OPINION: In the dictionary, the word “consultation” is defined as the act of asking other parties what they think.
In politics, it is taken to mean a purely ornamental conversation governments have with the people affected by an unpopular proposal before they go ahead and do it to them anyway.
Education Minister Hekia Parata has a third definition: an ornamental conversation you have with people after you've all but done it to them, as she showed responding in Parliament yesterday to questions about the controversial Canterbury school closures and mergers.
Labour's Chris Hipkins wanted to know whom she had consulted before announcing the changes, since it seemed clear she had not consulted the schools or their boards before the announcement.
Ms Parata launched into an explanation about working through “phases of consultation” that were “becoming ever finer-grained”. They had started “at very high levels”, leading to submissions, and then to proposals.
Mr Hipkins complained, and Speaker Lockwood Smith agreed, that she hadn't told the House who had been consulted.
Ms Parata was indignant. “The point is that the consultations taking place, as they are quoted in the [Christchurch Renewal] document, relate to the particular consultations that took place . . .
“We drew up a document that went to the kinds of facilities and options that would be desirable.”
Dr Smith said she still had to say who had been consulted.
“Drawing from the information that arose through . . . submissions we received, as a context, drawing from the data . . . [of] school assessments and drawing from ministry advice, these next set of proposals have been developed for consultation,” she waffled.
Mr Hipkins looked ready to dance a jig, so backhandedly delighted was he with the blatancy of his quarry's evasion.
After a further nudge from Dr Smith, she agreed, in petulant tones, to construe the question “pedantically”!
“I consulted the submissions that had been submitted. I consulted with ministry staff who in turn had consulted with individuals across the . . . district,” she recited primly.
Mr Hipkins looked especially pleased with the idea of consultations with submitted submissions. Deciding to spell out his concern in the simplest possible terms, he asked whether there would now be sufficient time for the schools, parents, pupils, teachers and local communities to be consulted.
“The specifics of the details of consultation under the formal process will be advised to schools, which should be the first to know, and then I will take feedback from them,” Ms Parata said.
At that point, Mr Hipkins' threshold for impromptu reruns of dialogue from Yes, Minister was exhausted, and he gave up.
- The Dominion Post