When Hekia Parata announced her resignation from Parliament on Thursday, like so many others, I was delighted. The departure of Ms Parata is not until the end of the Parliamentary term a bit under a year from now at the latest, but 24 hours after Ms Parata announced her resignation, her boss claims to know a second version of events leading to her decision (another, perhaps more interesting story).
Ms Parata was elected to Parliament in 2008, when the National Party led by Prime Minister John Key won the election. In 2010 she was made Minister for Ethnic Affairs, after her predecessor resigned from Parliament in disgrace. When National was re-elected in 2011 she became Minister for Education, a position she has held to the chagrin of the education sector, Opposition M.P.’s and many schools. Ms Parata has a problematic history in terms of what she will most likely be remembered for. It might also need to be said that rumours she was not a good boss to work for ran rife when the number of electorate office staff she ran through was revealed.
In 2012 with Christchurch communities struggling with the continuing fallout from the earthquakes, Ms Parata made an announcement that up to 18 schools were facing the chop. The initial reaction was one of considerable shock and anger, especially when the names of the schools in the gun were released. Communities felt – rightfully – that there had been no consultation, which initially was totally correct. The backlash was enough to make her back down on several schools. However, recognizing that there has been a substantial population drop in eastern Christchurch, a few schools were never going to be saved despite gallant resistance.
Another controversial announcement that has gone ahead is the introduction of charter schools. These schools, which have no fixed curriculum or requirements for reporting expenditure were roundly derided by Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First. Part of the outrage was driven by ideology, but in large part there was the credible concern that taxpayer money was being used for something that had no obvious oversight. At one charter school has already imploded, the omens for other such schools in the long term are not flash.
But the award for inane announcement of Ms Parata’s tenure must – unless something else even worse happens (heaven forbid!) before she leaves Parliament – would have be “Communities of Online Learning (C.O.O.L). The (not so) grand vision behind this is that teachers in state schools would no longer be needed because students would be doing their learning from home, and using the internet. Aside from completely ignoring the fact that it would cut off students from lower level socio-economic backgrounds, it would also be wholly inappropriate or simply impossible for others. State schools, the education framework behind them and the teachers that teach in them are all there for very good reasons, not least everyone is entitled to an education. It is a human right.
But now, with three credible strikes to her name, Ms Parata has made the single best decision of her Parliamentary career.