Hekia Parata not standing in next year's election - job has been 'absolutely challenging'
Education Minister Hekia Parata says she will leave Parliament after giving a decade of her life to politics, with no plans other than the "great blue horizon" of life outside of the Beehive.
Parata told Prime Minister John Key of her decision not to stand in next year's election earlier this year, which comes ahead of a planned Cabinet reshuffle at the start of 2017.
Parata said it was time to move on after eight years in the Government, including five as Education Minister.
"By some time next year I will have committed nearly 10 years of my life to politics. It's something that I've wanted to do and I've done with 200 per cent energy and passion, but there will be other opportunities."
Parata said rejuvenation was important, which meant ministers had to make way for others in the "immensely talented caucus".
"That's part of the obligation of when you have this opportunity, you do what you can to the best of your ability and in my case, you then move on and leave the field clear for others who are equally or more talented."
Parata acknowledged the role had been challenging, with the education portfolio "not one you could ever hope to be the most popular in," but said that it had been rewarding for her.
"As a mother I'm passionate about, 'Are my daughters getting the best education possible, what's happening in their school?'.
Hekia Parata has announced she won't contest the next election. But will she remain Minister of Education until then?— Chris Hipkins (@chrishipkins) October 18, 2016
"I respect that from New Zealand parents, they want to know that the best is happening for their kids and so they do take this personally - and I take this personally."
She said her proudest achievements included investing more into quality leadership and teachers, transforming the professional learning and development system, and establishing the Education Council
Asked about her relationship with the teacher's unions, Parata hoped it was seen as "mutually respectful," saying she had met with representatives regularly and included them in major working groups.
"There are areas that we have agreed on in common and we've made a lot of progress on those, there areas that we don't agree on and I respect that they have a difference."
'GREAT BLUE HORIZON'
Parata said she did not intend to "leave behind unfinished business", with several large pieces of education legislation and an overhaul of school funding among the work still underway ahead of the election.
She would continue in the role "unless and until the Prime Minister decides not", although he had not talked to her about whether she would lose the education portfolio before the election.
Parata had no plans for her career after politics, but ruled out taking a diplomatic posting.
"I have no plans beyond completing my education work programme, and then the great blue horizon beckons after that."
'PASSION FOR EDUCATION' NEEDED
She would not comment on her preferred successor, but said it had to be someone with "a passion for education".
"I'm not about to give parting advice to anybody, I think my practice is what should be observed: which is understand what the research and evidence says, keep kids at the centre of everything you do and work hard."
Parata was elected to Parliament in 2008 and has served as the Minister of Education since 2011.
She has previously held the portfolios of Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Minister of Energy and Resources, Minister for Women, Minister of Ethnic Affairs, Minister for Community & Voluntary Sector and Associate Minister of ACC.
DEPARTURES AHEAD OF RESHUFFLE
Earlier this month Key indicated there would be some ministerial departures ahead of next year's election as part of a Cabinet reshuffle.
"At some point there'll be retirements and things next year," he says. "It's likely there'll be one or two that'll be going but we're making our way through that."
Parata has faced some big battles in her time as Education Minister with the fallout of Novopay, which was handed over to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce to fix, the controversy over national standards, the closure of Christchurch schools and the introduction of charter schools.
More recently she had to do a U-turn on increasing class sizes after backlash from the unions and parents.
SHE'S A 'DETERMINED MINISTER'
Labour leader Andrew Little said Parata had never been short of "ideas or the energy to do stuff and make changes".
"She's been a determined Minister, she'll go commanding a fair bit of respect from that role."
While he held different views to Parata on how to achieve things in education, Little said she was "one of those Ministers who you can say is there because she believes in doing the best for the children of New Zealand".
Little suggested at least three current Ministers who could also be on the chopping block after Key indicated last month that possibly two would be leaving.
Police Minister Judith Collins, Housing Minister Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy were top of Little's list - "I'll stop there, we'd be here all day otherwise."
Parata called her education under-secretary and ACT leader David Seymour on Wednesday morning to tell him her news.
"I said that's a real shame because I think Hekia Parata's done a fabulous job, I think she's a deeply passionately devoted Minister who has done a lot of good work in education."
Seymour doesn't have his eyes on her job - "it's very unlikely I'll ever be a Minister in any Government".
"The ACT Party is fundamentally interested in holding the Government to account. The extent we can be in Government it's usually for specific policy reasons," he said.