If it weren’t for the fact that the Prime Minister is a) covering up for a corrupt, lying minister because he heads a support party and is, therefore, above accountability on Planet Key and b) being exposed as an inept and asleep at the wheel in his oversight of the nation’s spies, then Hekia Parata would be clinging on to her political career by her fingernails right now. Still, plenty of time for that.
It’s been a dramatic fall for Parata. After a close loss (against a very weak candidate) in a Labour safe seat, people started talking her up. She was Key’s favourite. They even backed her to win Mana in the general election and she was handed the priority Energy and Resources portfolio to relieve Brownlee when he became
King of Christchurch Minister for Earthquake Recovery. The warning signs should have been evident in some of her atrocious performances in the House in that portfolio.
Instead, she was promoted to Education. Anne Tolley had, by introducing National Standards in the honeymoon phase, then doing virtually nothing for three years, avoided large-scale controversy in a difficult portfolio. Parata, as seems to be her style, ploughed in and expected all the details to be handled by underlings without her involvement. She single-handedly made the 2012 Budget into a disaster for National by not doing her homework on her scheme to fire lots of teachers and increase class sizes (yes, I know, I know, technically she was only going to fire a few teachers and just not employ lots more – but she fucked it up so badly the narrative is entirely written by her opponents).
Now, she’s done doubled-down on her last fuck up by screwing up both the Christchurch school closures and the national standards data release at the same time. Both the national standards data and the data used to justify closing Christchurch schools has proven to be incredibly shoddy.
Far from being the intended conversation about school quality – as a jumping board for performance pay and charter schools – the debate on the national standards has been around just how crappy and unreliable the data is (about the only good thing for Parata out of the national standards fuck up is that John Hartevelt has staked his professional reputation on the validity of using national standards data to assess schools – and so will never write anything critical of them).
And the Christchurch school closures is a complete fiasco. She didn’t do her homework, she didn’t think about the politics, and she didn’t work out she had it wrong and back down when she had the chance. She is arrogantly pushing ahead even as the case for the closures breaks up beneath her.
So, what’s she gone and done now? Attacked teachers for not pronouncing kids’ names correctly and re-raised performance pay.
The first shows complete political tone-deafness: the teachers are in the ascendency and you go and give them a very personal kick in the balls? On an issue that every individual teacher knows that they try to their best on? You’re a moron.
The second, performance pay, shows that Parata has no understanding of political capital. If everything else had gone smoothly, Parata would have the political capital, the goodwill with the public and media, to push through performance pay. But she has made a complete cock-up of everything she has touched, pissed off parents with the class sizes and pissed off a whole city over school closures. She doesn’t have the political capital to get away with farting in public at the moment, let alone to get away with successfully taking on the country’s most powerful unions with a policy custom designed to break those unions.
Look at the strength of the teachers’ reaction to Parata’s speech. That tells you where the power lies in education now. she cant’ put a foot wrong without the teachers eating her alive in the media.
And there would be a hell of a lot more media if it weren’t for Dotcom. The opinion pieces would be devoted to critiquing her performance and coming to the conclusion that she isn’t up to the job and, worse, is a political liability for Key. The pressure on her to be stood down would be ramping up day by day.
But, like they say, politics is a long game and there will be plenty of time for Parata’s incompetence to drag herself and National down. And the opposition know it.
Perhaps it will come when someone takes a closer look at Parata’s dealings with the Taeaomanino Trust.