Thursday, March 31, 2011

A nice touch ...

Emergency Services have been run off their feet since the Feb 22nd earthquake in Christchurch. So it's nice to see that someone has taken the time and effort to express their appreciation - this, from the Herald:

Handwritten letters from students in Feilding have warmed the hearts of emergency service workers in quake-stricken Christchurch.

The letters were prompted by 13-year-old Ryan Harrison, the son of Palmerston North-based Inspector Mark Harrison, who is in charge of the family liaison aspect of the earthquake operation.

"Everybody is doing stuff for the people of Christchurch and missing out are the emergency service people who are helping out as well," said Ryan, who is in Year 9 at Feilding High School.

He enlisted the support of English teacher David Byrne to help turn his letters idea into reality and then encouraged a couple of classes to join in.

Around 50 letters were written by the students, boxed up, and sent south to Mr Harrison, who then handed them out around Christchurch to Police, Urban Search and Rescue, Civil Defence workers and military personnel.

And there's a proud father out there - read on:

Mr Harrison, who also led the family liaison phase for the Pike River Mine tragedy and as such has spent very little time at home with his own family over recent months, was touched by his son's gesture.

"That's the sort of kid he is. It was a really good thought and once he gets an idea in his head, there's usually no stopping him.

"The letters were incredibly well-received. There are a lot of us working down here who have kids back home, and to hand out the letters is a good feeling.

We reckon that's great stuff. We heard of comments made by a USAR member to a local service club very recently, and these guys have had a harrowing time both in Christchurch and in Japan. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

The USAR chap also spoke of the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami. The Daily Telegraph in the UK has just released this video footage of the tsunami hitting the village of Kesenumma, north of Tokyo. It's hard to watch, but it's also compelling, showing as it does the gathering force of the tsunami. What was reported to us from the USAR guy's talk was that debris from the tsunami was found 70 to 80 metres above sea level when the wave pushed upwards against any resistance it met. We live just a few streets away from the sea; maybe six or seven metres above the high tide mark. It's made us think!

Anyway, back to the original topic. We join with Ryan Harrison and his schoolmates from Feilding in saying a huge "thank you" to all those emergency services personnel who have given service far and above the call of duty in the most difficult and distressing circumstances. You guys are REAL heroes, and although you will all downplay it and say that you're "just doing your job", we all know that that's not the case.

As life slowly returns to normal, we hope that you nall get the opportunity to rest, to refresh, and most of all to reflect on the fact that you have made a huge difference in people's lives, and there can be no higher calling than that.

An excellent initiative

Stuff reports on a worthy change to the school curriculum - check this out:

The Rugby World Cup is set to become part of the school curriculum, and teachers are being urged to fork out for rugby-themed merchandise.

Primary school teachers will be encouraged to bedeck classrooms with strings of flags – available at $1.20 a metre – arrange school rugby tournaments and learn about international teams.

The initiative, by government body Rugby New Zealand 2011, stems from a plan to include pupils in its "stadium of four million" theme as the World Cup moves into classrooms from July.

About 480,000 activity books will be distributed to primary and intermediate schools nationwide, for inclusion in the social studies curriculum.

Rugby NZ 2011 director Leon Grice said the programme, developed with the Education Ministry and New Zealand Rugby Union, was a way for children to feel connected to and excited about the event.

"Given the Rugby World Cup ... is going to be the largest event New Zealand has ever staged, and it's going to be so dominant on the televisions and in households around New Zealand, we wanted to make sure that every school-aged child had access to information about it.

"We are going to have something that is relevant to learning, and totally connected to the Rugby World Cup when the tournament comes along."

The Rugby World Cup is indeed an event of some considerable significance. Without doubt, it is the last time for many years that New Zealand will be able to host RWC, if not the last time ever.

So we reckon that it's great that school children are going to have the opportunity to support the tournament as part of their curriculum learning. Rugby may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this is an event that will impact on New Zealand in a much broader sense than just sport.

RWC 2011 is getting closer, and as it does we get a little bit more excited and a little bit more nervous.

A Clayton's resignation

Many readers will be old enough to remember Clayton's; the drink you have when you're not having a drink. It spawned a legion of sayings, generally referring to things that were not quite as they seemed, or which were pale imitations of the real thing.

Now, we don't know whether Darren Hughes has ever drunk Clayton's or not, but he obviously knows the legend. For, as the Herald reports, his resignation last Friday has yet to materialise - check this out:

Darren Hughes has told his party he will formally resign before Tuesday, when Labour Party MPs will meet for their first full caucus since news broke about a police complaint against him by an 18-year-old student.

Mr Hughes announced last Friday that he would go but insisted he had done nothing wrong and would clear his name. Police are still investigating.

The office of Speaker Lockwood Smith yesterday confirmed he had not yet received a letter of resignation. A resignation is effective the moment the Speaker receives written notice of it, unless an MP states in the letter that it will take effect on a future date.

A Labour spokeswoman said Mr Hughes intended to have his letter with the Speaker before Tuesday, when MPs would return from a week-long recess.

That Parliament has been in recess this week is irrelevant, in our ever-humble opinion. Phil Goff made much of Hughes' integrity when announcing his decision to resign last week; now he's hanging on for as long as he can. We wonder if he is hoping that the Police will conclude investigations before Tuesday, and rescind his decision if no charges are laid. It all sounds a little Clayton's to us.

And in the meantime, Phil Goff has some more explaining to do - read on:

Labour leader Phil Goff has confirmed he will attend a meeting of the party's national council this weekend and expects to face questioning about his failure to tell president Andrew Little about the police complaint against Mr Hughes.

Mr Goff has previously said he withheld the news from Mr Little because he considered it a "caucus matter". However, the president has rejected that, saying anything that could damage the wider party is not solely a caucus issue.

Although the two have spoken since, Mr Little has refused to comment further.

We doubt that the Labour Party's national council will be as friendly towards Mr Goff as the gathering of senior MP's that was held in Dunedin on Tuesday. The unconditional support that Goff received there is perceived by most commentators to have been less than sincere. It is apparent that the only reason that Phil Goff remains in the role of leader is because no-one else is prepared to pick up the leadership this side of the election.

Despite all this, Phil Goff insists that his position has been strengthened. Does anyone really buy that? His handling of the Darren Hughes incident has been woeful, and the political judgment of BOTH men is open to question. And all the while, Judith Tizard lingers as next on Labour's list, unable to announce her decision until a resignation is actually lodged with the Speaker of the House.

Darren Hughes' Clayton's resignation merely adds to the perception of a messy saga which would have been shut down far, far sooner by someone with the ruthless political skills of Helen Clark.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Emmerson's at it again!

What's the difference between Ricky Ponting and Phil Goff? Rod Emmerson knows ...

Once again Emmerson proves that he is New Zealand's best cartoonist. Whichever politician he is lampooning on a given day, he always seems to be able to weave another topical story in. Long may Emmerson continue to entertain us.

Of Richie McCaw and priorities

It's Rugby World Cup year, and Richie McCaw has his eye on the prize. The Herald reports:

All Black captain Richie McCaw has turned down an invitation to attend Prince William's wedding next month because he wants to focus on his Super 15 comeback and the Rugby World Cup.

McCaw was surprised to receive the gold-embossed invitation to the prince's wedding to Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey, but has declined to attend - a move, he says, which has horrified his female friends.

"I did get an invitation, it was a heck of an honour and I felt a bit lucky," he revealed yesterday.

He said he needed to concentrate on his recovery from foot surgery and get back to playing for the Crusaders in the Super 15.

We're glad that McCaw has his priorities right. Getting an invite to the Wedding of the Year from Prince William (an avid rugby supporter) must have been quite some honour, but McCaw has bigger fish to fry in 2011.

Reports suggest that his recovery from injury is going well, and with the extended Super Rugby competition this season, he's got plenty to time to get match-fit before the RWC where his presence will be pivotal. We're relieved to know that his first focus is on his day-job.

Close, but no cigar

Sri Lanka has beaten New Zealand to take a place in the ICC World Cup final. But the Black Caps put up a creditable, if futile fight.

Once again, the New Zealanders simply did not make enough runs batting first, after a late-innings collapse. 217 was never going to be enough against a strong Sri Lankan batting lineup. So it seemd when Sri Lanka was 160 for one. But the Black Caps fought back, dismissing Dilshan, Jayawardena, Sangakarra and Silva in quick succession leaving Sri Lanka at 185 for five. Try as they might, they couldn't get the one more breakthrough that would have exposed the Sri Lankan tail.

We expected little of the Black Caps at this World Cup, but in the end they should take some pride from their achievements, especially the win against South Africa in the quarter-final. Simon Doull sums it up well; "On the day they just weren't good enough". They were beaten by a better side today, but not before they had caused a few heart flutters to the Sri Lankan players and their adoring fans. Sri Lanka is a deserving finalist.

This match also marks the end of Daniel Vettori's tenure as captain of New Zealand. We'll cover that off at a later date. It may also mean the end of the road for players like Scott Styris and Jacob Oram; time will tell. For now though, they can leave the World Cup beaten but unbowed, and having gone down fighting. As we said yesterday, that's all that we could ask for.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A level playing field? Yeah right!

The Black Caps front up tonight for what will be the most important match that many of the team will play in their careers; a World Cup semi-final at Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. As if trying to beat Sri Lanka in its own back yard wasn't a Herculian enough task, the match will be played on a used pitch - Cricinfo reports:

Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, is not impressed with the use of the same pitch for Tuesday's semi-final as the one that was used for the quarter-final against England on Saturday. "They've told us we're playing on the same one as England, which is very surprising for us," Vettori said on the eve of the first semi-final against Sri Lanka. "Playing a World Cup semi-final on a used wicket; we would have thought it would be mandatory to prepare a fresh wicket, but obviously not." Sri Lanka won their quarter-final easily, strangulating England's scoring through clever use of slow bowlers and Lasith Malinga at the death, and went on to win comfortably by 10 wickets.

Now, from the outset, we can clarify that it is not mandatory to play World Cup matches on a fresh surface. This decision though, made by Sri Lanka's head groundsman and rubber-stamped by the ICC smacks of being a home-town one.

It would seem that the ICC is determined to have the final of a World Cuop in the sub-continent contested by teams from the sub-continent, and preferably the remaining hosts, India and Sri Lanka. Conditions in Sri Lanka are sufficienty in favour of the home team that any additional "tweaking" by the ICC should be superfluous.

Of course, cricket's power base has changed in the last 10 years. The game is no longer run by the English; it is controlled by the ICC from its Dubai offices, and the playing schedule and Future Tours Programme has been built around the lucrative Indian Premier League T-20 competition. It should not surprise that the ICC is setting up for the final suggested above. Ironically though, this World Cup has been a shot in the arm for the 50-over version of the game.

Realistically, the Black Caps have only an outsider's chance of winning tonight. But that is when they play their best cricket. Their best hope is to win the toss and bat first, taking advantage of any early life in the pitch, then strangling the Sri Lankan batsmen, who have been known to coke, although not as often as other teams. The chances of them chasing down a big total against what is likely to be a five-pronged spin attack are not great.

Regardless, we'll be watching the first couple of hours at least, and letting MySky take care of the rest. Even as well sleep, our sub-conscious support will be with the Black Caps, even though this is likely to be a step too far for them, dodgy pitch or otherwise. We wish Dan Vettori and the team all the very best for this match, and hope that whatever the final result, they give a strong account of themselves. They have defied the odds to make it this far in the tournament; let's hope that they can defy the odds one more time tonight!

Reflections on Christchurch ...

It's almost a week since we got back from Christchurch. Since then, we've been struggling to get our head around some of the things we saw and experienced while we were down there last week.

First up, the scale of the devastation is far worse than the television images portray. For a start, seeing it with your own eyes makes it three dimensional. Obviously, we didn't go inside the cordons, although we did have the opportunity to drive around parts of it after a visit to a hospital. Just along the road, the chemist shop we picked up a prescription from over Christmas/New Year has been levelled. The shop had already moved after its first location was damaged in the September quake.

Fitzgerald Avenue is part of the boundary of the CBD cordon. Part-way down, along by the Avon River half of the road has subsided by several feet. The stench there is dreadful; something that the TV cameras don't capture.

Driving along Moorhouse Avenue, there is widespread damage within the cordon, right to the boundary. We've all seen the images of the Catholic Cathedral; one of Christchurch's most magnificent buildings. In real life, it looks even worse. Churches around the city have taken a pounding; one within the CBD that we couldn't see claimed the life of a family friend.

To the east of the CBD it's pretty chaotic. The roads have taken a huge hit, and driving requires undivided attention. There are some car-sized holes in the road awaiting repair, and the oddest thing is the way that man-hole covers now, instead of sitting flush with the road are at the peak of small hills in the middle of the road. Portaloos are everywhere, symbolic of unseen damage to water and sewage systems below the ground. There is obvious damage/destruction to some house; with others, the damage is less visible. Friends await a full EQC inspection of their home; the EQC guys did an external assessment because no-one was home; not seeing floors that have subsided, walls that are bent and twisted, and ceilings through which one can see the stars. This is not a criticism of EQC either; it merely underlines the scope of the task that they are facing.

Even where we were staying (halfway between Hagley Park and the airport) life was some distance from normal. Water had to be boiled before it could be drunk. Teeth were cleaned using a glass of boiled water rather than tap water, reminding us of our visit to Africa a few years ago. Toilets could only be flushed when absolutely necessary! Any travel across town involved a doubling of the normal time allocation. Compared to what some are suffering, these were minor inconveniences, but it underlines that life has changed for everyone in Christchurch.

As we commented last week though, it is the response of people we met that had the most profound impact on us. Even at the funeral of an earthquake victim we attended, people we spoke to are staying put. Their homes may have been battered, bruised and in many instances completely munted, but they are committed to rebuilding their homes and their lives in and around Christchurch. An elderly relative can't wait to get back to her home in Sumner.

Sure; there have been frustrations for business owners in the CBD being refused access to their properties. The sheer scale of this tragedy though is far beyond anything that Civil Defence has experienced before, and mistakes, while regrettable are inevitable. It seems though that the message has got through, and watching the early TV news this morning, it is being reported that more business owners will be able to get in and salvage essentials today. That is a step in the right direction. Business has been hugely affected by the February 22nd 'quake, and recovery is going to be a long and gradual process.

Rebuilding Christchurch is going to be expensive; that's inescapable. But it is a cost that New Zealand must bear. Christchurch is the South Island's commercial heart, and the tourist gateway to the South Island. Much as we (as a people) like to deride Christchurch in the same manner that we do do Auckland, there is enormous goodwill towards the Garden City. Our own links there are strong, with whanau on both sides. Christchurch must be rebuilt, and we look forward to a vibrant new CBD emerging from the rubble of February 22nd, but one that acknowledges and embraces Christchurch's rich heritag

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh dear ... oh dear ... oh dear!

They say a picture tells a thousand words. What might today's Dominion-Post cartoon be saying?

Sometimes, you've just gotta laugh!

Hat-tip: Gotcha

The best yet?

The Air New Zealand marketing department has produced some great promotion over the last couple of years. The All Black safety video was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and Rico has become an international mega-star, of similar star quality to Dame Edna Everidge.

But today Air New Zealand has unveiled the new Richard Simmonds exercise safety video, and it's great! Cameo appearances from Phil Keoghan and Paul Henry add to Simmonds "unique" style. We reckon that Air New Zealand has come up with a winner!

So sit back, strap yourself in, stow your tray table, and enjoy ...

Well done Air New Zealand; putting some fun into flying!

What do YOU think?

So who do YOU think should lead the Labour Party in the run-up to the 2011 election?

This is a serious question. On the left there seems to be growing unease with Phil Goff's performance, highlighted by his handling of the Darren Hughes affair. This is not right-wing blogs fomenting happy mischief; this is commenters at The Standard calling for Goff's head; this is the Dim-Post's last five posts all condemining Labour and/or Goff is some shape of form; this is Lew from Kiwipolitico talking about the political consequences of Goff's indecisive leadership; this is Psycho Milt, the leftie contributor to No Minister saying:

Yeah, you'd think. Instead, said ass-clowns busy running the country into the ground are looking quids-in for a second term. It shouldn't just be Darren Hughes resigning, there should be wholesale ritual suicide in the Labour ranks - if you lot can't give National a hiding when they're performing this badly, there's not much point in you continuing to draw breath, let alone a salary.

Calling for Phil Goff to stand aside from the leadership is one thing. Finding a successor is another. So; who do you think has the credentials and ability to lead a credible opposition to John Key's government? A government needs a strong opposition to keep it accountable, but the current Labour opposition is struggling at a time that it should have the National-led government on the ropes.

Is a change of leader the only thing that will save Labour from a NSW-like annihilation in November? What say you?

The Monday wrap - 28 March 2011

It's been a weekend of highs and lows, sportingwise.

The undoubted high was the Black Caps' win against the tormented South Africans in Dhaka on Friday night. We've watched the South African capitualtion a couple of times courtesy of the fast forward button on the MySky remote, and we still can't quite believe that a) the Black Caps got out of jail, and b) that the hard-nosed South Africans let them. But a win is a win is a win, and we are happy that New Zealand is the only non-subcontinent team in the World Cup semi-finals. Sri Lanka in Colombo will probably be a mountain too high for them. But then again, that's what we thought before the South Africa match. Tomorrow night will be a late one!

It's going to be a long season for Warriors supporters. We said that last week, and that's all we are going to say today.

And it was a mixed weekend for the New Zealand Super Rugby teams. The Crusaders had a rollicking win in London this morning, the Blues did what they had to in the rain at Hamilton on Saturday night, and we despair at the performance of the Hurricanes on Friday night; it was woeful, and some serious butt-kicking needs to happen this week by Mark "Hammer" Hammett.

Elsewhere the F1 season is underway. Sebastian Vettel led into the first corner at Melbourne, and wasn't even pressured after that. The All Whites had a meritorious draw with China despite scoring both goals, and the New Zealand Sevens team leads the IRB series after beating England in the final at Hong Kong; another great result for Gordon Tietjens' men..

Have we missed anything? What sporting contest caught your imagination this weekend? The floor is yours...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What they're saying ... Part deux

Matt McCarten adds to the across-the board criticism of Phil Goff - check this out:

Why is the Labour opposition so hopeless? I had assumed that leader Phil Goff was competent enough, albeit lacking in charisma, to survive until the November election.

Now I don't. His performance this week has been appalling.

I reluctantly swallowed the line that he was the best of the bunch after Helen Clark's departure and was handed a poisoned chalice to do the best he could to rebuild his party.

In retrospect, maybe the Labour Party should have picked someone else as a break with the past.

Goff's leadership mandate has always been weak, given that he got the job without any input from the party or the consensus of wider Labour voters. That's because Clark quit immediately after the last election and, while her caucus was dealing with their massive election losses, she anointed Goff as her replacement with no time for anyone else to be considered.

Though I find Goff personally affable and decent, I've always had a jaundiced view of him given he was an enthusiastic right-winger of the neo-liberal coup in 1984 that gave our country to a bunch of gangster capitalists.

Goff and most of his old guard, still hanging on to their parliamentary perks, were complicit in the crime and can never 'fess up.

Oh dear; oh dear; oh dear. Leaving apart the fact that McCarten now sees an even bigger opportunity to muscle in on the left, you'd have to wonder how much longer Phil Goff's position as Leader of the Labour Party is tenable, let alone secure.

An interesting week awaits us ...

UPDATE: Regular commenter Jabba has just alerted us to this comment from Bomber Bradbury at Tumeke, who couldn't be any further left of centre. Doubtless, that won't stop the Labour hacks attacking the messenger yet again, whilst they ignore the message that their own constituency is sending them. Bomber writes:

You know when Chris Carter starts making sense that something terribly wrong has happened.

Is it just me or does it seem a tad optimistic that the Labour leadership seemed to think that an 18 year old running naked from a former Minister's home he shares with the Deputy Leader at 2am in the morning wasn't going to be newsworthy enough to get out to the media? What headlines were Phil Goff and Annette King banking on to remove the publics gaze? Alien invasion? The second coming? OJ Simpson breaking out of prison live being chased in a car with a gun to his own head ringing into Pierce Morgan to confess he killed lots of white women? I mean what the f**k?

Regardless of whether Darren is guilty or not, the massive lapse in judgment of having an 18 year old at your home at 2am in the morning after a boozy night on the town is enough to have been stepped down immediately, to allow this farce to continue under the presumption of innocence is not what mates do. Mates go, 'Maaaaate, that's some pretty heavy sexual allegation shit right there, you'll be standing down immediately and I will be making a statement right after you stand down'. That's what mates do, they hurry their mates into making the honourable and righteous decision when allegations are this serious. Mates don't stay shtum.

This is the Labour Party, not the Catholic Church.

There's only one thing to say - tumeke!

Judith takes her time...

The Herald on Sunday reports on the fallout from Darren Hughes' resignation on Friday. And the most significant thing to come out of the story is this:

Meanwhile, former Labour MP Judith Tizard said last night she may take at least a week to decide if she wants to return to Parliament.

Party leader Phil Goff rang her yesterday to ask if she was planning to take the spot vacated by Hughes.

Tizard said she had "some unfinished business" and it would also be nice to say "stick it up you" to those who didn't want her back.

Tizard plans to speak to friends, including former Prime Minister Helen Clark before she decides.

Asked if she supported Goff as leader, she said: "He has to decide if New Zealanders see him as a future Prime Minister. Phil could be a Prime Minister. I think a Prime Minister has to lead, has to be very fair, very generous. The question for Phil is if he can step up to that."

The vacancy created by Hughes' resignation is legally Judith Tizard's if she decides to accept it, and Phil Goff and Andrew Little can do nothing about it. Over at Kiwiblog yesterday, DPF provided a step-by-step analysis of the process under the Electoral Act that will be applied to fill the vacancy.

But Phil Goff would not be human if he wasn't just a tad concerned, especially with Ms Tizard's plans to discuss her options with her close friend Helen Clark. If there is any truth in reports in the NBR and Scoop of the New York branch of the Labour Party, Goff's concerns would be well founded. We wonder of the threat of a return by Judith Tizard may end up being a tool with which to leverage a leadership challenge. After all, Tizard's reported comments above are hardly a ringing endorsement of Goff's leadership prowess

As for Judith Tizard; Barry Soper reported on Newstalk ZB that she had told him she had unfinished business. Being defeated in the 2008 election meant that she left Parliament without delivering a valedictory speech. Soper suggested that she may want the chance to put that right.

We reckon that an interetsting week awaits Phil Goff; there is talk of a meeting of senior caucus members on Monday and Tuesday; there is the threat of a leadership challenge; and of course, there's the small matter of replacing Darren Hughes. The last seven days have been tough on Goff, and there's no indication that the pressure will ease any time soon.

Christian Music Sunday - 27 March 2011

Let's go gospel this morning! We reckon that there's a fair chance that this song will be sung in hundreds of churches around the world today; perhaps not as a big band production number as in this clip, but as a song of praise to a God who unites all peoples.

It's a song we've led many, many times at church, but never with a horns section to back us, more's the pity. Enjoy Ron Kenoly's classic gospel song this morning ...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What they're saying ...

We're not normally big on "around the blogs" type posts. But today, everyone's talking about Phil Goff, Darren Hughes, leadership coups and the New York branch of the Labour Party. So here's a selection from right across the sphere of opinion:

Over at The Standard, ROB denies that a coup is imminent, but the comments section suggests that there is a mood for change

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, Rober Winter, a Labour supporter opines:
I am on record as suggesting for some months that David Parker is a serious candidate for Party leadership. He has the numbers, as far as I can tell, and MPs once loyal to Mr Goff. now deeply disillusioned by the Hughes affair and the Party's poll ratings are mulling over seriously a coup that might not be perfectly timed, but which is a last hope for a pre-election positioning of the party, and would, in the case of defeat, allow some bold thinking and the emergence of a long-term succession strategy. Personally, I think that Mr Parker would scrub up quite well as leader, and a team with Mr Robertson captures a number of imaginations.

Selwyn Manning from Scoop
quotes sources from
within the Labour Party - he writes:

Scoop can confirm Phil Goff's leadership has been in question since it was revealed he knew about the complaint made to Police two week's ago. The alleged incident is said to have occurred at Labour deputy leader Annette King's home, where Darren Hughes was a border.

Labour insiders have told Scoop that Hughes offered Goff his resignation weeks ago, after confiding in his leader that he was under Police investigation. The fact that Goff didn't accept it then has caused stress amongst Labour caucus members.

Scoop has also learnt that indeed a cabal representing a group within caucus is counting numbers against Goff.

Maryan Street and Ruth Dyson are representing a cabal that is seeking support for David Parker to replace Goff. And rumours that Helen Clark and her strong-arm strategist Heather Simpson have been consulted appear to have some substance.

Today, Scoop understands Parker has the numbers to roll Goff. He does have the support of the majority of the Labour caucus. But Scoop also understands the cabal will not make its move to roll the leader until Goff absorbs full responsibility for his handling of the Hughes affair.

Over at Kiwiblog, DPF reckons that it is not impossible that the "Labour insiders" that Manning refers to might in fact be David Parker himself; surely not!

The NBR takes a similar line to Scoop, and introduces us to the New York Branch of the Labour Party:

Word from inside the party is that the New York branch (aka former leader Helen Clark) has been involved in secret talks over the future of current leader Phil Goff.

Mr Goff has always been considered a temporary head, okay to lead while National is firmly in power, but unlikely to be the next Prime Minister.

Parker, Street, Dyson running numbers
“I am reliably informed that Labour rank and file are planning a challenge to Goff," a well-placed insider told NBR.

"David Parker, Maryan Street and Ruth Dyson – with the approval of the New York office – are gathering numbers to see what can be done,” the source said.

Mr Goff’s handling of the Hughes event was the final straw.

No Minister's resident leftie, Psycho Milt laments the absence of an opposition that opposes, opining:

It shouldn't just be Darren Hughes resigning, there should be wholesale ritual suicide in the Labour ranks - if you lot can't give National a hiding when they're performing this badly, there's not much point in you continuing to draw breath, let alone a salary.

And then there's today's papers. At Stuff, Vernon Small and Tracy Watkins write:

The Labour Party is in turmoil, with senior figures questioning leader Phil Goff's judgment over the Darren Hughes affair and a crucial frontbench meeting on Monday and Tuesday likely to discuss the issue.

Mr Goff has defended his actions, saying the allegation could have been unhelpful to the police inquiry, set off a storm of controversy, and would not have helped Mr Hughes or the complainant.

Yesterday he dismissed talk of a move on his leadership as "bullshit" and said he had received no criticism of his handling of the affair and expected none.

But one of the party's rising stars, who asked not to be named, said next week's meeting was likely to crystallise how angry MPs were over Mr Goff's handling of the issue and whether there was the will for a leadership challenge.

"It depends if people like Charles Chauvel, Shane Jones, David Parker and Trevor Mallard have the balls to say something."

Lastly, we turn to Fran O'Sullivan at the Herald, who notes:

Goff's inability to apply consistent standards has also left him facing charges of hypocrisy. Unlike the Richard Worth affair, Hughes has not been accused of operating a political casting couch.

But in Worth's case, Goff showed no mercy when demanded why John Key did not take his Cabinet minister's warrants from him the moment he knew he was facing allegations from two women.

Goff now says he got it wrong and that "people are entitled to be regarded as innocent until they're proven guilty".

It is a pity that the Labour leader did not apply that reasoning in 2009 when he failed to supply any real evidence to back his own allegation that Worth tried to entice the "strikingly beautiful" Labour activist Neelam Choudary with the offer of a job on the Lottery Grants Board.

But that was then.

Goff's leadership has now been called into question by some of his colleagues. But claims that MP David Parker would mount a challenge were farcical.

It's also notable that (so far) National has not openly smeared Hughes.

It doesn't have to. The Hughes affair has been the "gift that goes on giving" as far as National is concerned.

Right across the spectrum, it seems that the tide has turned against Phil Goff, and that it is going out at a furious rate. We await developments with more than a passing level of interest.

Oh, and as an aside, WhaleOil has a satirical take on Helen Clark's legendary capacity for keeping in touch with her former colleagues by txt message; here's an excerpt from his latest series:

Of Labour, MMP, and the democratic process

We complained long and hard in 2008 when the Green Party tampered with its 2005 Party List. The Greens shoved aside Catheine Delahunty and Mike Ward to parachute co-leader Russel Norman into Parliament to replace Nandoor Tanczos. That, of course, allowed Norman to campaign for the 2008 election as an MP, and on the public purse.

This morning Newstalk ZB reports that Labour is going to commit an even worse abuse of MMP. Darren Hughes' resignation yesterday leaves a hole to be filled from the 2008 Party List. Next in line, of course, is Judith Tizard, closely followed by Mark Burton, Mahara Okeroa, Martin Gallagher and Dave Hereora, all former MP's. But no; the radio report suggests that Labour Pary President Andrew Little wants new blood; he wants Manurewa candidate Louisa Wall who is the sixth cab off the rank.

This is outrageous. Labour put up a list for the voting public to consider. Now, the needs and wants of the union movement seem to be more important than the democratic process. That is quite simply unacceptable. Surely Labour has, if nothing else, a moral responsibility to stick to the list that it presented to the voting public prior to the 2008 election.

This tawdry affair also exposes another flaw in MMP. We are not advocating for a return to First Past the Post as the electoral system that New Zealand uses, but there MUST be something better than MMP, if this is the kind of contempt with which political parties can treat those who vote for (or against) them.

Labour may not want Judith Tizard back in Parliament, nor Mark Burton, nor any of the others mentioned above. But they are the names on Labour's 2008 list; they made themselves available to serve between 2008 and 2011, and that is that. If it doesn't suit Labour; tough. That should have been taken into account when the list was compiled.

We have no sympathy whatsoever for the Labour Party in these circumstances. They are quite literally hoist by their own petard.

UPDATE (Midday Saturday):
Newstalk ZB reports that Barry Soper has spoken to Tizard, and at this moment, she intends to take up the seat which is hers both by law and by Labour’s constitution. She did not get to make a Valedictory speech when she lost her seat in 2008, and wants to put that right.

Yes! Yes!! YES!!!

The headline at Cricinfo says it all:

New Zealand pull off stunning upset

Yes indeed dear readers. Despite having only mustered 221 on a slow and lifeless pitch at Dhaka, the Black Caps have beaten perennial World Cup chokers South Africa. They rolled the Saffers for 172 to record a convincing victory; Cricinfo reports:

Oh South Africa, what have you done? Earlier this month Graeme Smith tweeted an article titled 'Time to ban the 'C' word'. Hold on to that thought Smith, for clearly that time hasn't come yet. South Africa were cruising at 108 for 2 in the 25th over when Jacques Kallis fell and they crash-landed spectacularly to be shot out for 172. The self-destructive streak was demonically masochistic in nature and it will perhaps require shrinks to understand this dramatic denouement. Once they realised their opponents were cracking under pressure, New Zealand went in for the kill, with close-in fielders and disciplined bowling, led by Jacob Oram who took four wickets and a great catch.

Even when Kallis fell, to a blinder of a catch from Jacob Oram, rushing to his left at deep midwicket, there wasn't much to suggest that this could turn into another contender for all-time greatest choke in World Cup history. The pitch was slow but there was no sharp turn; the bowlers were disciplined but there was no sensational game-breaking spell; none of the three spinners got much purchase from the wicket; and the total was below par; but for some reason South Africa were feeling extremely claustrophobic.

Their nerves were best represented by the dismissal of JP Duminy, who played an awful shot to open the choke gates. Nathan McCullum slowed up the pace on a delivery that landed on a length, outside off, and Duminy went so hard into an ugly cut that he ended up dragging the ball on to his stumps. With Duminy's fall, South Africa were in a spot of bother at 121 for 4, in the 28th over, and the first signs of something special loomed over Mirpur.

There was more heartbreak for South African fans in the next over. Faf du Plessis hit straight to midwicket and ran like a headless chicken. AB de Villiers should have perhaps refused that call, but he responded, only to find himself well short of the crease. It was at this moment that New Zealand really sensed that this could be their night. And they moved in for the kill.

We must admit that we didn't stay up all night. Our vigil ended when Ross Taylor was dismissed in the 33rd over. MySky though has captured the action for us. We woke up around 4.30am and almost got up then to watch the last hour or so, but another hour's sleep was too attractive to turn down! We're wishing we had risen then, but c'est la vie!

This was a team performance, but two particular heroes emerged. Jesse Ryder anchored the New Zealand innings with a solid 83. And the much-maligned Jacob Oram took the Man of the Match award taking four for 39 and two catches including a brilliant match-changing (and untimately match-winning) catch to dismiss Jacques Kallis. From the moment of that catch, South Africa lost its last seven wickets for a mere 64 runs in the kind of collapse that the Black Caps have exhibited far too often.

Today, we will celebrate. The England vs Sri Lanka match tonight now takes on much more significance as that is where the Black Caps' semi-final opponent will come from. And of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention that we have gone a round further in this World Cup that our dear friends from across the Tasman.

Well done Daniel Vettori and the New Zealand team. A never-say-die approach goes a long way.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Breaking news ...

Phil Goff has just announced Darren Hughes' resignation as an MP - this is breaking news, and we'll update in due course ... but we can't help but wonder what has changed since yesterday afternoon when Darren Hughes offered his resignation, and Goff declined to accept it ...

UPDATE: Stuff reports:

Labour leader Phil Goff has accepted under-fire Labour list MP Darren Hughes' resignation following sex scandal allegations.

Hughes had telephoned to say he would resign, Phil Goff said at a press conference this afternoon.

"The controversy surrounding the allegations has made it impossible to carry out his role," Goff said.

He said he agreed with Hughes, but Hughes had made it clear he believed that he had not done anything wrong.

Earlier today fresh details emerged about the early morning incident involving Hughes with an eyewitness saying he saw a naked man near the MP's home.

In the meantime, Newstalk ZB suggests that the numbers are being done ...

Meanwhile, the real fun starts now. Labour's list, in order, reads like this:

38: Judith Tizard; 39: Mark Burton; 40: Mahara Okeroa; 41: Martin Gallagher; 42: Dave Hereora; 43: Louisa Wall; 44: Lesley Soper.

There's the dilemma. The next seven names from Labour's list were all rejected by the public, one way or another, in 2008. There is no new blood, Louisa Wall perhaps apart. Whoever takes over from Darren Hughes is NOT the future of the Labour Party.

Heck; Robert Guyton might not like us saying this (then again he might be chuffed!), but it's entirely possible that the Green Party could be the main opposition party after the 2011 election!


We doubt that Phil Goff would have particularly enjoyed his breakfast this morning. He would doubtless have seen the headline of the Herald's editorial. Under the banner Accused MP failed by Goff's mishandling the leader writer opines:

Political careers can unravel in not much more than the metaphorical blinking of an eye. Often, only astute management stands between a parliamentarian surviving a serious allegation or tumbling into oblivion.

On that basis, Darren Hughes, one of Labour's most promising MPs, has been ill-served by his party's leadership. When he stood down yesterday as Labour's education spokesman and chief whip, it served only to underline the folly of Phil Goff's mishandling of the incident.

The editorial then goes on to draw comparisons between Goff's handling of the Hughes affair and John Key's handling of the Richard Worth affair two years ago. We drew our own comparisons yesterday, and they did not flatter the Labour leader. Nor do the Herald's. We are not going to republish vast tracts; we merely suggest you go and have a read for yourself.

But even more damaging for Goff was his having to admit yesterday that he was wrong to criticise John Key's response to the Worth affair. Stuff reports:

Yesterday, as criticism of his management of the latest scandal grew, he admitted he had mishandled the Worth affair: "I think I've learnt one or two things about the complexity of these situations. I am going to be the first to admit that I was wrong in the judgment that I made at that time."

Earlier, talking to Newstalk ZB's Sean Plunkett, Mr Goff said: "When a complaint was laid with the police against Richard Worth, I made no comment. No comment at all."

But after Dr Worth's resignation, in June 2009, Mr Goff said Mr Key had lacked "the necessary leadership" to sack Dr Worth.

He said Mr Key acted too slowly when he learned of the police investigation.

Mr Key was told of the allegations a week before announcing Dr Worth's resignation.

This, of course, is highly problematic for Phil Goff. Labour makes much of the relative political inexperience of John Key and some of those in his Cabinet and Caucus. But Phil Goff first entered Parliament in 1981; 30 years ago. He has served the "political apprenticeship" that Labour often claims that Key and his cohorts have not. There have been all sorts of political scandals for Goff to learn from over that time.

It seems apparent that Goff has been a slow learner. His handling of this matter has been woeful, and reflects poorly both on him and his party. It is clear that Labour hoped that this could be swept under the carpet.

Goff is being criticised from right across the spectrum, and deservedly so. It is little wonder that the rumour mill is working overtime. Those ranked just above Judith Tizard on Labour's 2008 party list, especially those who are only in Parliament because of the list must be fearful for their political futures. And that fear will be the cause of action.

A few weeks ago we would have staked money on Goff remaining Labour's leader until the election, but being replaced in the event of a Labour loss. Now, we're not so sure. When your job and your livelihood are on the line, you look at every option.

A late-in-the-game leadership change is not new to Labour as they showed weeks before the 1990 election. Mike Moore couldn't repel the blue tide that year, and we don't know if David Parker, David Cunliffe, Shane Jones or Maryan Street could do it in 2011. That may not stop Labour's caucus trying.

It's all gone horribly pear-shaped for Phil Goff. On Newstalk ZB this morning, just before 7am Mike Hosking summed it all up succinctly when he said:

This should be all about Darren Hughes, but it's not; it's now all about Phil Goff

We couldn't agree more.

This Sporting Life - 25 March 2011

Another week; another Friday, and another full weekend of sport. We're a bit slow of the mark with this post today due to a computer crash at work, but all is good with the world now!

The big match of the weekend is the Black Caps' quarter-final against South Africa in Dhaka tonight. If there was any place where you would like to play South Africa and neutralise their pace attack, it's Bangladesh. That said, a New Zealand win tonight would be a huge surprise, but we're not going to rule it out. Winning the toss will be important tonight, as will disciplined bowling and patient batting. We wish the Black Caps well

Other than that, there's a full weekend of rugby and league, whilst the race for the Premiership is hotting up in English football. We will be keeping a close eye on the Crusaders as they take on the Sharks at Twickenham, and hope that the teams turn on a cracker of a match.

That's it from us for the moment; the floor is yours...

The end of the road?

Just a few moments ago, Yuvraj Singh slammed the ball through the covers, and India eliminated Australia from the ICC World Cup.

In the dying moments, the cameras kept panning to a dejected looking Ricky Ponting. We cannot help but wonder; is this the end of the road for Punter Ponting? Ponting has been one of the very best players of his generation. He led Australia to back-to-back World Cup victories in 2003 and 2007, and to a record streak of test matches.

In recent years though, his star has faded. He led Asutralia to consecutive Ashes series defeats in England, and then the crushing Ashes defeat in Australia this summer. Now Asutralia's World Cup streak has ended.

Ponting is still a top player, as evidenced by his 104 against India overnight. But at 36, there have been signs for a year or two that his best days are behind him. We cannot help but wonder if he has reached the end of the road, and if this is the right moment for him to bow out of the game that he has dominated for 15 years.

In the end, Ponting may not even have any say in it. Australians are not generally tolerant of failure, and this summer has not been a successful one by Australian standards. The selectors may require him to relinquish the Australian captaincy. That would be an unfortunate end to a stellar career, and we wonder if now is the time for Ricky Ponting to stand aside; own his own terms.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Act's quest for relevance

For some time now, the Act Party has struggled to gain traction in political polls. They have weathered a succession of roadblocks in this term of Parliament; Rodney the Perkbuster being busted, the Heather Roy coup, and the David Garrett affair. Granted, their flagship Three Strikes legislation was passed, and the Voluntary Student Membership Bill is likely to be passed in the next month or so, so they have had successes. But overall, Act has struggled since the 2008 election.

Today though, the wounds have been self-inflicted. John Boscawen lodged 700 Questions to Members today, in the hope that the House would be sufficiently delayed so that the Third Reading debate of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill. Boscawen has led Act's opposition to the Bill; today however, he was merely grandstanding.

Given that Act purportedly stands for LESS government, this was a particularly ironic way to register a protest. We wonder what the cost has been of John Boscawen's little stunt today. And it backfired on him; most of the 700 questions were ruled out of order, and many of those that survived that cut were unable to to be answered due to the Member to whom the question was addressed (from parties right across the House) finding that they had urgent business elsewhere. The result was reminiscent of the day during the Mt Albert by-election campaign when John Boscawen was famously bombaded with a lamington!

A strong Act Party is a natural ally to National, and a likely partner in a coalition government. Right now however, there must be doubts as to whether Act will survive the 2011 election. National has suggested that Rodney Hide might face a genuine contest in Epsom, and it is only Hide's tenure of that seat that gives Act a voice in government.

John Boscawen's stunt today was cringeworthy. Act needs to present itself as a credible and relevant party if it is to survive beyond 26 November 2011. The events of today would suggest that Act has a long way to go.

Of Phil Goff and high standards ...

UPDATE (2PM) - This, from Stuff:

LATEST: Darren Hughes has stood down as Labour's education spokesman and chief whip as controversy swirls around a police complaint made against him by an 18-year-old male.

The development was just announced by Labour leader Phil Goff, who said he had asked Hughes to stand down from the key roles after details of the allegations, which concern an alleged early morning incident in Wellington, were made public.

Goff said Hughes had agreed to the move.

In the meantime, the Twitter hashtag #goffroll seems to be gathering momentum ...


The headline in this morning's Herald says it all:

I insist on high standards, says Goff

The Herald reports that Goff goes on to say:

Labour leader Phil Goff has said he will hold MP Darren Hughes to the same standard he has previously demanded of others if police find any substance in a sexual complaint laid against him.

Mr Hughes has gone to ground after he yesterday confirmed he was the subject of a police investigation, believed to have followed a late-night incident with an 18-year-old male.

Mr Hughes said he had "done nothing wrong" and was co-operating with police, but would not comment further during the investigation.

Yesterday, Mr Goff said Mr Hughes was on leave until police finished their investigation. If police found there was substance to the complaint "then I will need to act accordingly".

He accepted Mr Hughes' word that he had done nothing wrong and he regarded Mr Hughes well "as a friend and a colleague".

However, he would "absolutely" hold his MPs to the same standard he demanded of Prime Minister John Key after allegations surfaced against former minister Richard Worth.

Unfortunately, that last sentence creates a bit of a dilemma for Phil Goff. You see, he was no bit-player in the resignation of Richard Worth early in 2009. We blogged about this opinion-piece by Bill Ralston at the time, but it's worth (pardon the awful pun!) revisiting this morning - check this out (our emphasis added):

He may have resigned but Richard Worth is not the only victim in this debacle. When you play in the muck you will get dirt on you. It's a lesson Phil Goff forgot last week and it must take the gloss off the Mt Albert by-election result.

When John Key rightly demanded Worth's resignation as a minister after the police began investigating sex charges against him in relation to his involvement with an unnamed Korean woman, Goff couldn't resist putting the boot in.

It is obvious that Goff's office first leaked the rumour to the Press Gallery that Labour had already warned Key of allegations of sexual harassment by Worth of another woman, who we now know is Neelam Choudary.

Leaving the Korean woman's allegations to one side, it is also now apparent that the Choudary affair was largely a Labour set-up.

All Key was first presented with was allegations Worth had made inappropriate advances via texts, phone calls and a coffee meeting to an unnamed woman, but there was no hard evidence to back it up.

Not surprisingly, Worth denied all and, in the absence of proof, Key's inquiries came to nothing.

When the proverbial hit the fan over the Korean woman, Labour dropped the whisper of the Choudary allegations and Key was forced completely on to the back foot and publicly embarrassed. Labour strategists would have been chortling.

Finally, however, thanks to the efforts of some bloggers and journalists in the gallery, more ugly facts emerged. Goff had sought to keep her name secret. For good reason. It soon became apparent Choudary was not just an ordinary low-level member of the Labour Party, she had tried to become a Labour MP last year.

By offering herself to the bear pit of Parliament she plainly demonstrated she was no shrinking violet incapable of fending off the blandishments of an aged Government minister.

From the beginning, when she first received approaches from Worth, she had kept Goff in the loop. The Labour leader even endorsed the idea she should meet Worth.

We also found out that Choudary had been active on the ground in David Shearer's by-election campaign in Mt Albert. Hence the inevitable conclusion Worth and the Government were clearly being set up by the Labour Party.

Now remember this salient point; one of Phil Goff's biggest complaints after the Richard Worth affair broke was that he had advised the Prime Minister of allegations against the former Minister, but that Key hadn't acted on them. The allegations subsequently hit the public domain, and you'd have to be pretty naive to believe that the media picked them up from anywhere too far distant from Phil Goff's office.

This now creates two dilemmas for the Labour leader. Firstly, he accused "the Beehive" of leaking the allegations against Darren Hughes to the media. Secondly, he has been forced to admit that he knew of the Hughes story for two weeks before it became public.

Darren Hughes duly went off on leave yesterday. Goff told the Herald:

"Because it's been made public it's very hard for him to continue to carry on with his normal duties. I didn't think the complaint was relevant to his ability to carry out his job. Because he is under that scrutiny now, it's very hard for him to do so, that's why I've given him leave."

We don't buy that for one moment. A serious allegation has been made against Labour's eighth-ranked MP. Hughes would not be human if he was not worried about that allegation, and it cannot help but impact on his effectiveness in his role. The Senior Whip is, after all, the "glue" who holds a caucus together. More than any other role apart from the leader's, it is a job which requires absolute focus. Certainly, the matter going public changes the dynamic, but it is impossible to escape the perception that Phil Goff shut this issue down for as long as he could in the hope that it would all blow over.

That, in our ever-humble opinion makes Phil Goff's determination to maintain standards a bit of a double standard. He criticised John Key for tarrying over Richard Worth; now he has done just the same thing himself, and misled the media to boot by denying the allegations a few days ago.

FOOTNOTE: Please note; this post is about Phil Goff's response, not about the allegations regarding Darren Hughes. Any comments regarding Hughes' alleged conduct or other personal matters will be deleted.

RIP Miss Taylor

Dame Elizabeth Taylor has died, after a prolonged period of illness. She was 79.

Growing up as a child of the 1950's, Elizabeth Taylor was a star to us, in an era when going to the movies was a wonderful night out. She had genuine "star quality", and between her acting talent and her off-screen life she was a household name. Married eight times to seven husbands (she famously married her on-screen love Richard Burton twice), Dame Elizabeth was seldom far from the headlines in her heydey.

Her later life was marred by ill-health and addiction issues. Even so, she worked hard for charities she was passionate about, none moreso than AmFAR; the American Foundation for Aids Research which she co-founded after the death of her close friend Rock Hudson from Aids. We also recall an impassioned plea from her at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley in April 1992.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor was a true star. She will be sadly missed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

UPDATED: The last thing Labour needed ...

Darren Hughes had admitted that he is the MP being investigated by the Police, and denies any wrongdoing. He has been stood down from his portfolio responsibilities in the interim. As this is now a police matter, we will close off the comments.

And as we drove into Wanganui, we heard Barry Soper advise that Phil Goff has admitted to knowing of this matter for two weeks, despite having previously denied any knowledge of it when asked by journalists. Imagine the outrage from the left had John Key knowingly misled journalists. Instead it's all the Beehive's fault says Phil! Oh dear!!


So, who's been a naughty boy then? Vernon Small from the Dom-Post reports:

Labour MPs have closed ranks and are refusing to comment about allegations that police are investigating an incident involving a senior Labour MP. understands the complainant was an 18-year-old male who has had links to Labour.

The MP who was the subject of the allegations did not return calls, and Labour sources said last night that senior MPs were in crisis talks over the issue.

But Labour leader Phil Goff did not return calls and his chief press secretary and chief of staff both would only say "no comment". They refused to confirm or deny the allegations or confirm there had been a complaint.

It is understood no charges have been laid by police but that they are investigating.

When there were allegations of impropriety surrounding Richard Worth, he immediately stood down as a Minister having been told by the Prime Minister that he would be sacked if he did not resign. Worth ultimately resigned as an MP when John Key indicated that there was no future for him in a Key-led National Party.

It will be interesting to see whether Goff takes similar decisive action, and whether the MP in question is a Goff supporter or one of the infamous Chris Carter Seventeen. This is certainly shaping up as a significant test of Goff's leadership.

Homeward bound ...

We climb about the silver birdie shortly on our way home. We'll be back in the office this afternoon, whereupon normal life (and blogging) will resume. We'll have a few more reflections on our visit in due course; perhaps tomorrow, when we have processed the events of yesterday.

It's been an interesting few days down in Christchurch to say the least. Actually "interesting" isn't the right word; we used "surreal" yesterday, but could just have easily used "sobering" or "harrowing".

But the overwhelming emotion we've experienced is hope. No-one we've met over the last few days is abandoning their home city, and everyone expects a stronger and more vibrant Christchurch to emerge from the rubble, the dust, the liquefaction and the stench. That says a lot for the inconquerable nature of the human spirit.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Canterbury icon

Ballantynes is synonymous with Christchurch. Like Smith and Caughey in Auckland and Kirkaldie and Stains in Wellington, Ballantynes is part of the retail therapy landscape. And as the Press reports this morning, Ballantynes is staying put - check this out:

Ballantynes is likely to remain closed for six to nine months but its objective is to reopen in the cental city, executive director Richard Ballantyne says.

The City Mall department store would not relocate, he said. The business would increase the number of products available at its Timaru store, expand its online sales capacity, sell through catalogues and hold one-off "retail events".

Ballantyne said the firm was "in the queue" with other central-city businesses to get access to its building, which is within the cordoned red zone. "We haven't had permission yet, but we're understanding of the situation. We are just having to be patient and work with the authorities."

He said it was likely to be between six and nine months before the store could resume trading.

Asked whether the business would have to look at reducing staff numbers, Ballantyne said it was not looking at that problem at the moment. It employs about 430 staff across its three stores.

Ballantynes is right in the heart of the Christchurch CBD, in Cashel Mall. We've tagged along there many times when She Who Must Be Obeyed has wanted to choose from a bigger range than is available in Wanganui. And it is a magnificent store; reminiscent of the department stores that operated in our childhood, but which have by and large been swallowed up by chain stores.

So it's great to read that Ballantynes wants to get back to the CBD as soon as possible, but also that the store is looking at innovative ways to trade in the interim. Having risen from the ashes of the tragic fire in November 1947, we have no doubt that Ballantynes can again rise Phoenix-like, and lead the way in resurrecting Christchurch's CBD shoppoin experience. And we have no doubt that when Ballantynes does reopen, SWMBO will be near the head of the queue!

A tale of two cities

It's all a bit surreal being in Christchurch at the moment. We know that the word "surreal" has been bandied around a lot in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake that struck one month ago today, but it's the only one we can think of that aptly describes things.

Christchurch truly is a city of two halves, divided, it seems, by Hagley Park. There's not a lot of damage west of the park, although we were sad to see the state of Mona Vale, where we have often lunched nn a Sunday when we have been visiting. Approaching the park from the Fendalton Road end, there's some significant road damage, but once you get through the park, the landscape changes dramatically.

We were taken aback to see the army manning the cordon right on the Bealey Ave corner of Hagley Park, and there are damaged buildings everywhere around there. The roads are interesting to say the least, and the force that nature unleashed on Christchurch can only be imagined. It's sad to see so many familiar landmarks damaged, and it's sobering to think of the effect that the earthquake is having on so many people.

We can understand the frustration of business owners who protested at Civil Defence HQ yesterday. But equally we can understand the difficulties that the Civil Defence people are facing; the scale of this tragedy is enormous. There are no winners here.

We head out east today visiting staff and contractors. We've allowed twice as long as we normally would to get where we're going; such is the state of the roads and the volume of traffic, with the road closures in town, and in the suburbs. We have no idea of what we will see and experience today, and we just hope that for everyone's sake, there's no repeat of Sunday night's 5.1 aftershock!

When our day's work is done, we'll head west again to our suburban digs, where there are only cosmestic signs of the devastation wrought on Christchurch. Then we'll be able to reflect so more on this surreal city, split literally in two by the events of February 22nd.