The political death watchers are keeping a close eye on Education Minister Hekia Parata, who started off the New Year much as she ended the old - avoiding having to answer questions in Parliament and making mildly inappropriate statements about problems in her portfolio. But one of her biggest tests will be behind closed doors. The highly regarded former bureaucrat Peter Hughes has been lured back into the public service from his comfortable job among the academics, following the sudden departure of Education Ministry boss Lesley Longstone. Longstone did not survive long in the job, with her exit blamed largely on her poor working relationship with Parata. Hughes survived, thrived and delivered for numerous ministers of differing quality and temperament. If Parata can't work with him in the education portfolio, there will be questions about whether she can work with anyone.
Call it karma - to borrow Hekia Parata's word of the moment - but no sooner had the Insider last week mocked Bill Gates for predicting in 2004 that the curse of spam would soon be eliminated, than news came that his forecast is finally coming true.
The latest Economist reports that from a peak in 2008, the share of emails that are junk has steadily declined. In the past year, it has fallen from around 80 per cent to 67 per cent of the global total, according to Kaspersky Lab, a cyber-security firm. So, better late than never.
RUBBING IT IN
While the planned National Convention Centre in Auckland seems stuck in a political quagmire, Christchurch is rubbing salt into the wound. In the next few weeks the city expects to go to market for the first phase of its convention centre precinct, one of the key anchor projects for the rebuilding of the central business district.TOP ACT
Word has it that Act Party membership is in a poor state, with activists disillusioned and many wealthy donors reluctant to put money into keeping the apparently doomed ship afloat. Alan Gibbs (pictured) is still helping out, though: to tempt some people along to Act's annual conference this month it is being held at the wonderland that is his farm and sculpture park in Kaukapakapa.
Paula Rebstock's report on leaks about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is about to surface after some deep digging. The whole process has created even more pain at the problem-plagued ministry. Most of the early probing aimed at the senior levels, where most suspect the leaks came from, but many MFAT staff were surprised at how deep into the organisation Rebstock went. Quite junior staff who seem unlikely to have had access to Cabinet papers were questioned. The leak of Cabinet papers was apparently at the centre of ministerial concerns over events at the ministry, although some at the ministry were equally concerned about leaks coming from the Beehive.
Last night, the Stamford Plaza welcomed new general manager Paul Evans with a cocktail party for leading corporate names. Evans was the main man at the Hilton in its prime and had a short stint with the Westin. It will be interesting to see if he can bring back the glamour of the 1980s and 90s, when the Stamford - formerly the Regent - was the only place to stay in Auckland if you were famous, wealthy, or both.
LET'S BE FRANK
Could these be the first signs of an epidemic of frankness among the world's politicians? In France, Labour Minister Michel Sapin has described the state as "totally bankrupt" - a claim hotly denied by the country's Finance Minister. And in Zimbabwe, Finance Minister Tendai Biti revealed how much was left in the Government's coffers after it paid civil servants - just US$217 ($259). No, not US$217 million, just US$217. "The government finances are in a paralysis state at the present moment," he added helpfully.
PRICE WAS RIGHT
If you think Auckland house prices are inflated, a home in Toorak, Melbourne, has sold for A$16 million ($20 million) after two months on the market - and that in a market where prices have fallen for two years.