Editorial: Reshuffle raises eyebrows

19:18, Jan 22 2013

Prime Minister John Key is right about one thing when it comes to Hekia Parata's position as education minister. He should not be expected to sack her, he noted, simply because teacher unions demand she go.

However, parents had plenty of valid reasons for expecting that Mr Key would take the chance to remove Ms Parata from the portfolio when he reshuffled his Cabinet.

Few things are more important to mums and dads than the education of their children. They want to be assured that the minister who is responsible for delivering it is a decisive leader who is on top of the many issues and problems that are confronting the sector.

What they have had for the past year is a minister who is woefully out of her depth, and who resorts to meaningless jargon when asked to explain the policies she is implementing.

Education Secretary Lesley Longstone paid the ultimate price for the class size, Christchurch school closure and Novopay debacles that dogged education in 2012, but Ms Parata must also bear a considerable share of the blame.

Her abject failure to explain the merits of plans to marginally increase class sizes and use the savings to boost teacher quality fuelled the massive public backlash that forced the Government's embarrassing U-turn.

She also failed to ensure that Christchurch parents, teachers and school boards led the reorganisation of schools in the city, instead allowing it to be run by bureaucrats in Wellington.

And she left it to her associate, Craig Foss, to sort out the Novopay disaster when it was abundantly clear it required a much more authoritive response from the Government to get results. Mr Key's decision to shift responsibility for Novopay to Cabinet's Mr-Fix-it, Steven Joyce, is overdue recognition of that.

The return of Nick Smith to the Cabinet table less than a year after he was forced to resign for intervening in an ACC claimant's case will also raise eyebrows.

Dr Smith was an eminently capable minister, and as a committed environmentalist he will be well-suited to the role of conservation minister. But his decision to write a letter supporting ACC claimant Bronwyn Pullar, who he knew personally, when he was ACC minister displayed an egregious lack of judgment.

By writing on ministerial letterhead, he crossed a line that someone of his intelligence and political experience should have known was off-limits.

Mr Key insists Dr Smith has learned from his mistake and that Ms Parata is the best person in his caucus of 59 MPs to lead the education portfolio. However, the appointments are a risk, particularly the retention of Ms Parata.

The Cabinet, Mr Key announced yesterday, bears his stamp more than any other in his prime ministership.

His first ministries were dictated largely by the seniority of his MPs. This one is very much the result of his assessment of their capabilities and performance.

If any of them slip up it will be a reflection not just on their competence, but on Mr Key's own judgment.


The Dominion Post