Give back our democracy, Cantabs tell Govt

ANGER: Hundreds of people protested in Christchurch last night.
ANGER: Hundreds of people protested in Christchurch last night.

Hundreds of angry Cantabrians took to the streets of Christchurch last night to vent their anger at the Government's controversial proposal to shut schools in the city.

Emotions in Canterbury are running high after Education Minister Hekia Parata announced a major shake-up of education in the region.

Proposals to close 13 schools, merge 18 schools into 9, and relocate 7, have sparked widespread anger in a city weary from dealing with the aftermath of the devastating Christchurch earthquakes.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand this morning, Parata said she was not surprised that some sectors of the community were upset at the decision.

However, she believed last night's protest may not have just been about the schools issue.

"It sounds like it was a culmination of issues that people were protesting."

Parata said the decision to close or merge some schools was based on a range of factors about the "overall network".
She listed some of the "range of factors" this morning:

"There are 4500 less students in the network and there were already some over capacity. In the context of the earthquake ... meeting new earthquake standards ... what the population is there now and the projection, the level of education achievement and the investments we need to make, opportunities for research and 21st century options around technology and clustering."

She encouraged those who were upset by the decision to get involved in the community consultation process.

Parata's announcement was not the only focus of the protesters' anger. A decision to keep government-appointed commissioners in place to run Environment Canterbury until 2016 has also provoked discontent.

This decision, along with the shift of power from the Christchurch City Council to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, was seen as evidence that Christchurch was being run by bureaucrats in Wellington, not by the people on the ground in the city, organisers of the Suffrage Day protest rally said.

In yesterday's event, hundreds of people of all ages gathered at the Bridge of Remembrance to make their voices heard. Organiser University of Canterbury political science lecturer Bronwyn Hayward said about 1000 people attended.

Sandra Spekreijse, representing the New Zealand Educational Institute teachers' union, said Parata's closures were not about children and education, but about "saving money".

"Haven't our kids suffered enough? Why should they be exposed to more reform . . .? Our kids are not guinea pigs," she said. Also speaking at the protest, Labour MP Ruth Dyson for the Port Hills electorate said it was time for Canterbury to stand up for children and the future.

"That's the way that we'll get our region back."

Cr Glenn Livingstone said he wanted the voices of the people of Christchurch to be heard in Wellington.

"I want to make this all clear, our environment does not belong to Wellington. It belongs to us here in Canterbury."

He said what was occurring in Canterbury was the "dismantling of democracy".

"However, the power belongs to us. Democracy belongs to us, the people. It's not for the Government in Wellington to play tiddlywinks with. Let's together storm the barracks of power," he said.

Kim Dijkstra and Lee Meikle were at the rally to protest against the Government's announcement on schools in the city.

But they felt last night's gathering was about more; it was about "bringing democracy back" to Christchurch, they said.

"We're losing a lot of our governance.

"There's no consultation. I feel our democratic rights have been scrapped.

"The majority don't want the schools to close, where is the democracy? I'm really irate about this," said Dijkstra.

Petitions were also passed out among the crowd, some of whom were brandishing placards, in which attendees were asked to sign "to protect democracy" in Christchurch.

Nigel Maguigan said he had also come to show his support for Christchurch's schools, in particular the two Maori schools in the city.

The Government's plan includes merging Christchurch's Te Kura Kaupapa Maori immersion schools.

Another public rally dubbed "Join The Fight, Save Our Schools and Our Communities" will be held on the Hagley Netball Courts, on Saturday at noon.

The Press