware of problems which have left many MPs feeling a little confused about what they have to do to fulfil the high standards of "transparency and accountability expected of members". Among the latest gifts revealed by MPs, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy declared a "Kids kick-around day with some All Blacks, Westpac Stadium". Surely the ABs weren't trying to buy his support?

Voted out

Politicians have never been well regarded by the public, and recent antics would hardly have changed that. Things have been worse across the Tasman, where the Independent Commission Against Corruption has been claiming politicians' scalps. If international trends are anything to go by, the younger generation is even more cynical than their jaded elders. A poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics shows 19- to 29-year-olds think politicians are out of touch. Fifty-eight per cent believe politicians don't share their priorities and 62 per cent feel they are selfish. Trust in US institutions such as the presidency and the Supreme Court is also declining. The results of a similar study in NZ would be interesting.

Memorial award

2degrees boss Eric Hertz and his wife, Kathy, who died in a plane crash last year, are to be remembered with the Eric & Kathy Hertz Award for Citizen Diplomacy, to be given to a person or organisation which has strengthened NZ-US links. The prize is part of the American Chamber of Commerce Success & Innovation Awards, to be announced in August.

Taxman's knockout

Argentina's tax agency has used a cunning ploy to trap tax dodgers. It has removed 17 taxpayers from the low-income category, lifting their tax rates, after identifying them among boxing fans who paid up to US$7500 to go to Nevada for the welterweight bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Argentina's Marcos Maidana. Argentine soccer fans going to the World Cup in Brazil have also been warned that the taxman will be watching.

Coining it

Things are going well for the .0001 per cent - the 25 highest-earning hedge fund managers in the US took home a total of US$21.15 billion last year, says an annual ranking published this week by Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine. Top earner David A. Tepper made US$3.5 billion, up on a measly US$2.2 billion in 2012.

- NZ Herald

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