As Parliament gets together again after a two-week break, most people would think MPs would be keen to get stuck back into their main jobs. But it seems the attention of some is drifting elsewhere. Some MPs are off next week to the United States for a week on a New Zealand-United States Council visit to Washington. Others are joining the Pacific mission to Tonga, Niue, and New Caledonia, and others will be joining the Prime Minister's visit to Samoa at the end of this month, to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship.

No one can accuse the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment of being politically gun-shy. As it continues negotiations with Sky City on building a national convention centre, it is also building an economic and political case for conventions to be held there. The ministry is requesting proposals for collecting data to estimate the annual contribution that conventions make to the NZ economy. MoBie will then analyse and report on the data. What are the chances the study will find conventions are a really good thing, but would make a much greater contribution if only we had a national convention centre in which to hold them?

The seemingly never-ending review of Westpac's position as the Government's banker seems to be turning into more of a protracted renegotiation. The Treasury is apparently more intent on getting a better deal than on seriously considering taking the business elsewhere - such as Kiwibank, as some more nationalistic politicians would like (though as National MPs point out, Labour had years to do that and never did). In some ways Westpac has made things more difficult for Finance Minister Bill English, because if the Government stays with the incumbent, political opponents can mutter that he was influenced by former ministerial colleague Simon Power and former press secretary Grant Fleming, both employed by the bank. Meanwhile, Fleming is being replaced by journalist Joanne Black, ex NZ Press Association, ex the Listener. Black will be able to commute with her husband, who is a senior policy adviser to the PM.


Just in case the daily news doesn't provide enough gloom, the New Zealand Initiative think tank is bringing Satyajit Das to NZ to talk about "The End of Ponzi Prosperity", and what he calls the "botox" economy. Das, who lives in Sydney, is billed as a specialist in financial derivatives, risk management and capital markets. He is also a prolific author and commentator in international media, and not exactly the soul of optimism on the world's economic prospects. If you're feeling strong enough, he'll be talking in Auckland on July 31 and Wellington on August 1.

There is no doubt that the squeeze on the public sector is seriously slowing pay growth in the civil service. But there are exceptions. Some private sector bosses in Wellington are beginning to complain that they are being outbid when they try to hire software developers on contract. It seems that to fill the gap in overall staff numbers created by the sinking lid, government departments are having to use more and more contractors for software work as they look to meet ministers' demands that services "get on the net". As a result, they are pushing up costs for private businesses chasing the same contractors.

2012 has a way to go, but we already have a nominee for boss of the year. Bart Lorang, founder of US IT firm FullContact, has offered all his staff US$7500 ($9360) on top of their regular holiday pay to take a vacation. The conditions are onerous, though: employees must promise not to do any work while they're away, and must refrain from texting, email or surfing the web. Sounds tough.

The Greens' Julie Ann Genter is one of many Opposition MPs who got stuck into the Government over the Transport Agency's big spend-up on consultants on roads of national significance. In her words: "While nearly all Government departments haven't had any budget increases and have had to shed staff, the Government is happy to shell out for its ideologically motivated policies that won't actually help the country's economy." But in her past life Genter was a transport consultant who didn't mind doing work for civil servants. Among her projects was a 2009 study for the Transport Agency on the "Business Case for Walking and Cycling". Perhaps it's a case of some ideologically motivated policies being worth spending on, while other MPs' ideology is a waste of money.

John Key got the message loud and clear at the Local Government NZ conference - councils don't like proposals to limit their activities so rates bills can be cut. The Insider suspects that won't be the end of the matter, though, as many people hate rates as much as they hate taxes. As one MP noted: "Councillors were put on this earth to make MPs look good".