Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hone; at the trough already

Ah, he's a smart cookie, that Hone Harawira. Not only, as we reported yesterday, is he Parliament's biggest spending MP; he's worked out how to squeeze the taxpayer for even more. The Herald reports:

Maori MP Hone Harawira will kickstart his new party by forcing a byelection in his Te Tai Tokerau electorate.

Mr Harawira launched his new Mana Party in Auckland this afternoon.
He told a gathering of about 300 people that he had always believed he was accountable to the people of his electorate. He believed they should be able to have their say on his new party.

He will officially resign from Parliament by writing to the Speaker on Monday, setting in train the process for a byelection.

Mr Harawira also said the Maori Party president told him last night that it would not stand a candidate against him this year.

When Mr Harawira left the party in February, they had agreed not to stand against each other in the Maori electorates.

However there had been uncertainty about whether the agreement would hold.

Mr Harawira's decision to force a byelection just seven months before a general election is likely to be criticised. Labour leader Phil Goff has already said he would view it as a "publicity stunt" and said it would be irresponsible and costly.

Just for today, and just on this issue, we agree with Phil Goff. But here's what makes it worse. Hone Harawira is currently an independant MP. But he is going to seek a mandate from Te Tai Tokerau as a Mana Party MP. Are you getting the picture?

Yes, dear readers. Ol' Hone's got this sussed. He will return to Parliament as a party leader if he gets elected, with all that entails; including a leader's budget just like Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton get. Even though he will be a party of one, you and we, brethren taxpayers, will be digging just a little bit deeper to fund him.

So yes; we agree with Phil Goff that this IS a publicity stunt by Hone Harawira, that it is irresponsible and that it will be costly; the by-election itself will cost around $500,000. Hone Harawira has got a taste for life at the trough.

Post-Wedding Caption Contest

Well; it's all over. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are now husband and wife. The English do pomp and ceremony beter than anyone, and the wedding was a visual feast.

There were a few fashion tragedies though, so to commemorate the day, what could be better than a caption contest. You know the rules; keep it pity and funny.

So just what were the Princesses thinking?

The floor is yours ...

Celebrating failure

Our attention was drawn to the opening line in a post at The Standard - it read:

The latest Roy Morgan is out, with good news for the Left compared to the rogue TV3 poll.

So naturally, we went and had a look at the latest Roy Morgan poll; and here's what it shows:

Support for government parties is up 1% to 56%:
National Party 51% (unchanged),
Maori Party 3.5% (up 2%),
ACT NZ 1% (down 1%)
United Future 0.5% (unchanged),

Support for Opposition Parties is down 1% to 44%:
Labour Party 32% (up 0.5%)
Greens 8%, (unchanged),
New Zealand First 3% (down 2%),
Progressive Party 0.5% (up 0.5%),
Others 0.5% (unchanged).

This, Dear Readers, is the "good news for the Left" to which ROB at The Standard refers; the difference between the Left's share of the vote and the Right's share only changed by TWO percentage points (in the Right's favour) since the last Morgan poll!

Things must be pretty dire at Labour HQ at the moment if that is the best "good news" that they can come up with. The Morgan poll still shows a 19 point difference between National (51%) and Labour (32%). And the Morgan poll still shows a 12 point difference between the Right's share (56% and rising) and the Left's share (44% and falling).

On these figures, there is little chance of as Labour-led government in November, especially with Hone's Mana Party about to cannibalise the far-left vote. And that is indeed something to celebrate!


All hail the New Zealand Breakers; ANBL Champions for 2010-11.

The Breakers wrapped up the ANBL title last night with an emphatic 71-55 win over the Cairns Taipans in Auckland. It was a fantatstic end to what has been a remarkable season.

Rather than analyse the match, we want to salute the Breakers head coach, Andreij Lemanis. Coach Lemanis was not everyone's cup of tea when he joined the club six years ago, and after his first couple of seasons there were calls for his head. The Breakers' management could obviously see Lemanis' long-term vision, and season by season, he has assembled a terrific roster. More importantly though, Lemanis has developed a culture at the club.

Player after player in the post-match interviews talked about that culture. Although the Breakers have a star-laden roster (in ANBL terms), they play as a team. That was never more evident than in the match in Perth just three weeks ago. The Breakers lost their first play-off match at home, and headed off on the ANBL's longest road-trip. The Jungle, Perth's home court is no place for the faint-hearted, but the Breakers regrouped, shut out the home team, and the rest is history.

That kind of result doesn't just happen. It was the result of years of hard work and planning, and it is there that Lemanis has excelled. That he was not awarded the Best Coach gong at the ANBL awards dinner a few weeks ago is an absolute travesty.

And what a finale it was for Paul Henare, founder Breaker and team captain. He leaves the game at the very peak. Henare has been a tremendous servant of the Breakers and of New Zealand basketball, and got his reward last night.

The challenge now will be for the Breakers to build a team for next season. Big-money offers will flow in for the players in the championship team, and it is inevitable that there will be departures. But the Breakers' culture will still be there, and although Andreij Lemainis will have new faces on the roster next season, the foundations for success are there.

Enjoy the moment guys!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Hone/Mana party; more than meets the eye ...

Hone Harawira launches his new political party tomorrow. We've just been alerted to an "open letter" urging people to attend the launch. Suffice to say, it would take more than a letter to urge us to do that!

But there's more to Hone's party than meets the eye, so check this out:

Dear friends,

I am writing to urge all supporters of genuine left politics to support and if possible participate in the new Mana Party led by Hone Harawira to found a new movement for radical social change in Aotearoa/New Zealand.The Mana Party is being launched this Saturday, April 30, from 12 noon at the Te Mahurehure Marae, 73 Premier Ave, Point Chevalier, Auckland.

This party is a product of the protracted struggle over the last decades to achieve an independent voice for the interests of Maori people in Aotearoa/New Zealand. That struggle exposed a rift that has seen a the Maori Party captured by pro-corporate elite more concerned with protecting the interests of the wealthy against the interests of the vast majority of people in Aotearoa/New Zealand – whether Maori, Pakeha, Pacifica or Asian.The Mana Party is determined to continue to be the voice of the majority of ordinary Maori and at the same time give voice to the excluded majority across our land – whatever their national or ethnic origin.

In a letter to a unionist this week Hone gave a summary of how he sees the new party’s direction. He wrote:“As you can appreciate the new party to be called Mana hasn’t been launched yet and I’m certainly not in a position to make policy on its behalf at this stage. “However I can say I have been a proud union member in any job I was employed. The party and I will be pro-worker. I am fortunate having several trade unionists taking leadership roles up to assist the new party and who have offered to contribute to its policy.“We have had some policy discussions in the interim working group and can give you a bit of a feel where we are at. Nothing is confirmed of course.“

Are you starting to get a feel for who might be involved in the Mana Party? If you're not, here's a hint; the author of the open letter is one Mike Treen. We did a Google search, and here's what we found:

Mike Treen is a life long socialist activist and National Director of Unite New Zealand, a union which has "successfully organized young workers in fast foods".

Mike Treen's biography on KeyWiki is revealing. To say that he is from the hard left is not to overstate things. He is a comrade of the likes of Joe Carolan, John Minto and of course Matt McCarten, his boss at Unite.

Treen's open letter also gives a heads-up on some of the Mana Party's policies - read on (our emphasis added):

Mana will be anti neo-liberal, against monopoly capitalism and against privatisation of the people’s assets. Utilities such as water, power, roading etc should be in the hands of the people rather than a guaranteed money making venture for corporations“

Our strategy on taxes will be targeted at wealth such as capital gains taxes, death duties, and asset taxes. We will want to abolish GST with sometime like a financial transaction tax (we’d like to call it the Hone Heke Tax). The rich need to pay their fair share. As a start the last tax cut should be cancelled.

Stuff also suggests that both Sue Bradford and Matt McCarten are intimately involved with the Mana Party:

Hone Harawira's new political party is emerging as a left-wing counter to Don Brash's ACT.

Harawira will tomorrow formally launch his breakaway group, expected to be named the Mana Party.

It was earlier thought plans to rally together left-wing activists like Sue Bradford and Matt McCarten in to the party had fallen over.

But details emerging this morning suggest Bradford and McCarten could be intimately involved with the party - possibly as candidates.

Broadcaster Willie Jackson said Harawira had asked him to be involved and he was considering joining.

"He's approached me and you have to think about things. That's what I'm doing, is thinking about things," Jackson said.

He was worried that if new Mana Party "went to war" with Harawira's former Maori Party it would be destructive for Maori politics.

However, Jackson said he understood the Mana Party would "embrace the left a lot more" than the Maori Party.

So; the rumours of a hard-left party emerging seem to be about to come true. This must be making some within both the Labour and Green parties very nervous indeed. Sue Bradford left politics after being passed over for the Greens' co-leadership. We predict with confidence that she will be the co-leader of the Mana Party, and that she will campaign actively for the left-wing vote that has previouslt fallen to the Greens.

We also reckon that Labour, and Andrew Little in particular, will be anxious about Matt McCarten campaigning with vigour for support from the union movement. It's not only Labour's hold on the union vote that is threatened; Labour relies heavily on financial support from the union movement, and on union-provided manpower during the election campaign. With Labour rumoured to be finding money hard to come by, this could become a major worry.

We'll be watching the launch of the Mana Party with some interest. We suspect that there will be a number of Labour and Green MP's, especially those on the lower reaches of the respective party lists doing likewise.

A waiata for Hone

The latest spending figures for our politicians were released yesterday, but with all the attention focusing on Act's leadership coup, they got a bit lost in the clamour.

But once again, Hone Harawira, the MP without a party (until tomorrow) was the top spender. Getting Hone around the country and to Parliament (so that he could forget to vote on the Marine and Coastal Area legislation) cost almost $43,000. Remarkably, Harawira managed to spend almost as much as the other four Maori Party MP's ($44,410) did in total!

It would seem that the public purse is helping Hone set up his new party - the Press reports:

Politicians have been "cashing in" on Christchurch since the February earthquake, Hone Harawira says.

The independent MP met about 10 supporters at the Rehua marae in St Albans last night as part of a South Island trip.

He has held similar meetings in Invercargill and Dunedin ahead of an expected party launch this weekend.

It was Harawira's first visit to Christchurch since the quake. "I got a call to come down and have a chat to some of the people, just a private korero, so I'm happy to come down," he said.

Heh; a "private korero" it may well have been. But we have no doubt whatsoever that the taxpayer has funded this.

There is some good news though; Chris Carter's spending fell from $25,678 in the December quarter to $17,463. Even that seems high though, given that Carter is seldom seen in the House, and his proxy vote is almost always cast by the Greens. Still, the good folk of Te Atatu should be delighted that their man has obviously been spending more time with them, given a 30% reduction is his travel and accomodation costs.

Both National and Labour have managed to trim around $200k from their tab in the March quarter. That's good news, but we somehow doubt that it will be maintained as the election nears. And once again we should be grateful that due to John Key's determination, sunlight shines on this area of public expenditure.

Hone's the winner though, so here's a waiata for him!!


This Sporting Life - 29 April 2011

It's Friday again, so it's time to take a look at the sporting weekend ahead; and there's plenty to look forward to!

The action starts in earnest this evening, with what will hopefully be the weekend's highlight. The NZ Breakers take to the court against the Cairns Taipans in the ANBL championship decider at the North Shore Events Centre. A week ago, the Breakers were far too good at home, but the Taipans fought back with Ron Dorsey's overtime buzzer beater in Cairns. We reckon that the Breakers will bounce back tonight with style and panache. They have been the best outfit in the league this year by some distance, and it would be a major surprise if they are not the ones celebrating later tonight. Cairns will be a worthy opponent, but we doubt that they will match the home team in the home gym.

And while that's happening, the best Super Rugby match of the weekend will be taking place, so the inventor of MySky will again be lauded! The Blues travel to a crisp, and cool Carisbrook to take on the Highlanders, the surprise packet of the season. We keep waiting for the Highlanders' bubble to burst, but they have shown terrific resiliance so far, and the win against the Crusaders last week will have given them tremendous confidence. The Blues have been winning, but not convincingly. If they go to sleep for a moment tonight, they'll regret it. We're picking the Highlanders to win, but not by much.

In other Super Rugby matches we're tipping the injury-hit Hurricanes to cause a boilover against the injury-hit Reds tomorrow night, if only because we reckon that the Hurricanes have to fire at some point! For 60 minutes they were competitve against the Sharks, and this week, there's no Ma'a Nonu to get binned in the final minutes! We won't bet the house on it though. And we're picking the Crusaders to knock over the Force in Perth, whilst the Chiefs should have a good contest with the hapless champions, the Bulls up on the highveldt.

The Warriors were impressive against Melbourne on Monday night. Let's hope that they can maintain that defensive intensity against Penrith on Sunday in Auckland. The Melbourne game was easily their best of the season, and should give them confidence for the next few matches. Then again, this IS the Warriors we're talking about!

What else is there? The world's best female surfers are doin' their thing in the waters of the Taranaki, and after the weather we've had this week, they're brave women! The Northern Mystics can make it two New Zealand teams in the ANZ Championship playoffs iff they can win in Dunedin this weekend. And golfing prodigy Lydia Ko has had a remarkable week; she won both the strokeplay and matchplay events at the NZ Amateur Championships in Christchurch becoming the youngest ever winner, and she became the worlds #1 women's amateur golfer; oh, and she also turned 14 this week; this young woman has serious talent!

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

Royal nuptials

The day of the Royal Wedding has finally arrived, and we can't really let it pass without a fleeting mention.

Several weeks ago, She Who Must Be Obeyed issued her own Royal Decree; that the big television was hers this evening. In a moment of weakness we agreed. We hadn't consulted the Super Rugby schedule; not could we have foreseen the the Breakers' historic series final would clash with Will and Kate's Big Day Out.

Fortunately, we are a more-than-one-TV household so all is not lost. Once we've seen the important things this evening, we might join SWMBO in the lounge to watch some of the pomp and ceremony which the British do so well. It's not our intention though to breathlessly follow the TV coverage, and no wedding party has been arranged here - as far as I have been made aware!

In the meantime we wish the happy couple well, and hope that the threatened bad weather stays away. Unlike Charles and Diana, at least William and Kate have had a few years to get to know one another, and despite the highly unusual circumstances in which they live, there is every chance that theirs will be a life-long union. Wedding days are special, and we hope that the Royal couple's day is memorable for all the right reasons.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Who's next?

The Brash coup (or "hostile takeover", as it has been described by Peter Dunne) is all but done and dusted. Don Brash is poised to assume the Act Party leadership on Saturday once caucus' desision has been rubber-stamped by the Act board.

We wonder how other party leaders are feeling about this. The Greens have two relatively new co-leaders, who are arguably the most able members of their caucus. The Maori party have kaumatua and kuia leading the party, and seem a lot happier now that their hoha MP Hone Harawira is free-wheeling. Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton lead caucuses of one, so it's probably safe to assume that the respective leaderships are safe.

That leaves the two main parties. We're reasonably sure that John Key's leadership of the National Party is secure, but we don't know if we'd have the same confidence in the long-term security Phil Goff's leadership. We wonder in fact whether the events of this week in Act might just have re-ignited concerns within Labour over the performance and electability of its leader.

Brash's coup in Act has been pretty much bloodless, possibly because it was played out in the public domain. Whilst there will have been plenty of meetings in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms, the attempted coup was never denied; quite the opposite in fact. And whether or not you like Don Brash, or whether or not you'd vote for him, you have to admit that his takeover has been well executed.

Is it possible that someone within Labour has been taking a keen interest in Act's dramas this week as they have played out on our screens and in our papers? We reckon that they may well have. And we don't think that the novel concept of a leader OUTSIDE Parlaiment will have gone unnoticed either.

We wonder if there's going to be a BBQ at Andrew's place this weekend ...

Rodney's last stand ...

Further to the update to our earlier post, Rodney Hide has just resigned as leader of the Act Party, accepting that Don Brash has the numbers to depose him. He has just told a media conference at his Epsom electorate office of his decision.

We'll update this post as more information comes to hand, including Hide's statement to the media.


UPDATE 12.15pm: Stuff reports:

Don Brash is poised to take over as leader of the ACT Party after Rodney Hide announced his decision to resign today.

At a press conference in Newmarket currently underway, Brash joined Hide for the announcement.

Hide said he had decided to resign in the best interests of the party and believed Brash was the best person to lead ACT into the election.

He had informed Prime Minister John Key last night and there would be a caucus vote. He would support Brash in that vote.

Brash said: "Let me say a few words about Rodney," to which Hide replied: "You might have said enough".

Brash said he and Hide had been friends for more than 15 years.

"In the last week or so I put our friendship to very considerable strain...I'm very conscious of that."

Brash said that sometimes in politics personal relationships had to be put aside.

More to come ...

UPDATE#2 - The tributes are pouring in - this, from Twitter:

Catherine Delahunty
Hollow man recycled to save Act!


UPDATED - Has Hilary switched sides?

UPDATE - 10.30am - Barry Soper has just announced on Newstalk ZB that "Act Party insiders" have told him that Rodney Hide will step down as the leader of Act at midday today. Soper has also suggested that John Boscawen is on the way out as well, that Heather Roy is likely to be installed as deputy leader, and that the Act board will ratify the changes at the weekend.


The Herald is already writing Rodney Hide's political obituary. This morning's lead piece suggests that Act's newest MP is now batting for the Brash team - check this out:

Don Brash looks certain to become Act's new leader after the party's newest MP, Hilary Calvert, switched sides yesterday following a private meeting in Dr Brash's Auckland apartment.

A vote could be held at the next caucus meeting on Tuesday, but if Mr Hide accepts he has lost majority support to the former National Party leader, he could resign earlier to make a more dignified exit.

The Act board is to meet on Saturday morning in Auckland, and if Mr Hide has not resigned by then, that could be the logical place for him to accept defeat.

It is most likely he would stay in Parliament and not force a byelection, but it is not known if he would remain as an Act MP or become the independent member for Epsom.

So; it wasn't John Boscawen who became Hide's Judas, although he may now throw his lot behind Don Brash as well, given that the good doctor has the numbers. But it didn't take long for Ms Calvert to change her mind. Only yesterday, the Herald reported:

Act MP Hilary Calvert yesterday confirmed her support for Mr Hide over Dr Brash, giving Mr Hide the three votes he would need in caucus to see off a challenge.

The old maxim is that a week is a long time in politics. In this instance, there seems to have been a paradigm shift in Act caucus support for Don Brash in the space of 24 hours.

Perhaps the poll numbers that have been much talked about showing that Hide had no show of retaining Epsom are true. Hilary Calvert is the lowest-ranked MP in the Act caucus, and if Act's vote was to slip from the 2008 election result, she would likely as not be the first casualty. It would seem that she is being pragmatic about her political career, brief though it is.

We will be watching developments with much interest today. It seems certain though that Rodney Hide's tenure of the Act leadership is about to come to an end. Whether that will be the death knell of the Act Party or the catalyst for a revival remains to be seen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A great catch!

Customs and Immigration staff at Auckland Airport deserve a huge pat on the back - Stuff reports:

Ten Malaysian drug couriers have been caught at Auckland International Airport carrying around $10 million of methamphetamine or "P" in their shoes.

Customs said it was the most drug-couriers caught in a single incident at the border.

The eight men and two women were each concealing between 800g and a kilo of the drug when they arrived on the flight from Malaysia yesterday.

They were due to appear in the Manukau District Court today.

Customs Drug Investigations Manager Mark Day said officers searching the bags of two of the group referred them for a personal search, and in both cases P was detected in their shoes.

After the two were searched the remainder of the group were located by Customs officers and airport police. Some were still in the Customs hall, while others had left.

All were then searched and found to be carrying P in their shoes.

Day said the fact that officers had closely questioned two of the group for immigration purposes had slowed down their progress and contributed to the arrest of all 10.

"By embedding themselves in what appear to be legitimate tour groups, these criminals are trying to assume normal travel patterns so that they will not be targeted as high risk," he said.

"We had a similar attempt by a Taiwanese tour group last year, but they too were caught out by vigilant Customs officers. It's work our officers can be very proud of."

Someone was obviously on the ball yesterday. As noted above, it's not the first interecption of a "tour group", but it is the biggest to date, and the staff members deserve our congratulations.

P is a vile drug. We've seen the carnage that it causes first-hand, and it's not nice. That a large quantity has been detected at our border and seized is great news. It could only be better if the Border Patrol cameras had been there to capture the action!

An interesting e-mail

From time to time, we are surprised with what finds its way into our e-mail inbox. This morning was one of those times. When we turned our computer on and checked our e-mail, we'd been sent a copy of the e-mail that Rodney Hide has apparently sent out to all Act members.

Quite why this was sent to us we're not sure. We're not members of ANY political party. At times we've been critical of Act and Rodney Hide, especially given the trials and tribulations both have faced in this parliamentary term. We were also critical of Heather Roy when she and her advisor Simon Ewing-Jarvie leaked a dossier of Hide's alleged failings last year in an attempt to undermine Hide's leadership. Lastly, we made the comment yesterday that Brash's challenge for the Act leadership when he's not even a party member was extraordinary. We guess we're relatively neutral, bordering on apathetic when it comes to Act's internal wranglings.

Whilst we remain neutral, and are highly unlikely to give either of our ticks to Act regardless of who leads the party out of this chaotic situation, we believe that we should reproduce this e-mail fully, unedited and without additional commentary. We've consulted our source, who has endorsed our appraoch, so here is what Rodney Hide had to say to his troops:

On Good Friday, Don Brash informed the President that he had told the Dominion Post he would only be interested in working with ACT as the leader of the party. This has resulted in an unprecedented leadership challenge by a person who is not a member of the party.

Let me give you the background.

I have always encouraged Don to join ACT, even before he joined and stood for National in 2002, and again when he lost the leadership of National to John Key in 2006.

Now in 2011, I have been working proactively with the President and Board to identify strong candidates who will build strength into the future of the ACT Party. This included engaging with Don Brash, and a number of others, to gauge their interest in joining the ACT Party Candidate register.

Don and I had a series of meetings during which time a number of ideas were floated on how the party could best leverage Don’s strengths. Don’s initial position was that he would join only as leader, with John Banks as ACT’s candidate in Epsom. I suggested John Banks was not an ACT person but that clearly Don was.

I discussed Don's proposal with the President, Vice President and Deputy Leader. We were agreed that the first step for Don was to join the party.

I met with Don, asking him to join and said I would pay his membership fee! He refused. We reviewed various options on how we could work together in a collaborative way to build a strong party for the future.

Don then wrote me a letter setting out his decision to turn down the opportunity. The letter alarmed me because I thought it was a letter designed to be leaked, as it was especially one-sided. I shared the letter with the President, Vice President and Deputy Leader.

That was where matters stood.

I was as surprised as anyone with Don announcing over Easter he wanted to publicly contest the leadership of the ACT Party while still a member of the National Party.

Don has publicly stated that he will only become a member of ACT if he is leader. In today’s media Don has made his interests very clear.

It seems to me that Don has put ACT into a difficult position because he can’t become leader unless he is a member. The leadership of ACT is determined by the caucus and ratified by the Board.

My position is that I serve as Leader of the ACT Party on behalf of the membership until the caucus and the board determine otherwise.

And so, the President and I, along with the Board and the caucus, continue to seek out good candidates for ACT who will build a strong party into the future. Leadership succession is an essential consideration, just as it is in any organization. Equally we wish to provide ACT members with a team that will deliver on our ideals and principles, who will ensure that New Zealand becomes a prosperous economy where individuals are empowered to succeed.

I do not intend on putting my head in the sand over this challenge, but at the same time there is important work to be done that builds on the foundations the Board has been laying over the last few months.

I look forward to talking with you personally as I continue the excellent visits around the country such as I enjoyed last week in the Waikato.

Best regards
Rodney Hide

Done! Judge this for yourselves ...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A caption Contest for a cold night!

It's bitterly cold here tonight, so we are safely installed for the evening in front of the fire. So what better way to stop the brain cells freezing tonight than to challenge your intellect.

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of Don Brash's quest to wrest the leadership of the Act Party away from Rodney Hide, Brash is always going to be carrying some baggage. The "Hollow Man" tag will follow him. Whoever let Don Brash participate in this photo-op did the then-National Party leader no favours.

So come on dear readers; use your imagination, and give this moment of history the recognition it deserves! Be nice; be pithy; but most importantly, make us laugh!

And as an aside, we've just realised which boat it was from which Don Brash walked the plank. It was Earthrace, soon to be known as the Ady Gil, of Pete the Pirate Bethune infamy. It now resides, of course, at the bottom of the Southern Ocean which we hope is not an omen for Don Brash and the Act Party!

Small mercies

Transport Minister Steven Joyce has this afternoon announced the deferral of a planned tax hike on fuel - Stuff reports:

Fuel tax hikes set down for July have gone on hold for a year, but increases totalling 3.5 cents a litre are set to go ahead from next year.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said fuel tax increases of 1.5 cents per litre due to kick in on July 1 would be deferred.

Because of the "ongoing economic impact" of the global recession and the Christchurch earthquakes, it made sense to hold off on the increase for another year, Joyce said.

However, fuel tax increases "in the order of" 2 cents per litre in 2012 and a further 1.5 cents per litre in 2013 would probably be needed.

The fuel tax has already gone up with 3 cents a litre hikes in October 2009 and 2010. The Road User Charge, which is levied on diesel vehicles, went up by 7 per cent on average in the October 2010 hike.

The tax increases were proposed as a replacement to a new regional fuel tax, which the National-led Government scrapped.

The tax is supposed to fund the Government's $11b roading plans. Joyce said deferral of the planned 1.5 cent hike would not "significantly affect" the roading plan.

1.5% equates to a rise of around 3.3 cents/litre based on current fuel prices. It's not much, but we should be grateful for small mercies, as the cost of petrol has been a significant driver of increased costs across the board in the last few months.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little other good news on the horizon with regard to fuel prices; at least not while the Middle East and North Africa remains a political powder-keg. We can but hope that there might be some downward movement, but we won't hold our breath!

What is Brash up to? Part deux ...

We wondered on Saturday just what Don Brash is up to. Three days on, we're still wondering, and nowhere nearer to an answer. But we find this story by Derek Cheng in today's Herald to be both interesting and extraordinary; check this out:

Don Brash will have a clear message for the Act board on Saturday: if his offer of leadership is rejected, his new party will potentially bleed the Act Party dry of any votes it has left.

The former National Party leader has commissioned a nationwide poll to gauge the level of support for him as leader of Act versus Act under incumbent leader Rodney Hide.

Dr Brash expects the results next week, after the Act board meeting on Saturday which he is asking permission to speak at.

"I'd like to say to the board that, under my leadership, I believe Act has a much better prospect of not only getting back into Parliament but having a significant number of MPs."

He will also point out that a new party, which he will set up if his bid to roll Mr Hide fails, could seal Act's fate by taking a bite out of its voting base.

When asked if that could be seen as a threat, Dr Brash said: "I don't want to put it in that way but I am deeply concerned about where the country is and if I can't make a contribution in the Act Party, I'll find some alternative way of doing so."

His preferred approach would be as leader of Act, he said.

That may be Don Brash's "preferred approach". It may even be what Act needs in order to regroup, and stay in Parliament after the election. Others will ultimately make that decision.

But it is Brash's approach to this which is the most extraordinary. As of the moment we type this Don Brash is not, to the best of our knowledge, a member of the Act Party. We find it odd in the extreme that a non-party member thinks so much of his talents and his ability to save the party that he is issuing the party that he doesn't belong to with an ultimatum.

The whole situation is odd in the extreme. Amongst the many qualities that Don Brash possesses, courtesy and good manners rank highly on the list. We well remember the televised debate between Helen Clark and Brash during the 2005 election campaign where Brash gave latitude to Helen Clark. Kerre Woodham remembers it as well:

I have no doubt that Don Brash is a gentle and courteous man. And I am equally certain that he believes that women deserve to be treated with respect.

But the very idea that he was under a self-imposed handicap during the Leaders' Debate last week, because of his good manners, is patently absurd. Not even the bluest of blue rinse supporters could possibly believe the National Party leader would have executed witty one-liners and crushing rejoinders and drawn blood with elegant yet vicious linguistic attacks, if only his opponent had been a man.

Debating is not Don Brash's thing. And if Michael Cullen had been facing him, rather than Helen Clark, I very much doubt we'd have seen the mild-mannered doctor transmogrify into the Incredible Hulk.

In a supreme dose of irony, Brash was lambasted by feminists in the aftermath of this debate, and was accused of being patronising and sexist! We don't believe that is the fact; rather Brash comes from a different generation; a generation where manners mattered, and where common courtesies were the rule, not the exception. We can relate to that, for they are the values that exitsed in our home as well.

That's why we are surprised by Don Brash's full-frontal attack on Act and on Rodney Hide. It makes us wonder this; is someone standing behind him, pulling the strings? And if so, who is it?

Interesting times await the Act Party.

Wet, wet, wet

It started raining sometime on Sunday evening, and it hasn't let up since.

Up until Sunday night we'd experienced one of the best Easters weatherwise that we can remember for some years. Friday and Saturday were fine, calm and warm. There were plenty of boats out fishing, and I'm told that the kahawai were biting at the river mouth as well. Sunday dawned similarly, but the clouds started to roll in late in the afternoon, and since then the dampness has arrived.

Not that we're complaining; the rain is very welcome, and is doing the garden no end of good. Our farmer friends will be happy as well. We had a cold snap at the beginning of last week, but then as the week went on the temperatures rose steadily up to the early 20's. The rain will give pastures a welcome boost as winter draws nearer; it might be the last flush of growth that they get to sustain them over the winter months.

Wanganui, like much of provincial New Zealand serves a big farming area. And when the farmers are happy and spending their loot, then town is happy as well. The rain may be an inconvenience in the school holidays, but it has a silver lining for many, and it won't be doing the golf course any harm either!

The Tuesday Wrap - 26 April 2011

Yeah; we know; it's supposed to be the MONDAY wrap, where we cover off the weekend's sport. Somehow, it didn't seem right yesterday, especially when there was still some Kiwi Easter involvement overnight; and events overnight have justified our decision to defer!

Mark Todd; what can you say? He's as old as we are, which is quite old (but not as old as Don Brash), and he's won the Badminton Horse Trial for the fifth time, 13 years after his last win. What's even more remarkable is that his steed NZB Land Vision is a relative novice, with Badminton intended as part of his development for the London Olympics next year; clearly, that development is going well! As we type this, we're aware of the potential for double entendre with any comments we make about Todd's ability to get the best out of his mounts, so if you must, you must! But this is an outstanding result for a very talented horseman.

Not long before that, the Warriors caused us to have a late night. In what is intended to become an annual Anzac Day fixture, the Warriors tackled their hearts out and upset the Melbourne Storm 18-14 at AAMI Park in Melbourne. Defence was they key to this win in what was far and away the Warriors' best performance so far this season. We're not going to single any Warrior out; this was a great team effort, and it moves the Warriors to ninth on the ladder, just outside the top eight on points differential. It could just be the kickstart their season needed.

The Highlanders don't need any kickstarts. They knocked over the Crusaders on Saturday night in Nelson as their impressive season continues. It's a no-frills brand of rugby that they're playing - some would say Southern Man footy - but it's effective, and they are winning the close games. Jamie Joseph is having a fantatstic debut season as coach, and the Hurricanes must be wondering whether they made the right appointment. The Blues and Chiefs both won, and the 'Canes ran out of steam in the last ten minutes against the Sharks after being competitive for most of the match.

What else? The mighty Arsenal's title shot has faded; two last minutes draws and then a loss to Bolton yesterday has killed their momentum and their chances. The title in Manchester United's to lose. Danny Lee had his best result as a professional; a final round 65 left him tied for second in the Volve China Open, and netted his biggest payday yet; around $NZ250,000. Michael Campbell made another cut, which given his form over the last couple of years is worthy of note.

We're bound to have left something out, but it's time to go to work, and a busy day awaits us. Doubtless you'll fill in any gaps that we have left, so as always, the floor is yours ...

Monday, April 25, 2011

At the going down of the sun ...

...and in the morning, we will remember them.

It's sunset, Monday 25 April 2011. We offer this additional tribute to those who served in whatever capacity, to those who returned, and to those who rest in foreign lands.

We will indeed remember them.

So close ...

The NZ Breakers were a heartbeat away from winning the ANBL Championship last night; the heartbeat of Taipans hero Ron Dorsey.

They had taken the match into overtime with a three-point shot from CJ Bruton. In the first period of overtime, two clutch three-pointers by Kevin Braswell had given them a three-point lead with only four seconds remaining. They celebrated, but their celebrations were premature.

As the clock ticked down, Dorsey shot from far beyond the three-point arc, after pushing off Bruton. Dorsey was off balance, and his shot was the Hail Mary to end all Hail Marys. But Dorsey's shot hit the bottom of the net, the match went into a second period of overtime, and the Taipans ground out a gutsy four-point victory.

It was an ugly match, marked with big defence from both times, and well below par shooting. The Taipans closed Kirk Penney down, but they will have to try and do that again in Auckland on Friday night.

The Breakers should have closed the match down last night, but the Taipans took their chances when it counted. We're still picking the Breakers to close out the finals series on Friday at home, but they'll be rueing Dorsey's buzzer-beating heroics last night.

Lest we forget; 25 April 2011

The photograph above is thought to be of the Wellington Mounted Rifles occupying a trench on Table Top, Gallipoli on the night of 6 August 1915 in preparation for the attack on Chunuk Bair. The photograph by James Cornelius Read, and is reproduced courtesy of

25 April 1915 will forever by etched in history as the day of the Gallipoli landing; the event we commemorate on Anzac Day. Tha Gallipoli campaign however lasted nine months, and came at a terrible cost to many nations. 2721 young New Zealanders died, alongside over 8500 Australians. Our losses though paled into insignificance to those of the Turks; NZ History Online reports that more than 80,000 Turkish men died in the conflict.

From adversity grew a friendship between New Zealand and Turkey. The memorial at Anzac Cove carries words written in 1934 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's post-war President; it reads:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Today, we remember the sacrifices made by so many. Three generations of our family saw active service; our grandfather was a Gallipoli veteran, our father
was a member of the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force (NZEF) in the North Africa campaign, and later in Greece, and our eldest brother saw action in Vietnam. We, by the grace of God, have missed war, and pray that our children and theirs will be likewise spared.

This will be our only post prior to midday today; we close with
the words of the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen will be recited. This verse is more commonly known as The Ode, and has particular poignancy for us; it was recited at the funerals of both our grandfather and our father. The words are familiar, but we reproduce them today in memory of those who served, and those who did not return - lest we forget:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christian Music Sunday - Easter Sunday Special

"He is risen!"

Christians around the world will greet one another with that refrain today as we celbrate the resurrection of Jesus almost two thousand years ago. John's Gospel records the amazing morning thus:

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, "They took the Master from the tomb. We don't know where they've put him."

3-10Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

11-13But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus' body had been laid. They said to her, "Woman, why do you weep?"

13-14"They took my Master," she said, "and I don't know where they put him." After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn't recognize him.

15Jesus spoke to her, "Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?"

She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, "Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him."

16Jesus said, "Mary."

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" meaning "Teacher!"

17Jesus said, "Don't cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.'"

18Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: "I saw the Master!" And she told them everything he said to her.

Christ's resurrection is the true miracle of Easter, and was the fulfilment of scripture. It is the event that is absolutely pivotal to the Christian faith; the essence of what, by faith, we believe.

Faith is a choice. No-one is compelled to believe, and those who do reach that state from a range of personal experiences. In our case, it was the first destination in a journey, but there was still quite a journey to get there. It's been a road worth travelling though!

So we'll celebrate Christ's resurrection this morning, reflecting on God's incredible gift of grace. So here's a song from the archives to celebrate; vintage Hillsongs, celebrating that first moment when Mary saw the tomb that Easter morning, and immediately saw that the stone had been rolled away ...

He is risen indeed!

Woodham's interesting comparison

Kerre Woodham makes an interesting comparison in her Herald on Sunday column this morning - check this out:

It's never nice being on the losing team. It's even worse when you have to wait years for a rematch (three if you're the government opposition - four if you're the All Blacks).

The best thing to do if you're on a team that's been trounced is to keep your head down, work on your selection process and devise a strategy that will see you reclaim the spoils that you believe are rightfully yours.

The All Blacks have been doing this; Labour, however, has not.

That's an interesting anaology that Woodham draws, and we'll comment on it at the end of this post. Suffice to say though that the All Blacks have, applying her logic, been in opposition since Dublin in 1991!

Woodham continues:

To be fair, no party looks flash in opposition. Every time they suggest something - like GST-free fruit and vege - the public can quite justifiably ask why that policy wasn't introduced while they were in government, if it's such a good idea.

When the public's going berko over the $36 million taxpayer contribution to Team New Zealand's America's Cup campaign, Labour can't jump on the bandwagon because, after all, it was their decision when running the country to enter into a binding contract to help fund the campaign.

So I accept that it's hard warming the bench when you've been sitting in the box seat for nine years.

But it's embarrassing to watch Labour's performance. As individuals, they all seem intelligent, engaging and passionate people. But as a party, they're a shambles.

I know that they feel they have to scrape away at John Key's Teflon exterior, given that Key is the selling point for National. But its recent sniping looks mean spirited and puerile.

David Cunliffe's comment that it was a bit rich for Key to tell people they had to tighten their belts - when he'd just collected a cool $5 million from his investments - was a case in point.

Now it's not so long ago that most of Kerre Woodham's pieces were written as though she was looking through red-tinted glasses. It was only in the dying days of the Clark administration that she seemed to have undergone an epiphany of sorts, and the speccies were discarded.

And that in our opinion typifies Labour's dilemma as the once-proud party heads towards the 2011 election; Labour has managed to alienate a significant chunk of its traditional support base. The party has spent so much time and effort trying to cater to the wants of single-issue groups that the support of those who have supported Labour for years has been taken for granted.

We reckon that Damian O'Conner was right on the mark when he made his "gaggle of gays and self-serving unionists" jibe two weeks ago. The fact that it caused so much angst within Labour's caucus is because it had a solid ring of truth to it; something that O'Connor's critics would never admit.

And in closing, after reference to the helicopter beat-up this week, Woodham closes with a final rebuke to Labour:

I have no doubt that the Opposition is getting frustrated with all the good press that Key - and by association National - is getting when they feel it is ill-deserved. But instead of blaming Key, the media and the lack of political nous among the population, they should suck it up and get on with formulating meaningful, middle New Zealand-oriented policy that will attract their core voters back to the fold.

Every first-term government has a honeymoon period. Labour just has to bide its time and work constructively on what matters - not get distracted with petty personal politics.

She's spot on, in our ever-humble opinion. And as for Woodham's opening rugby analogy; the All Blacks can and should win the Rugby World Cup this year; when it comes to the election, Labour has little chance.

He's kidding; right?

Yesterday's papers carried a story which we read with a sense of disbelief; here's how the Herald reported it:

New Zealand's biggest benefit fraudster, who swindled more than $3 million from the tax payer, is accusing authorities of "legalised theft" after his solid investments earned the Government more than he stole.

Wayne Patterson faked 123 identities to gain $3.4m in benefit payments over three years, before being caught in 2006 and jailed for eight years.

Patterson wrote to The Dominion Post from Whanganui Prison angry that he had been forced to pay the Government more than his original theft.

The Social Development Ministry has now recovered $5.5m, a profit of $2.1m, and said he had been ordered to pay a total of $8.6m, "even though I only took $3.4m", he told the paper.

But Social Development Ministry chief executive Peter Hughes said any expectation Patterson should profit from his crimes was "as appalling as it is outrageous".

It was initially thought the Government would stand to gain $467,000 from the profit on Patterson's overseas investments but with the help of Apple shares they returned more than $1m.

The ministry said it had now claimed more than $3.4m and was chasing another $1.5m tied up in Austria.

This would have to be one of the more bizarre stroies that we've read in a while. Wayne Patterson systematically ripped off the taxpayer over an extended period to build up an asset base. He now reckons that he is entitled to the profits! Hello; he wasn't entitled to the money in the first place!

But wait; it gets even starnger; read on (our emphasis added):

Patterson claimed his human rights had been violated after secret Austrian court hearings.

But Mr Hughes said he failed to understand how Patterson felt his human rights were violated through the recovery process.

"Instead of whining from his prison cell, he might wish to give a little more thought to the rights of the taxpayers he stole from," Mr Hughes said.

Give us strength! Wayne Patterson's rights went out the window when he started ripping off the taxpayer with his fraudulent scheming.

But never mind. He might find an ally in Penny Bright; friend of the downtrodden and victimised. He's not likely to get a lot of sympathy here though.

It's a shame too. On the face of it, Wayne Patterson seems to be a reasonable wheeler-dealer. It's just a pity that he felt compelled to ply his trade at the expense of the taxpayer. But there is one positive; at least the profits he has made will cover his room and board at the Kaitoke Hilton, which is more than can be said for most who stay there!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What is Brash up to?

The Dom-Post reports:

Former National leader Don Brash is making a bid for a political comeback as ACT party leader – if it will have him.

Dr Brash confirmed yesterday that if he was offered the ACT leadership he would take it, after previously rejecting behind-the-scenes efforts to woo him back to Parliament either as ACT leader Rodney Hide's deputy or as co-leader.

Dr Brash said he would not contemplate returning to Parliament under either of those scenarios but would if offered the leadership.

His comments throw down the gauntlet before a crucial ACT board meeting next Saturday and breathe new life into ACT's electoral prospects, which have been widely written off after a disastrous period for Mr Hide.

There is also speculation that former Auckland mayor John Banks would be keen to stand in Epsom if approached by ACT, suggesting he could be on a Brash ticket. The two men have business ties and speak regularly. Polls have shown that Mr Banks would win Epsom if he stood.

Mr Hide said on Thursday that his candidacy in Epsom was yet to be confirmed by the ACT board.

Now this is a very interesting development. Don Brash obviously believes that he and John Banks could be the saviours of the Act Party. We hate to be ageist, but aren't both getting a bit long in the tooth for this sort of caper?

And there's in interesting dynamic at play here; Brash isn't even a member of Act at the moment; he belongs to another political party, as the Dom-Post notes:

Dr Brash had a brief but successful period as National leader when he brought his party within a whisker of victory in 2005, just three years after its heaviest defeat on record. He resigned after private emails were leaked to author Nicky Hager detailing confidential meetings and conversations and suggesting an affair with businesswoman Diane Foreman.

Dr Brash confirmed yesterday that he remained a member of the National Party but said it was no secret that "I feel disappointed in the Government's performance".

How could the Act board even consider allowing an outsider from another party to romp in and capture the party's leadership? It suggests that Act's board is far from united behind the party's leadership team.

And yes; we say leadership TEAM because we found this bit fascinating:

Dr Brash is understood to have financial backing, and the support of some members of the ACT board. He is believed to have spoken to deputy leader John Boscawen, whose vote in the caucus is crucial in deciding the leadership.

We will be following these developments with some degree of interest. It will be also interesting to see if the National Party hierarchy has anything to say on one of its members courting the leadership on another party.

One thing seems certain though; Rodney Hide's position as leader of Act is far from concrete, if these kinds of manouvers are going on both within and without the party. An interesting time awaits.

Should we sympathise with Sharon?

We've refrained from comment thus far on the case of Sharon Armstrong. She was arrested in Argentina this week in possession of over 5kg of cocaine, hidden in the false bottom of her suitcase. It seems that she may have fallen victim to a predator looking for a sucker to do her dirty work. To amplify this view, her New Zealand friends and whanau have defended her vigorously.

The Dom-Post this morning though throws in a curve-ball; check this out:

Sharon Armstrong was carrying four driver's licences when she was arrested in Argentina accused of trying to smuggle out five kilograms of cocaine.

Ms Armstrong, who has claimed she was duped into diverting to Buenos Aires simply to pick up some documents, had spent more than a week in the city.

She checked in just one locally made suitcase for her flight to London to meet a man she had been dating online.

Police confiscated personal effects, including an iPhone, passport, Farmers card and Argentinian, Australian and United States cash. They also found four driver's licences and a piece of paper listing Hotel Caoca, where Ms Armstrong is believed to have stayed in Buenos Aires.

There are two rather salient questions raised by the above:

  • Why was Ms Armstrong carrying four driver's licences, and
  • Why would she discard any luggage she carried from New Zealand to take a different suitcase onto her London-bound flight?
Ms Armstrong is, of course, innocent until proven guilty. However being arrested when in possession of a vary large quantity illegal drugs is going to be a hard rap for her to beat. She may indeed have been duped by her online confidante who, the Dom-Post notes has vanished, but she seems to have shown a level of naiveity that would be unexpected in someone of her age and with her life experiences.

We can understand that those who support Ms Armstrong want to see her home at the earliest possible opportunity. After reading what we've read today however, we're finding it difficult to have too much sympathy. Ms Armstrong seems to have made some bad choices, and is now facing the consequences.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Sporting Life - Good Friday special

Easter used to be a significant sporting weekend; it used to be the natural demarcation between the summer sports season and the winter sports season.

Things have changed markedly in recent years, and not necessarily for the good. The Super Rugby and NRL seasons begin when it's still summer, and when flannelled fools, not muddied oafs should be inhabiting our sportsgrounds.

There's still a surfeit of sport this weekend, but not much more so than any other weekend. There's a full round of Super Rugby, a full round of NRL, and the IPL T-20 cricket circus has started. We'll watch a few football matches this weekend, but nothing leaps out and grabs us at this stage, with the possible exception of the Crusaders vs Highlanders match in Nelson tomorrow night.

There's one contest that we won't be missing this weekend though; 6pm on Sunday, the NZ Breakers go up against the Cairns Taipans in game two of the ANBL finals series. A win in Cairns, and the ANBL title is theirs, and we reckon they'll do it. Despite the snub dished out to the Kiwi outfit at the ANBL awards dinner, the Breakers have been the best side in the league, and Andreij Lemanis has been the best coach by some margin. Sticking it up the Australians axcross the ditch has a certain attraction!

So that's where our sporting interest lies this Easter weekend; what's going to capture your interest or imagination? The floor is, as ever, yours...

A Good Friday reflection

There won't be a lot of content from us today. Good Friday has become a day of reflection for us over the last few years, and today will be no different. This Sporting Life will appear later in the day, but that will probably be about it.

It's twelve years now since we did something life-changing, and became a follower of Jesus. It was a huge leap of faith, and completely contradicted the analytical side of us, but we knew in our heart that it was a decision that had to be made. We were on a road to nowhere, living a life without direction or purpose.

Some people have bells-and-whistles conversions, where their lives are radically transformed in an instant. That wasn't our experience; more a gradual process of transformation began as we started to live the life that God had planned for us. That process continues, and will be ongoing until our earthly days are done, and that suits us fine; we don't handle massive change especially well!

The next three days reflect the essence of our faith. It is an historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died; it's been recorded by theologians and historians alike. To Christians of course, that's not where the story ends; we believe that Christ rose from the dead on the third day, fulfilling prophesies written hundreds of years before. The death and resurrection of Jesus is pivotal to the Christian faith.

It's a quirk of fate that this year, for the first time in around 170 years, Easter Monday and Anzac Day fall on the same day; the latest day possible for Easter. In yesterday's Herald, Garth George drew parallels between the two times of observance and reflection - he wrote:

"Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Those words of Jesus Christ, uttered this night as the first Easter loomed, and fulfilled on the first Good Friday, provide a fitting theme for April 2011.

Over this coming weekend, Christians throughout the world will contemplate and celebrate afresh the inexpressible mystery at the centre of their faith: that Almighty God - in his passionate, unconditional, eternal love for all mankind - allowed his perfect, sinless, only Son to be born fully human into the world, to reveal in his life, works and words the very nature of God, and to lay down his life so that every man, woman and child might be reconciled to the Father.

And, in an unusual coincidence of sacred and secular liturgies, on Monday, Anzac Day, a nation will remember and mourn the deaths of thousands of its sons in war. They, too - cheerfully or fearfully, willingly or unwillingly - laid down their lives for their friends. They, like Jesus, died so that the powers of darkness which strove to capture and imprison the world were put to rout.

It's a lovely, poignant piece from Garth George; well worth a read in a quiet moment. We'll reflect on the bravery of the Anzacs on Monday; today is all about the selfless sacrifice made by one man for all; for the gift of eternal life is available to every man, woman or child who wants it; we fervently believe that. God's grace is truly amazing.

Music will form part of our reflection today, and we've chosen a couple of songs which really speak to us. The first is by Third Day, and is simply called Thief. It tells the story of one of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus; the one who believed, and who as his life slipped away heard those amazing words; I tell you the truth; today you will be with me in Paradise

The second song is by British worship leader Matt Redman, and the lyrics of the second verse really sum up that amazing grace we referred to earlier:

Your cross testifies in grace
Tells of the Father's heart to make a way for us
Now boldly we approach, no earthly confidence
It's only by your blood

Christ's blood was not shed in vain this day almost two thousand years ago. We'll be reflecting on that today as we embark on a weekend of remembering sacrifices. Whether you share our views or not is unimportant; we just pray that you will have a blessed Easter weekend whatever you are doing, and that the grace of God will be with you.