Smarty Pants John Key, Parata’s his pet

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. 

3 thoughts on “Smarty Pants John Key, Parata’s his pet

  1. If John Key gets rid of Hekia he risks being criticised for having a cabinet lacking in ethnic and gender diversity, though she's hardly any good in her current position. In my opinion it's a shame they should be judged as such; just because the opposition have a more diverse shadow caucus does not mean it will be a more effective one. I think you're right in your observation about her usefulness down the track, however.

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  2. She'll be useful down the track because the government still has plenty of dirty work to do in education. So there's no point bringing in someone with clean hands. Better to let her finish the job and then ditch her.

    Not so sure JK is the consummate politician you paint him as, however. Personally, I think he's just a face for the National Party – with little going on behind it. But certainly whoever is pulling the strings is well schooled in the dark art of politics.

    MZW

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  3. He may be just the face of the National party (I couldn't possibly argue with this assessment) but he is a step above any of his rivals in Parliament, within the opposition and the government. This may simply be because he has the sense to employ the best PR people and while I do believe this is true to an extent – he does understand the nature of the game. He plays it proficiently enough to not simply be sailing on good advice.

    As for education I am not convinced the cabinet has any great plans this term, its damage control from here to the election on that portfolio.

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