Chris Hipkins may not come across as a hard hitting political heavyweight, but he showed yesterday that probing, persistent questions can be far more effective at exposing inadequacies in parliament and in ministers than much of what happens in the house.
Hipkins put Parata in the spotlight at question time and Parata floundered and flabbergasted as she waffled and avoided answering the questions put to her.
Speaker Lockwood Smith supported Hipkin’s repeated attempts to get Parata to answer the actual questions being asked.
Hipkins followed up with a post at Red Alert:
Another Hekia Parata train wreck
Posted by Chris Hipkins on September 26th, 2012
Today in the House I questioned Hekia Parata about the consultation process around school closures and mergers in Christchurch. It would be fair to say it took quite a few attempts before I got any answers, and even then I’m not sure I’m any clearer after her comments such as “I consulted the submissions that had been submitted”.
That’s a very restrained account of what happened. It’s hard to know if Parata was wilfully avoiding the questions or if she was just woeful.
And Hipkins was raising valid points in an issue that has so far been handled poorly by Parata.
The government’s current consultation process around the future of schooling in greater Christchurch is a total sham. Hekia Parata began an ‘open consultation’ on 13 September but confirmed in the House today that she will be writing to school boards within days to formally begin the legal process to implement her plan to close and merge schools.
To make matters worse, documents from the Ministry of Education tabled in the House today suggest they only envisage a formal consultation process of five to six weeks, which just so happens to coincide with school holidays and senior student exams.
There is no way the Government can get meaningful information from teachers, parents and children during the exam and holiday period. This whole process looks like a sham and sounds like a sham, because it is a sham. Hekia Parata has clearly already made her mind up.
This is another classic Hekia Parata botch up. The people of Christchurch have been through enough trauma in the past two years. Rather than engaging in a meaningful way with those affected, Hekia Parata seems determined to add to the stress.
Christchurch Schools could become a train wreck if Parata and National don’t improve their efforts on this and other education issues substantially.
26.9.12 – Question 11: Chris Hipkins to the Minister of Education
Are reports that she intends to write to Christchurch schools within the next fortnight to begin the formal consultation process required to close or merge them correct; if so, what was the purpose of the “open consultation” process she began on 13 September?
11. Schools, Canterbury and Christchurch—Proposed Closures and Mergers
[Sitting date: 26 September 2012. Volume:684;Page:16. Text is subject to correction.]
11. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Are reports that she intends to write to Christchurch schools within the next fortnight to begin the formal consultation process required to close or merge them correct; if so, what was the purpose of the “open consultation” process she began on 13 September?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education) : In answer to the first part of the question, yes. In answer to the second part, I made a deliberate decision to announce the proposals and give all 215 schools time to absorb the information before I started the formal consultation process for the much smaller group of schools that are directly affected in different ways. I do not resile from that decision. I am committed to genuine consultation, and there have been no decisions made in advance of the full process. I have confidence that having these difficult conversations is in the best interests of the current and future learners of Canterbury and their families. I genuinely believe that we owe it to all students to build better educational facilities than were there before.
Chris Hipkins: Who did she consult about the specific closures, mergers, and consolidations proposed in her announcement of 13 September, given the Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch document makes it clear that consultation up to that point had been focused on “the future of education—from early childhood through to tertiary (not the future of individual schools or services/ facilities).”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is what this phase of the consultation is on.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think I heard you ask “Who did she consult”, indeed. The question asked who did the Minister consult, given the statement made in a certain report that talked about consultation up to that point. The question was asking who was involved in that consultation. The member can repeat his question if the Minister—
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, please.
Chris Hipkins: Who did she consult about the specific closures, mergers, and consolidations proposed in her announcement of 13 September, given the Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch document makes it clear that consultation up to that point had been focused on “the future of education—from early childhood through to tertiary (not the future of individual schools or services/facilities).”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have made it clear, so has the ministry, and those documents do too, that we have been going through phases of consultation, which are becoming ever finer-grained. So those consultations were at the very high level—the first lot in October. They led to Directions for Education, which was released in May, from which we got further submissions, and that has allowed us to put these proposals before these particular schools.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I suspect you know what the point of order is—
Mr SPEAKER: I do.
Chris Hipkins: It was actually a relatively specific question. I know it was a long question, but it was quite specifically about “Who did she consult”.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is the crucial thing. The question actually contained some quotes in it to identify the period of consultation that the member was referring to in his question. But the Minister still has not answered his question. The only reference the Minister has made is that consultations took place at a high level. But “high level” is not actually telling the House who she consulted. I mean, I think it is not unreasonable. The document says consultations took place, and the question has asked who did the Minister consult up to that point.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point is that the consultations taking place, as they are quoted in that document, relate to the particular consultations that took place. The member is—[Interruption] Well, the consultations that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order!
Hon HEKIA PARATA: —took place were on the future of education in Christchurch, from which we drew up a document that then went to the kinds of facilities and options that would be desirable—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is not really now a point of order. The Minister has acknowledged that consultations took place on the broader issues involved, and the member asked who did the Minister consult in that. It is not unreasonable to ask that, and Ministers are accountable for who they consult. That is a very clear issue of accountability. It may be ministry officials, it may be school principals—anything, whatever happened—but just to say “high level” is not really telling the House anything.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Drawing from the information that arose through the over 700 submissions we received, as a context, drawing from the data that has been collected by school-by-school assessments, and drawing from ministry advice, these next set of proposals have been developed for consultation.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will repeat only the first part of the question. The first part of the question says “Who did she consult about the specific closures, mergers, and consolidations proposed in her announcement of 13 September,”. The Minister has had three goes, but still has not actually addressed that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has a legitimate grievance. The question, as he has boiled it down now, is exactly what he asked. That is the substance of the question: who did the Minister consult prior to the announcement of the release of a certain document to do with mergers and closures, and what have you, in Christchurch. That is a fair question. Ministers are accountable for who they have consulted. It is not unreasonable for a member to ask that, and so far we have not had any indication at all of who the Minister consulted.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: To pedantically use that term “consult” then, I consulted specific people—[Interruption] Well—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. She just cannot comment on your rulings like that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The Speaker is actually trying to assist the House in obtaining information, and he does not need that sort of point of order interrupting. The Minister, I think, was about to give us some information.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I consulted the submissions that had been submitted. I consulted with ministry staff, who in turn had consulted with ranges of individuals across the greater Christchurch, Waimakariri, and Selwyn districts.
Chris Hipkins: Is she satisfied that a consultation time frame of 5 to 6 weeks, as ministry officials have suggested, will be sufficient for students, parents, teachers, and others in the community to have their say, particularly given it is likely to overlap both with school holidays and senior student exams; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: 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.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can see the member’s point of order. The question actually asked whether the Minister considered that 5 weeks was sufficient time for consultation—that is the question that was asked—given when holidays and exams occur. That was the question asked. It is an opinion. There is no specific answer, but I would ask the Minister to try to answer it.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, that presumes that the time period is accurate, and what I have said is that the specifics of the consultation process to be engaged in have to be advised to schools, and that is what is going to occur.
Chris Hipkins: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Ministry of Education and circulated to schools summarising a meeting on 20 September, which states that the ministry’s—well, I will not quote exactly, but it is basically suggesting that the Minister’s time frame will be 5 to 6 weeks.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Megan Woods: Does the Minister have confidence that she has accurate and adequate demographic information on which to base her decisions, given the ministry’s own document Directions for Educational Renewal in Greater Christchurch states that “At this stage it is difficult to tell how many families have moved permanently …”; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, I am confident of the ministry’s advice, because that advice is set in particular times. So, for instance, roll projections for next year are set on the basis of a specific roll count at a specific time, in the knowledge that families move in and out, and based on longer-term projections. So there is no one precise time at which everybody stays still, except for the 5-yearly census.
Dr Megan Woods: What specific data set or data sets are her proposals for closures, mergers, and relocations of Christchurch schools, under her plans, based on?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: They are based on roll returns and roll projections, as well as local information provided through the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, as well as some information that has been—
Dr Russel Norman: Consultation!
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Thank you—and also from consultation.
Chris Hipkins: I seek leave to table source data provided by the Christchurch Press of the results of their online poll that indicate—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a press clipping?
Chris Hipkins: No, no. It is not available online.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not available—[Interruption] Order!
Chris Hipkins: This is the source data of it, which shows that 80 percent of the respondents believe that the handling of this situation by the Minister has either been poor or very—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table this document. Is there any objection? There is objection.