Cutting through the obfuscation of question four

Question No. 4—Education

4. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: What specific advice, if any, has he received from officials that advises him to not visit partnership schools?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I discussed the issues with Ministry of Education officials last year when we were planning the process of ending charter schools and removing it from legislation whilst transitioning those individual schools. We agreed that the contract negotiations would be handled by the Ministry of Education, and I made the decision not to visit charter schools while that process was taking place. I’ve been largely successful in doing that, with one exception. I’m not, however, ruling out visiting them in the future.

So, he made a decision but made an exception for one Charter school despite stating that the contract negotiations should be handled solely by the Ministry of Education.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Has the Hon Kelvin Davis, Willie Jackson, or Peeni Henare been involved in any partnership schools discussions with him?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There’s a requirement for a question to flow from the primary question. The primary question was very specific and that was advice to him—to the Minister on him visiting partnership schools. That doesn’t involve any other Minister. I will let the member have another crack at getting it within order.

Hon Nikki Kaye: In light of his answer regarding visits with partnership schools, can he confirm that he did have a meeting with a partnership school at Waitangi, and who organised that meeting?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I did and I’ve been very open about the fact that I had a discussion with sponsors from He Puna Mārama Trust, who run two partnership schools. I had that discussion whilst at Waitangi. I was asked by them whether I would meet with them. I thought in the circumstances, given it was a large public event at which they were going to be present, it would’ve been awkward not to have a discussion with them.

So, when he makes a decision as a minister to not meet with Charter schools while contract negotiations are going on that means that he will not meet with them unless he feels “awkward”.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Did the Hon Kelvin Davis organise that meeting?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No.

Chris Hipkins better hope that there is no one out there willing to put pen to paper to contradict that categorical denial otherwise a couple of resignations may be in order. I suspect that Nikki Kaye subscribes to the Whaleoil rule of politics, which is to never ask a question that you do not already know the answer to. Look at her reaction in the video when he says “no”.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Why is he engaging in preferential treatment accepting meetings arranged by other Cabinet Ministers while telling everyone else he won’t meet with other schools?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: To be clear, when I met with them I made it clear the Ministry of Education would be conducting the negotiations with them. I have had discussions with other existing charter schools in the past, including the Villa Education Trust, including the Rise UP Trust, including those who are running Vanguard Military School. I haven’t had the opportunity to have any form of discussion with this particular organisation in the past. I didn’t see any harm in doing so, but I have made it very clear that the negotiations regarding the transition process for these schools will be conducted by Ministry of Education and not by Ministers.

The discussions in the past that he is referring to did not happen when he was the Minister for Education. Those discussions happened when he was an opposition MP with no power or influence over the schools. Those discussions had nothing to do with the closure of Charter schools and it is unfair to refer to them as if they are in any way equivalent to his special meeting at Waitangi with the He Puna Mārama Trust.

My sources inside some Partnership schools tell me that they are incredibly disappointed and upset that the Minister of Education has met with other schools in his new role but has completely declined to meet with them. They feel that it makes it very hard for them to expect negotiations in good faith from Chris Hipkins.

In response to a recent invitation to visit one of the schools, Hipkins replied:

[…] The Ministry of Education will continue to be the only party leading discussions on behalf of the Government with all schools.  In regards to Hon Kelvin Davis, you may have heard him speaking in the House today, confirming that he has spoken to the charter schools in his electorate, in his capacity as electorate MP for Tai Tokerau, and not as Associate Minister for Education.

I trust this clarifies this matter for you.[…]

In other words nothing to see here. I made an exception for another Charter school because I felt awkward, and Kelvin Davis has been working closely with that same school but he wasn’t wearing the hat of Associate Minister of Education when he did so, so no harm, no foul.

In the House last week Kelvin Davis was questioned about what he (on Radio NZ) called “working closely” with the Charter school Trust. My sources’ understanding is that the Associate Minister of Education Kelvin Davis arranged the Waitangi meeting with the Trust and Education Minister Chris Hipkins. They also told me that a complaint has been laid with the A-G.

 


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