Each weekday The Front Page keeps you up to date with the biggest news in New Zealand. Today it's a political backlash against a New Zealander who joined ISIS, a teenager admits to the brutal murder of his friend, mortgage wars heat up with New Zealand's lowest ever rate, and yet more proof there's no link between vaccines and autism. Hosted by Frances Cook.

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The Kiwi jihadi Mark Taylor has sparked a political backlash, with Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters particularly going on the offensive.

Taylor, a former New Zealand soldier who only has New Zealand citizenship, is being held in a Syrian prison.


He surrendered to Kurdish forces because life under Isis had become unbearable.

Taylor previously earned notoriety and was dubbed the 'bumbling jihadi', after accidentally giving away the location of Isis fighters on Twitter.

Speaking to the Herald this morning, Peters – who is also the Deputy Prime Minister – said he had no sympathy for Taylor.

"For the simple reason he didn't give a rats about the people of this country or our rights and freedoms."

He says Taylor might be a topic of interest for the New Zealand media, but 99.99 per cent of New Zealanders "couldn't give a rat's derriere about him [Taylor] deserting his country, threatening western civilisation and the freedom of democracy and human rights altogether, plus being a bigamist".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking a slightly more diplomatic tone, but not by much.

Ardern says the Government won't be making attempts to get him out of jail.

Asked why, she said the Government had given "clear advice not to travel there and I won't put New Zealanders in harm's way when someone ignores that advice".


Taylor currently doesn't have a passport, after burning it when he joined ISIS.

New Zealand has no consular relationship with Syria. However if Taylor were able to make it to a consulate, we would have to take him back, as otherwise, he's stateless.

The closest consulate is in Turkey.

The Prime Minister says the justice system will deal with the "kiwi jihadi" if he manages to return.

However Ardern says she can't give specific assurances - for fear of revealing the government's hand and compromising a future case.

If Taylor ends up in court overseas, New Zealand won't be providing legal help.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says we're obliged not to render Taylor stateless, but not much more, and we're certainly not obliged to give legal support.

It appears the case has united our Parliament.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges is backing the Government's approach, saying Taylor made his bed by signing up to Isis - and now he has to lie in it.

He says the Government is right not to be proactively helping Taylor.

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A university professor who was convicted for the indecent assault of an 82-year-old rest home resident was investigated over a second sexual assault complaint, also involving an elderly woman.

Former Massey University journalism lecturer Grant Hannis was sentenced to eight months' home detention in January after pleading guilty to the first sexual assault charge.

Now the Herald has learned police sought to charge him with a second crime but were unable to gather enough evidence to prosecute.

Hannis denies there was a second assault and said he was unaware of any other investigation.

The 55-year-old, once a celebrated Wellington academic, argued during sentencing for the first case that his attack on the dementia sufferer was "not lengthy", there was "limited premeditation" and it should be seen as "opportunistic offending".

However the Herald understands aspects of the second complaint were similar to the first case. The alleged victim was also in a rest home, and although not in a dementia ward, she was also deemed by police as extremely vulnerable.

Further details of the second allegation have not been released due to the victim's wish for privacy.

Police said the second complaint did not proceed to prosecution because it did not meet the evidential threshold. For a case to go to court in New Zealand there needs to be enough credible evidence for there to a "reasonable prospect" a jury will convict.

Around 80 per cent of aggravated sexual assault cases where police believe the victim are not prosecuted, mainly because they do not meet that threshold.

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A teenager who bludgeoned a sleeping friend to death earlier suggested to others, "shall we kill Oliver?"

Heath Eric Morris, 19, today admitted murdering 20-year-old Oliver Johnston in June last year.

Morris brutally bashed Johnston to death while he slept after the pair had partied and played Xbox together.

Morris made a surprise guilty plea at the High Court in Christchurch this morning.

The court heard that Morris repeatedly asked friends if they should kill Johnston, before carrying out the fatal bashing on his own later that night.

Oliver Johnston's body was found in a paddock on a lifestyle block in Woodend near Christchurch.

He had a broken skull, cheekbone and upper jaw - and was fractured from ear to ear.

Johnston's body was discovered by police five days after he disappeared.

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Mortgage wars are heating up, with HSBC launching an offer that is the lowest-ever fixed home loan rate from any bank in New Zealand.

The new 3.69 per cent two-year home loan rate is available to new HSBC "premier customers" with either a minimum combined home loan of $500,000 or $100,000 in savings and investments with HSBC New Zealand.

It is also open to existing premier customers who borrow an additional $100,000 or more.

The bank's NZ chief executive Chris Russell last month told the Herald its summer campaign was designed to stimulate demand in a "softening market".

House prices in Sydney and Melbourne have fallen in recent months prompting concern that the falls will spread to Auckland.

Mortgage brokers say anyone due to re-fix their mortgage in the next 60 days should try and lock in an offer and those who were due to end their fix term in the next six to nine months should also weigh up the cost of breaking their mortgage to re-fix it at a lower rate.

Rival banks are said to be matching the rates even if their advertised rate is higher.

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Auckland's economic performance improved in the last quarter of 2018, lifting it from the bottom of the ASB Regional Economic Scorecard.

The survey considers a range of economic data including employment, wages, construction, house prices, new car sales and retail sales.

The latest results, released today, show Hawke's Bay leading the way with a big lift in retail spending and solid numbers across the board.

The Otago region ranked second with strong job growth and Manawatu/Whanganui was third, aided by a strong property market and construction pipeline.

But Auckland's shift from the bottom of the rankings in the September quarter will be some relief to those watching the national macro-economic numbers.

Auckland's performance in the survey has been volatile and after a big dip in the previous quarter it bounced back six places to ninth on the table of 16 regions.

The Waikato region had the biggest drop in rankings.

That's being blamed on Fonterra's lower milk price forecast spilling over into lower consumer confidence and retail spending.

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The upcoming student climate change protest is drawing a mixed response from our politicians.

Thousands of New Zealand school students plan to take part in the worldwide day of action over global warming on March 15.

The global strike is expected to bring tens of thousands of students on to the streets across Europe, the United States, Australia and other countries.

Last week, national co-ordinator Sophie Handford said protests were being organised in more than 20 towns across New Zealand, from Russell in the Bay of Islands to Invercargill.

She says they're expecting thousands of students to take part across the country, with 5000 being a reasonable goal.

Some MPs say school students have a right to go on "strike" over global warming, but not all of them agree.

Government Minister Phil Twyford says it's great to see young people getting involved in issues like climate change because "if there's one issue that's going to affect the next generation it's climate change".

Fellow Minister Damien O'Connor said there were teacher-only days so March 15 would be a "kids-only" day.

He said he would "absolutely" be happy for his five daughters to skip school to attend the protest, as it's about their future.

Ohariu MP Greg O'Connor is supportive, saying it's good to see children engaged in political issues.

But he warns it should be their parents' call whether student show engagement in this way.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Simon Bridges says it's a serious issue, but he doesn't want to encourage students to miss school.

NZ Secondary Principals Council chairman James Morris said school principals won't condone the strike.

"Whilst most principals would support students expressing support for climate change action, they would be reluctant to approve students taking time away from their classes to do so."

However, Ministry of Education deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid says awareness of the environment is an important part of the NZ curriculum.

"The NZ curriculum also encourages students to participate and take action as critical, informed and responsible citizens."

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A new Danish study has further discredited any link between vaccines and autism.

The study of more than half a million children found no link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and autism.

The research was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal today, and looked children born between 1999 and 2010. The children were followed through to the end of August 2013.

It found the MMR vaccine did not increase the risk of autism, even in children with other autism risk factors or in children whose siblings had autism.

There was also no clustering of autism cases following vaccination, and there was no difference in the number of vaccinated children with the disorder compared to the number of unvaccinated children.

Claims of a link between vaccines and autism have been causing concern amongst medical professionals, and can cause problems with vaccinations rates.

There has been an increase in measles cases in Europe and the United States - and the World Health Organisation has declared vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health.

A 1998 paper in the Lancet which first implied a link between the MMR vaccine and autism was retracted in 2010 but turned thousands of parents around the world against the vaccinations.

In New Zealand there have been a number of measles outbreaks in recent years. Yesterday, the Canterbury District Health Board confirmed seven people had contracted the disease in an outbreak which stretched back 11 days.

In January, at least six people in the Waikato contracted the disease.

University of Auckland senior lecturer in vaccinology Dr Helen Petousis-Harris says the latest study is a "loud and clear" message that MMR could not trigger autism.

"We know through modern technologies such as brain imaging and genomics that autism begins long before birth."

Michael Baker, professor of public health at Otago University in Wellington, says the study is "very reassuring for anyone concerned about the possible link"

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Rose Matafeo is continuing her quest for world domination, signing up for a new film with a Harry Potter star.

She'll be starring opposite none other than Matthew Lewis, who is world famous for his role as the unlikely hero Neville Longbottom in the Potter franchise.

The new movie is from Taika Waititi's Piki Films titled Baby, Done.

Matafeo says "I'm super excited to be in a legit movie. I failed NCEA level 3 drama, so this is a big win for me personally."

The film is expected to be released in 2020.

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That's the Front Page for today, Tuesday, March 5, making sure you're across the biggest news of the day. For more on these stories, check out The New Zealand Herald, or tune in to Newstalk ZB.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts here, iHeartRadio here, and Stitcher here.

If you like to stay up to date on social media, you can find host Frances Cook on Facebook here, Instagram here and Twitter here.