I thought for this post I might swap the endlessly frustrating depths of international issues, and instead transverse into the parochial soiree of New Zealand politics. There has been a long standing feud between the public and the Minister for Education Hekia Parata. Upon taking her post in 2011 she got off entirely on the wrong foot by proposing to increase class sizes in schools. This is something of a pressure point for kiwi parents who argue that smaller classes are more academically successful. This sentiment was shared by the Prime Minister who gave a quote some years back to that effect. The opposition found the quote, embarrassed the government, and Hekia Parata reneged on her proposal.
This was not the last of Parata’s woes, the Novopay system introduced to cover teachers wages was found to be riddled with holes, thousands of teachers being paid late if at all. Hekia Parata became the most unpopular minister in the government. It was a surprise to many then when she kept her job after Prime Minister Key’s recent cabinet reshuffle. Crack minister Steven Joyce was given the task of fixing Novopay, making some wonder why Parata was still in her post at all, when others were dealing with her problems.
This dear reader leads us to the here and now. Today’s copy of the Dominion Post contains the results of a Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll, showing that 60 percent of the public believe the education minister should have been relieved of her post. The number is 70 percent in Canterbury where Parata just announced the closure or merger of nearly 20 schools. So why is she still in her post? This is a question the media seems unable to answer, an indication that imagination and guile have bereft our dear print media.
The reason is abundantly clear, it is smarty pants John Key. Hekia Parata could easily be fed to the public, but more than a year away from the next election there would be no tangible benefit. The support for the government is still high, Parata’s inept conduct is reflecting on her, she is not yet radioactive as they love to say, toxic to the government. So it pays to have her continue, have Joyce clean up the big messes, while further mistakes are absorbed by the sand bag minister. Then Mr Key knows that when his government starts really slipping, and the howling public demands cabinet flesh, he can feed them Hekia Parata. She is now a buffer-minister, a shield for use further down the track.
It is cunning of the Prime Minister, and also what one would expect of the “smiling assassin” from Merrill Lynch. It is also indicative of what sets the Prime Minister apart from his counterpart on the opposition benches, he is smarter and more of a consummate politician than David Shearer will ever be.