September 06, 2012
Still hope for Parata
Opinion: It might be premature to write off Maoridom's latest great brown hope, Education Minister Hekia Parata.
When she conceded that the Government had got it wrong over student/teacher ratios, some commentators predicted that it was the end of yet another great brown political hope.
Her mishandling of the issue though has raised a number of questions about her competency.
For example, why did she refuse to meet with the schools and teacher unions? Why didn't she ask how many schools would be affected? And why did she have no idea about how many teachers would lose their jobs?
Basic questions really that any minister worthy of their position would have been able to answer and avoid being embarrassed.
A former National Party press secretary, Matthew Hooten, said on Radio Waatea that when he worked with Education Minister Lockwood Smith in 1995 they always met with the opposing factions and rarely missed a beat.
Mr Smith was used to being unpopular and knowing that the portfolio was controversial he seldom made mistakes.
He was an experienced politician who covered all bases, unlike Ms Parata who has had a charmed career and has never really been tested until now.
Ms Parata has performed well for Prime Minister John Key.
She dealt to the Maori senior school in Moerewa when they dared to reject the Government's national standards. And she supported the oil giant Petrobras and its intention to drill for oil against the wishes of her relations on the East Coast.
The Nats didn't give a damn about the little Maori school and as for the Petrobras protesters, well they thought Ms Parata would be able to quell any protest given her strong Ngati Porou roots.
Her attitude to those two issues was that she knew best; she refused to meet with the parties concerned and was dictatorial and patronising. That same behaviour continued with this current issue. She lectured and waffled on about education being about quality not quantity and constantly stated that she was passionate about raising student achievement. But in the end she was forced to eat humble pie.
Dealing to Maori in Moerewa and protests against oil drilling was easy but upsetting National's core constituency is political suicide.
To Ms Parata's credit, she handled the back down well; she was magnanimous and took full responsibility.
But it wasn't just her fault. She was let down badly by her officials and fellow Cabinet ministers.
Fortunately for Ms Parata, she and Paula Bennett are two of John Key's golden girls.
The promotion of two Maori women offers the best opportunity of dispelling the stereotype of National being a party of old white men.