John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Keeping minister on a gamble for Key


The real question is how much confidence parents have in Parata - and whether National is stuck with a lame-duck minister.

So John Key has given Hekia Parata the opportunity to atone for last year's woeful performance in the education portfolio. It is a gesture of outstanding generosity on the Prime Minister's part. But surely one he will come to regret.

A lot has gone wrong in the portfolio under Parata's watch. Not all of it - as Key points out - is her fault. Key promoted her to one of the most difficult jobs in politics before she was really ready for such a challenge. Maybe he feels she consequently deserves the chance to redeem herself.

Key is gambling that her 12 month-plus learning curve in the portfolio- not just steep, but also precipitous - has done the trick and National will now get some dividend by way of a better showing by the minister.

On a more basic level, removing her from the portfolio would have been seen as very public and humiliating punishment for incompetence - something for which ministers rarely receive such treatment.

Key says he has confidence in his minister. The real question is how much confidence parents have in Parata - and whether National is stuck with a lame-duck minister in a crucial portfolio where the party believes it has a hugely positive story to tell despite last year's snafus.

The problem is that only one thing has to go wrong in the portfolio in coming months for Key's decision to keep her in the job to look both hopelessly optimistic and politically injudicious.

It is also an opportunity missed. Parata personified National's dreadful 2012.

Relieving her of the education portfolio, while keeping her in the Cabinet, would have helped to further turn the page on last year's mayhem.

Key's mid-term Cabinet reshuffle consequently looks like being tame. In contrast, Labour leader David Shearer's revamp of his team seems likely to be radical.

And therein lies another and serious problem for National. Whoever in the Labour caucus inherits the shadow education portfolio is not going to give Parata the easy ride she has enjoyed from Nanaia Mahuta, the current spokeswoman.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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