The rise and fall of Parata

GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 10:56 09/10/2012

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Has a promising ministerial career ever gone off the rails quite as quickly and comprehensively as that of Education Minister Hekia Parata?

It's not as if Parata had a hard act to follow.

By general consent, Parata's predecessor Anne Tolley was one of the weakest performers during the first term of the John Key Government.

There was a widely-held perception that Tolley wouldn't (or couldn't) listen to advice or engage with the sector as she lacked the confidence to carry her arguments.

Parata was expected to change that. Confidence has never been an issue for her.

In fact, Parata's success was so taken for granted some commentators were looking ahead, touting her as a contender to replace John Key if and when he tired of the top job. Clearly, a lot has gone wrong with that scenario.

The first catastrophe - one so big the image of the Government itself was briefly tarnished - came in the wake of a brutal Treasury proposal to allow class sizes to increase, to fund teacher training.

A more experienced minister might have seen this for what it was, a piece of ideological speculation concocted by intelligent people with no brains whatsoever.

Unfortunately for Parata, she embraced the idea.

All hell broke loose as parents around the country suddenly felt their child's schooling was possibly under threat from a few mad scientists in Treasury enabled by Parata.

It was then that the second chink in her political armour became apparent.

Parata does not appear to have a reverse gear. Graceful concessions are not her forte.

Faced with political adversity, she drives onwards in a different direction, the new route being rationalised by whatever string of platitudes is available at the time.

The resultant loss of credibility has become a tactical liability for her. Suddenly gun-shy of her capacity to carry an argument in public, Parata's next debacle - the list of possible Christchurch school closures and amalgamations - was sprung on people without warning.

In the aftermath of another explosion of public wrath, Parata had achieved the virtually impossible; she caused the media and prime education sector players to wax nostalgic for the Tolley days.

Meanwhile, Tolley's National Standards policy is proving to be another toxic legacy for Parata.

To be fair to Parata, the comparisons with her Cabinet colleague Tony Ryall's handling of the Health portfolio are somewhat unfair.

National-led governments have rarely been willing to take on the doctors and nurses as they have regularly tried to take on the teachers.

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The problem for National now is that in six months it has lost almost all ability to convince voters it has a credible, consistent vision for educating their children.

One minute, teacher training is so crucial class sizes need to grow to fund it.

Next, people are going to be let loose in charter school classrooms to teach our most at-risk kids with no teacher training at all. Not credible.

Unfortunately for the Government, neither is its present Education Minister.

- Hutt News

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