'Must do better' is the least criticism Education Minister Hekia Parata can expect from her colleagues over the shambolic class sizes policy. She may argue that being heckled by intermediate school principals at their conference today in the midst of it all is punishment enough, but as John Armstrong writes, the entire mess was completely avoidable - see: Class backdown a mess of National's own making.
Parata's performance under pressure yesterday will not do her political aspirations any good. John Hartevelt says Parata 'ran from questions in the morning and was hapless in the teeth of grillings from the media and the baying Opposition in the afternoon - see: Education minister learns the hard way.
Scrambling to avoid a meltdown, John Key came to the rescue with assurances that no school would lose more than two teachers. He then had to admit National had no idea how this would impact on the $43 million a year savings that were to be diverted to improving teaching 'quality' - see: Audrey Young's Parata is forced to redo her homework. Teacher unions now have a very simple and clear issue to campaign against the Government policy on, and are already preparing - see: Teachers' union gear up for fight.
Once again National's basic political competence has been called into question and the controversy has focused attention on the negative side of the Budget, one that reaches into a huge number of households on a very important issue - the education of their children.
Parata's mistake is unfortunate in light of her recent statement that being in a class of 42 didn't do her any harm and The Standard says she may be the 'best ad for smaller class sizes out there' - see: Sacking 'only' 400 teachers 'good news' say Nats. For an excellent teacher's explanation of how fiddling with formulas impacts on real teachers and students see the Danyl Mclauchlin's A teacher rants about class sizes.
National has also opened themselves up to a charge of hypocrisy. Yesterday John Minto, the chair of the Quality Public Education Coalition (also a teacher and Mana Party Vice-President) accused Government ministers of avoiding their own policies as their kids attend private schools that, despite significant increases in state funding over recent years, will not be bound by the class size policy - see: Education policy forgets the heroes.
The Herald has surveyed cabinet ministers and found that only five out of seventeen confirmed that their kids were enrolled in state schools. The rest did not respond or confirmed that their kids attend, or have attended, elite private schools. Both of the schools that John Key's children attend (Kings College and St Cuthbert's) promote small class sizes amongst their educational advantages. St Cuthbert's 'advertised the fact that it limited classes to 15 students "to allow for individual attention to each student".' - see Isaac Davison's Ministers' kids skip big classes.
Cabinet minister's children studying at university also won't be affected by the cutting of tertiary allowances for post-graduate study (unless they have very creative accountants). Labour is claiming that the budget changes effectively mean all post-graduate students will have to rely on loans or their family for living costs. - see: Katie Bradford-Crozier's No student allowance for post-grad students.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* The Charities Commission is about to be scrapped. Rodney Hide laments this, saying it does an excellent job, and points readers to its very useful Charity Search Register. But Hide's bigger and more profound question is whether charities should really receive the various taxbreaks and subsidies that they do - see: Charities Commission deserves better. For more on the demise of the Charities Commission see Andrea Vance's Law to can Charities Commission.
* Today Isaac Davison previews the Green party's annual conference which will celebrate it's past - see: Green Party celebrates 40th anniversary. Party historian Claire Browning is quoted as warning the party not to become too conventional. But it's a measure of the Greens' success that senior Labour Party activist Greg Presland warns Labour that 'The Green Party is performing well. It has a coherence and a unity that Labour does not have right now. Green MPs are talking about issues that matter without distraction'. He says if 'there is a surge towards the Greens in the near future Labour will need to review its approach as a matter of urgency' - see: The greening of the Labour Party. Meanwhile David Farrar raises some very good questions about whether the Greens are using taxpayer funds for CIR petition. See also, Pete George's Green Party use (and abuse?) of "support staff".
* Time is running out to have your say on improvements you'd like to see made to our MMP voting system - submissions close tomorrow (31 May). The big issue so far seems to be the 5% threshold. Yet another weighty submission has been made in favour of lowering it - this time by political scientist Rob Salmond, who says it should be no more than 2% and he puts forward evidence against the arguments that a low threshold cause parliamentary fragmentation and unstable governments - see: MMP Review: My 2c.
* What should society do about people who wear military medals without earning the right and is there even a case for having laws against such 'offences'? A controversial case in Levin has seen the 'offender' receive the maximum $500 fine, and the presiding judge has called for the law to be 'reformed' so as to make the penalty harsher - see Peter Franklin's Maximum fine for medal offence.
* A report by Unicef has ranked New Zealand 20th out of 35 developed nations when it comes to child poverty - listen to Radio NZ's report here.
* The contradiction between the government's growth targets and the effect of its own spending on growth is examined by Vernon Small in Tightening the fiscal thumbscrews. Small quotes ANZ's analysis which calculates smaller government will slice 3.1% off GDP over the next three years. He makes a late bid to label the budget 'the father of all contractions'.
* It was only a matter of time before Winston Peter's took another shot at Whanau Ora, this time focusing on a $60,000 grant to a rugby club for a 'health day' - see: Claire Trevett's Winston Peters: Whanau Ora a 'bro-ocracy'.
* Both Gordon Campbell and Fran O'Sullivan criticise John Key for refusing to admit superannuation funding is a problem that needs to be deal with now - see: Campbell's On affording National Super (and ignoring child poverty) and O'Sullivan's Key sidesteps that old, old problem again.
* Ex-Maori Party MP Rahui Katene has been attacking her Labour replacement Rino Tirikatene, claiming she has been picking up his work in Christchurch. It turns out that Katene has been falsely advertising herself as the MP for Te Tai Tonga on her Facebook page - see: Danya Levy's Facebook page listed Katene as MP.
* The Political Scientist blog takes a hard look at claims young female beneficiaries are 'breeding for a business'.
* Finally, what's the most appropriate contest involving women to warrant acknowledgement at Parliament: the Greens' 'Feminist of the Year' or Maurice Williamson's Miss New Zealand? See: TV3's Miss NZ contestants hit Parliament and Greens to confront Williamson's 'misogyny'.