Monday, March 31, 2014

Steve Baron: A new Minister of Education

Who would ever want to be the Minister of Education? The very first Minister of Education was the MP for Rangitikei/Wanganui, John Ballance. Ballance was the Founder of the Wanganui Herald and held the Education portfolio under Premier Robert Stout for 18 months. Back in those days an MP was simply and truly the representative for that electorate—they were not aligned to a political party because back in those days political parties did not exist. Well at least not formally, but they were often grouped as loose factions when it came to voting on the issues of the day. It wasn’t until 1891 that the first political party, the Liberal Party, was formed under the leadership of Ballance and the party governed New Zealand until 1912.

We are now on to our 44th Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. Rumours around Parliament are that her job is now on the line—hanging by a thread. No real surprises there I guess, given the mortar fire she was under recently.

Whether she lasts in this portfolio until the next election is difficult to know. Given we are less than six months out from an election you would expect Prime Minister Key to keep things pretty much as they are, but pressure must surely be building. I almost get the feeling that Parata will be pleased when this nightmare job is over—who wouldn’t be!

It’s certainly been a rollercoaster ride from go to woe for Parata. She stepped in at the deep end after taking over from Anne Tolley who had her back against the wall when introducing National Standards. Some might even say it’s been a baptism of fire for Parata because shortly after National Standards, came the Novopay debacle, and now the Kohanga Reo corruption allegations.

Parata has now been in the role 27 months. That doesn’t sound like a long time but you might be interested to know that the shortest period ever served by an Education Minister was that of the 36th Education Minister, Geoffrey Palmer, (under his own leadership) who held the portfolio for only 6 days before handing the hot potato over to Phil Goff. Prior to that William Montgomery held it for 12 days in 1884 when he graciously stepped aside to help keep Robert Stout in power.

In fact the average time that a Minister of Education holds this portfolio is just over 3 years (37 months to be precise). So, in that respect, if Parata was to soldier on through to the next election this would mean 31 months in the role—something she could be reasonably proud of given that the Minister of Education (at least under a National government) is a battlefield fraught with Union landmines. Let’s face it; I would hazard a guess that 90% of education employees would be left-wing Labour/Green Party supporters who totally detested any National Party Minister.

So who the hell would take over from Parata if she loses the portfolio? Well, Taupo MP and Chief Whip, Louise Upston, has told me in the past that education would be her preferred portfolio, if ever elevated to Minister. Upston is a behind the scenes MP even though she is always in the camera spotlight sitting behind John Key in parliament. She is a very determined woman and appears highly organised, which is not surprising given her pre-parliament life in project management. To my mind it would be a brave person to ever take over this portfolio given its historical difficulties, but I guess someone has to do the job no one else wants and I think Upston would be up to the task.

[Steve Baron is a political scientist, Founder of Better Democracy NZ and co-editor of the book ‘People Power’.] 

1 comment:

paul scott said...

yes indeed Steve , the cursed portfolio