Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: June 19

The issue of class sizes won't go away. Photo / Thinkstock
The issue of class sizes won't go away. Photo / Thinkstock

Class war: Round Two! It seems National's response to their bloody nose over class sizes is to get right back off the canvas and have another go at education reform - albeit with a different tactic that won them a points victory last term. The Prime Minister says Parents 'desperate' for league tables - Key, in a clear attempt to get back onside with parents unimpressed with the prospect of larger class sizes.

The 'white flight' debate over decile ratings provided a good opportunity to promote a public measure of schools based on more than just the wealth of their neighbourhood. The main argument seems to be that league tables are inevitable because the raw information will be public and that it is better for the Government to produce them than leave it to the media to create their own. This is the argument David Farrar echoes in School League Tables.

There are some strong critiques of this position, especially since the raw data for the league tables would be generated from the National Standards programme.

Russell Brown has a good analysis of how the latest announcement fits into the development of the policy and says 'the information that schools have provided can barely be described as data. It is inconsistent, narrow and not subject to meaningful moderation. Even the standards aren't standard - different schools have quite different written interpretations of what they mean'.

Brown compares it unfavourably to the time and effort put into developing the NCEA system - see: Moving from frustration to disgust. David Kennedy has a similarly damning analysis, noting that as well as having some parental support the policy has the virtue of not costing much money - see: School League Tables Lack Logic.

Hekia Parata's statement that she is not looking for a fight with the education sector is curious - see: Minister 'not buying fight' over league tables. She must know she will face a determined struggle from a substantial proportion of the sector and presumably hopes she can win parents over despite teacher and other expert opinion. This is a rather optimistic strategy given her recent track record.

Meanwhile the angst over pakeha parents fleeing to high decile schools continues with some experts making a Call to hide decile ratings from parents. A Northland principal points out the obvious, however. Radio NZ reports Kaikohe East School head Chicky Rudkin as saying that 'Pakeha parents are more put off by the fact the school's role is made up of 98% Maori children than by its low decile... Ms Rudkin says chaning the system would not make a difference to the 'white flight' because parents would still be able to tell if a school had lots of Maori pupils' - see: Some Pakeha parents stereotyping Maori pupils - principals.

It's a problem across the country points out David Kennedy in School Deciles Cause Racial Divide, looking at the Invercargill school and neighbourhood he grew up in. Kennedy says that while the decile system highlights and reinforces racial divisions it is the growing inequalities themselves that are the real problem. With New Zealand having the fastest growing inequality in the OECD over the past twenty years (see: Inequality growing fastest in NZ; it shouldn't be a surprise that our social institutions reflect that reality.

Just who is on what side in the superannuation age debate? Chris Trotter has an excellent article pointing out that, in political terms, the vast majority of parliamentary parties support the current age - see: Hidden motives behind superannuation claims. This refutes the common assertion that 'everyone' supports a rise in the age of entitlement. Labour comes in for criticism for appearing to pit the young against the old in the debate. Trotter also points to the Retirement Commissioner's background with financial giant AMP as a reason to be cautious about her recommendations.

We need to look at motivations very carefully he adds: 'When you dig into the people and institutions making up "Everyone", you discover that just about all of them, in one way or another, are bound up with vast financial corporations, all possessing a powerful vested interest in wrenching the provision of citizens' basic retirement income out of the hands of the state and into their own, private, talons'.

Meanwhile, Winston Peters' stance on the superannuation age issue comes in for severe criticisms today from both John Armstrong (Winston's political posturing great loss to sensible retirement debate); and Tim Watkin (Winston spins a web around super age).

Other important or interesting political items today include:
• In the current debate about the partial privatisation of SOE energy companies, there's little discussion of whether the current ownership model is beneficial for the public. But a useful article today by Nicholas Jones surveys the status quo and finds that 'New Zealand consumers have dealt with some of the steepest power price increases in the world over the past 20 years' and that this is contributing to 'excess winter mortality' - see: Power switches show market works: Ryall.

• He might be a libertarian, but Bob Jones is strongly against pokie machines and the Government's proposed pokie-convention centre deal with SkyCity - see: Pokies nothing to do with charity. Michael Laws appears to be in agreement: Pokies must go.

• Should political parties use their parliamentary resources for partisan campaigning? The Greens are in the news again for the way they are spending their $1.3 million leader's budget, as the party is using '$75,000 of taxpayer money to pay signature-collectors for a referendum opposing asset sales' - see Isaac Davison's Greens spend taxpayer cash to fight asset sales. Apparently the spending is deemed within the rules set by the parties themselves, but the article reports that 'Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler said that while the Greens' strategy was allowed, he did not feel it was appropriate'. Unsurprisingly, other parliamentary parties are refusing to criticize the Greens, and the Greens themselves are using the defence that other parties also spend the money on campaigning.

With Media7 saved (by transforming into Media3 on TV3), all eyes - those of politicos, at least - are now on TVNZ7's Backbenchers show. Today Danya Levy reports that 'Sky has confirmed it is in preliminary talks with TVNZ about the Back Benches programme moving from TVNZ7 to Prime' - see: Levy to fund public TV a no-go. The article also reports the proposal for a 1% levy on commercial TV broadcasters, which Victoria University's senior media studies lecturer, Peter Thompson, says 'could generate $60m a year for the Government'.

Does the Maori Party have a future beyond its current leadership? Kate Chapman reports that a 'top-level hui at the weekend discussed the leadership and future succession plans' - see: Maori Party in planning mode.

Bill English has said today that 'New Zealand is one of the most indebted developed countries in the world' and therefore has 'pledged $1.26 billion as a stand-by loan facility to the International Monetary Fund' - see: New Zealand pledges $1.26b to IMF. There is method to the apparent madness, however, with such loans helping bolster the international trading system that New Zealand relies upon.

The Mana Party is currently deeply divided over the question of marriage equality, with the divide separating Hone Harawira (who opposes gay marriage) from the bulk of activists and officeholders (who support it). Morgan Godfery explains some of this in Hone Harawira and marriage equality.

• Who have been New Zealand's most powerful women? According to the NZ Woman's Weekly, the top ten are: Helen Clark, Kate Sheppard, Jean Batten, Janet Frame, Dame Silvia Cartwright, Dame Whina Cooper, Marilyn Waring, The Topp Twins, Dame Rosanne Meo, Dame Lois Muir - see: New Zealand's Top 10 Influential Women.

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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