Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be rejuvenated

'G ood morning, everybody,' said the Minister of Ministries as he stepped on to the stage. Before him sat the entire workforce of the Ministry of Education.

'Good morning,' they replied, 'going forward.'

'Some of you,' said the minister, 'may be wondering why I've summoned you to this assembly. Well, have no fear. I bring tidings of joy. I'm here to announce a billion-dollar investment in the Ministry of Education.'

Smiles erupted on every face. 'Three cheers for the Minister of Ministries,' said the principal undersecretary for Learning Community Clusters (Inclusive Education Initiative), 'hip hip, hoorah!', and all the employees of the Ministry of Education, and there were thousands of them, flung their cardigans into the air. All except one. That one put her hand up.

'Yes Lesley,' said the Minister of Ministries. 'You have a question.'

'Is this a billion-dollar investment in the form of giving us a billion dollars to spend,' asked Lesley, 'or is it the sort of billion-dollar investment that we recently announced for Christchurch?'

'Oh, you are a clever girl,' said the minister, smiling. 'It's the sort of billion-dollar investment that you recently announced for Christchurch.'

The smiles withered. Silence fell upon the room. The cardigans lay where they had fallen, sprawled like suicides.

'So,' said Lesley, her voice as flat as a beach, 'there are strings attached.'

'Oh, I wouldn't say attached,' said the minister cheerfully. 'There's nothing much to attach them to. My announcement, to be frank, consists entirely of strings, though they are sugar- coated.'

'And that sugar-coating consists of the phrase 'billion- dollar investment'," said Lesley.

'You're on to it,' said the minister. 'Indeed, it was you who gave us the idea. Now, some of you may have noticed that you've been given colour-coded badges. You do look pretty in them.'

'I think they're belittling and demeaning,' said Lesley. 'And ominous.'

'Yes,' said the minister. 'There is just a hint of an historical allusion that I'm sure won't be lost on you educators. But once again, I'm indebted to you for the idea. So, as you will have guessed, these pretty badges dictate the exciting things that are going to happen to you. I bet you can't wait to find out what they are.'

The faces in front of him looked to have been carved from wet granite.

'But first a bit of background. I'm sure you recognise that given recent events there need to be changes in the way bureaucracy is delivered.'

'But you can't 'deliver' bureaucracy,' exclaimed Lesley. 'It's not a truckload of bricks. It's something people do.'

'If I might draw your attention to your own website, Lesley, which is where I got most of my material, you are forever speaking of delivering education as if it were a truckload of, as you put it, bricks. And besides, as you know, the Government has opened the door for charter ministries to deliver bureaucracy at no cost to the taxpayer. Soon anyone who cleaves to any crackpot philosophy will be able to set up a ministry to propagate it, so we have no choice but to rationalise your operation.'

'But couldn't you have consulted us?' squealed Lesley. 'Change may be inevitable but we're the professionals who do the work. Not to consult us is both autocratic and insulting.'

'But we ARE consulting you, Lesley,' said the minister. 'What do you think this assembly is for, if not to consult you about our little proposals?'

'But,' stammered Lesley, 'but you have already decided what's going to happen. Only the details remain to be settled. It's like telling someone you're going to bomb their house and then asking whether they'd prefer carpet bombing or laser- guided missiles.'

'Yes,' said the minister. 'And your point?'

'My point is that consultation after the fact is not consultation. It's more sugar-coating of strings, even as those strings tighten around our necks.'

'Exactly,' said the minister, 'neat, eh. And now I think that's enough consulting for one day. So, if you are wearing a green badge, please head for the room marked Restoration. You have little to fear in there. Those with amber badges will go to the Consolidation Room, from which several of you may return not much altered. And that leaves those of you with red badges.'

The minister pressed a button on the desk beside him and bolts were heard clanging shut on the doors of the assembly hall.

The red-badged few looked at each other with faces the colour of hospital bed sheets. 'Ladies and gentlemen,' said the minister still smiling his smile, 'prepare to be rejuvenated.'

The Press