Hekia Parata the final chapter…
Michael Sandel wrote [Prospect Magazine]
“If I ruled the world, I would rewrite the economics textbooks. This may seem a small ambition, unworthy of my sovereign office. But it would actually be a big step toward a better civic life. Today, we often confuse market reasoning for moral reasoning. We fall into thinking that economic efficiency—getting goods to those with the greatest willingness and ability to pay for them—defines the common good. But this is a mistake.
Consider the case for a free market in human organs—kidneys, for example. Textbook economic reasoning makes such proposals hard to resist. If a buyer and a seller can agree on a price for a kidney, the deal presumably makes both parties better off. The buyer gets a life-sustaining organ, and the seller gets enough money to make the sacrifice worthwhile. The deal is economically efficient in the sense that the kidney goes to the person who values it most highly.
But this logic is flawed, for two reasons. First, what looks like a free exchange might not be truly voluntary? In practice, the sellers of kidneys would likely consist of impoverished people desperate for money to feed their families or educate their children. Their choice to sell would not really be free, but coerced, in effect, by their desperate condition.
Hekia Parata has tried to introduce a new concept in education and the management of it. It was a market concept based on the economic approach of her leader John Key. One of matching up what she considers being a financial market type model where she is the banker, and the suppliers of education are the merchants, and the users are customers.
I believe she discussed this with John Key and this is what got her promoted to the education portfolio in the first place. After all she had powerful mentors, including Finance Minister Bill English and Prime Minister John Key,
“Who saw in her an echo of his own rise to the top”.
Not unlike Michael Sandel’s kidney transplant deal quoted in the first paragraph all she had to do was to match up a willing buyer [those wanting an education] to a willing seller [those supplying education, schools both private and state] by use of enterprising middle men [Education Department, Charter school boards and private School owners] for her scheme to fly.
But she and her backers [Key and English] failed to take account of the human factors involved. In other words she forgot the human element of the exercise. But she did have other qualities that could be harnessed:
“She had the all important X-factor - supreme self-assurance, an engaging personality and a guffawing laugh that could fill a room”.
While none of those skills related to education as such it was obviously that Key and English had great hopes that she could carry the day and introduce their agreed agenda or deal they had with ACT’s John Banks for introducing Charter Schools, larger class sizes, and controlling the teacher unions. They also made Banks an associate minister of education, which alone could have meant that Parata’s chance of success was almost impossible in reality.
For success Parata had to firstly sell the idea that education in the state sector was in need of a kidney transplant [because it was failing] and secondly that larger class sizes, closing down schools and introducing Charter schools with untrained teachers would act like a new or reconditioned Kidney in a largely unwilling patient. Alas she failed…not only in the management of her department but in other aspects too: This from: Tracy Watkins of the Dominion-Post: [Italics]
As blunders mounted one on top of the other in the education portfolio, however, Ms Parata's poise deserted her. Hard questions were met with obfuscation and, when under stress, she reached for the bureaucrat's trick of papering over the cracks with jargon.
The pressure began to tell in other, more personal, ways. Beehive insiders talk about a tense and poisonous atmosphere within her ministerial office, brought on by an increasingly demanding minister, who was out of her depth and casting around for others to blame.
She churned through several private secretaries and lost a senior adviser just two months into a two-year secondment.
Her senior private secretary - effectively her chief executive within the office - was let go in mid-December. There have been rumblings of disquiet from staff outside Ms Parata's office at the timing, just before Christmas.
But her handling of Ministry of Education chief executive Lesley Longstone's resignation raises even more serious questions about Ms Parata's judgment.
Put simply Parata and Key want those with close connections to schools and the public education system to sell their kidney [soul] in pursuit of an imagined and unproven benefit. Without any clear evidence that the action would in reality make things better. The teachers and it would seem a majority of NZ citizens believe otherwise; in fact a transplant seems totally stupid.
After Mr Key was forced to step in and save the situation, the pressure grew. She was taking a hammering from the Opposition and teacher unions, and the mounting list of blunders over teacher pay roll problems and
school closures was painting a picture of incompetence. She is understood to have become increasingly hardline in her view that heads should roll. Christchurch
The likes of Cabinet hard woman Judith Collins would have fronted immediately and carried it off. But it is a sign of her colleagues' increasing lack of confidence in Ms Parata that she was instead packed off on holiday and told to lay low.
Mr Key also refused to front, suggesting he is still weighing up his options for a Cabinet reshuffle in January and does not want to get backed too far into a corner over his support for Ms Parata retaining the education portfolio.
Let me finish by repeating the words of Michael Sandel:
“But this logic is flawed, for two reasons. First, what looks like a free exchange might not be truly voluntary? In practice, the sellers of kidneys would likely consist of impoverished people desperate for money to feed their families or educate their children. Their choice to sell would not really be free, but coerced, in effect, by their desperate condition.
Firstly Parata had to create a crisis where one did not exist, and then she had to sell her snake oil to remedy the self made crisis, she has failed on all counts. A cabinet reshuffle will take place in the New Year and I’ve little doubt that Parata will be moved, to what I don’t know, that will depend on John Key view of the political scene after he returns from his holiday in
. But let us all hope that John Banks is not the chosen one! Hawaii