Nothing wrong with Hekia Parata's husband's health - not why she's stepping down
Prime Minister John Key hasn't backed off from his comments that Education Minister Hekia Parata's husband's health was a factor in her resignation.
Parata has spoken with Key about his comments that her husband - public service high-flyer Sir Wira Gardiner - had health issues that may have played a role.
Key has again maintained that it was a consideration in her decision not to stand in next year's election despite Parata rejecting the suggestion.
Parata stands by her comments - when she announced her intentions not to run again - that neither she nor her husband have health concerns.
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However, Key told Mediaworks on Thursday morning that being Education Minister is "tough" and Gardiner's health would have been on her mind.
"Her husband Wira Gardiner - who's a great man - but he's in his early 70s, he's had a couple of health issues recently.
"And I think it's a combination of, she came to a job and she's done a lot of what she [planned] - you never get the job done, but she's done a lot," he said.
"And secondly I think she's really felt [in need of] a bit more of a work-life balance, I think."
Parata says she spoke to Key and understood he was "referring to the fact we all age and clearly we are all ageing".
"I don't think the Prime Minister was questioning his health."
"My husband is healthy, he's very relaxed about the Prime Minister's comments and so am I," she said.
But at the same time Parata was talking down Key's comments he was speaking to media in the Waikato and didn't make any mention that his comments earlier in the day referred to the ageing process.
He reiterated his comments were on the back of Gardiner having experienced health issues in the past.
"My point is it's just one factor and I think it's pretty well known Wira had some health issues. As I understand it he's fully through all of those.
"I'm not arguing that's the reason she's going today, I'm simply saying whenever a family has any sort of health issue sometimes it focuses the mind about work-life balance and spending more time with your partner," he said.
Parata made her intentions to move on known to Key earlier in the year and attributed her resignation to having committed a decade to politics, and it was time to move on.
"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."
Key said he was surprised by her resignation.
"I mean look, there are always resignations that come along and you're a bit surprised.
"When Simon Power rang and said to me he was going to resign, actually it was on Waitangi Day so again, it was a lot earlier.
"But I was really surprised with Simon, because I really thought he'd be a future Prime Minister and he had a big career."
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 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 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 said she had no plans laid out for her career after politics, but ruled out taking a diplomatic posting.
Her departure could leave room for significant movement when Key reshuffles his Cabinet early next year.