Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Parata on Novopay: 'We are responsible'

Education Minister Hekia Parata has been quizzed for the first time since responsibility for the Novopay debacle was taken off her hands.

The under-fire minister was in Christchurch today to meet the principals and board chairs of 31 schools that face announcements in 10 days on whether the schools will close or merge.

But as she stood on a bare plot where a new $15 million primary school will be built this year, Ms Parata fielded questions over the flawed schools payroll system, and whether she took responsibility for its continued failings.

"Oh look, we are responsible as a Government for this and we're really committed to getting this sorted out because we want teachers paid.''

Ms Parata was speaking on the last day of work for outgoing Education Secretary Lesley Longstone, who quit last December after the relationship between the pair broke down.

The Government's "Mr Fix-It'', Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, was given responsibility for fixing Novopay in a major Cabinet shake-up last month.

Last week he announced a ministerial inquiry and a technical audit of the flawed system.

Ms Parata said since Novopay was a "very complex IT system'' which had "significant commercial parameters'', she believed Mr Joyce was perfectly placed to try to resolve its issues.

''[Joyce] is a fresh pair of eyes and I really appreciate the work he's doing on it,'' she said.

The Government had taken responsibility for Novopay, she said, and added that teachers deserved Mr Joyce's "very thorough and methodical'' approach.

Asked whether she had washed her hands of Novopay, Ms Parata answered: "I'm the Minister of Education and I'm responsible for my portfolio, and I'm visiting schools and am committed to how we get the very best education for New Zealand children.''

Mr Joyce has previously confirmed that Cabinet ministers Bill English, Ms Parata and Craig Foss had signed off on the Novopay system even though it had "bugs'' in it.

Ms Parata said "hindsight is a wonderful thing'', but she now wanted to look forward, get teachers paid, and "get the stress taken off them''.

She moved today to assure schools that the February 18 announcement of who will be closing or merging in greater Christchurch would be better handled than when it first came to light last September.

The Ministry of Education has been roundly criticised for its handling of its proposed shake-up of education in post-disaster greater Christchurch.

Teachers have voted to strike on February 19 in protest against the plans.

But Ms Parata said the ministry has learned "some lessons'' from the handling of September's announcement, and has since "consulted widely'' with professional associations, principals, and board chairs on "how they would like the decision this time round''.

Today she met the mayors of Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn districts, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery (Cera) bosses, and Ngai Tahu, to "outline the next stages of the process'', as well as all 31 of the principals and chairs of the affected schools.

"These are difficult decisions to make,'' she admitted.

"No one likes schools closing, and all around the country whenever that happens it involves a lot of emotion, and that's understandable because parents are concerned about their kids.''

The Government today announced a new $15m primary school at Pegasus township, north of Christchurch, and an $18m rebuild of quake-damaged Halswell Primary School will be completed by the start of the 2014 school year.

Ms Parata also confirmed the Government has plans to build four new schools in Canterbury over the next 10 years.

- APNZ

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