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Few in New Zealand have picked up on the significance of Helen Clark's appointment to a group that the World Trade Organisation is hoping will breathe some life into all-but-dead trade talks. WTO director-general Pascal Lamy has announced that our ex-Prime Minister will join other former political leaders in reviewing the "drivers of today and tomorrow's trade". In many ways, the idea is to convince free-trade sceptics that trade really can drive sustainable development, growth, jobs and poverty reduction. Clark's credentials for the role are impeccable - she drove New Zealand's trade deal with China (still seen as a model for others to follow) - but she comes from the left of politics and currently serves the interests of the developing world as head of the United Nations Development Programme. Clark and her fellow panellists will meet through the year before delivering a report early next year. It is unlikely to come up with any circuit-breakers, but might at least stimulate some debate.

Who says bankers aren't sharing the pain? Goldman Sachs boss Lloyd Blankfein had to endure a 35 per cent pay cut last year - to a mere US$12.4 million ($15.2 million) - though the shock was eased by a payment of US$4 million or so for performance in previous years. The latest figures were released in a regulatory filing this month, and must make make 2007 - when Blankfein pocketed US$67.9 million - seem a distant memory. Between then and now, Goldman Sachs' share price has plunged and the company has had to endure attacks from shareholders over the high levels of executive pay.

Officials report that quiet, no-fuss steps are being taken in the direction of a common market between Australia and New Zealand, with the latest talks showing that our friends across the Tasman have some enthusiasm for greater alignment. Among the areas getting closer to completion are mutual recognition of financial advisers and auditors, a cross-border insolvency regime and a mutual company registration regime. The one area where New Zealand is still lagging is in anti-competitive regulation, as National's enthusiasm for the criminalisation of cartel behaviour seems to have waned since Simon Power left the ranks. The Aussies argue that anyone doing business on both sides of the Tasman and indulging in cartel behaviour would choose New Zealand as their governing jurisdiction, to avoid the prospect of more stringent penalties.


Labour MPs and party members are gearing up for a series of regional conferences which could define the party's future. This month, the first stage of the David Shearer-driven review of Labour's constitution was completed, and the coming regional conferences will probably decide whether reforms of the party's rules have a chance of getting off the ground. However, with the first regional conference less than two weeks away, the discussion document which will go to those conferences for debate has yet to be publicly released. Could the proposed reforms be derailed before the train even leaves the station?

There is general satisfaction around Parliament that the new rules on extended sitting hours have enabled the Government to make significant progress on legislation. The new rules are much more civilised than the widely detested urgency sessions. However, they mean the Government has very little time to make progress on its own legislative agenda. A quarter of the way through the year, Parliament has only had 21 sitting days, many of which have been taken up with set-piece debates. The pace will pick up as the year goes on, but the odds are against the Government making much of a dent in the huge number of bills it has waiting. Departments are jostling to get their bills up the priority list and pressure is going on for a few good old-fashioned urgency sessions, even if they are political poison.

Trade Minister Tim Groser was looking pleased as punch this week, having pulled off a small diplomatic coup. He became the first New Zealand minister to be invited to a ministerial-level meeting of the G20, which is gathering in Mexico this week.

Villa Maria and the Kelliher Estate have some competition in the South Auckland hospitality and events market. Auckland Airport's own up-market events venue, Abbeville Estate, opened its doors this month with Sue Fleischl of the Great Catering Company lending her experience to the business. The estate features restored buildings including a barn, a church and an old homestead.