Richard Prebble: Chris Hipkins is failing in both his portfolios


The government was warned a year ago in the Simpson/Roche Report that our ports are wide open to Covid.

The Maritime Union says its members are angry that they were put at risk by going on board a ship with Covid cases. Maybe I am the first to tell the union, the country is angry that its members have put everyone at risk by willfully refusing to be vaccinated.

The Maritime Union is affiliated to the Labour Party. Is this the reason ministers have not insisted port border workers be vaccinated? This is the fourth ship with Covid in a month.

Chris Hipkins, the Covid Response Minister, has been in politics all his life. He joined the Labour party as a schoolboy. You have to be highly political not to have acted on the Simpson/Roche report. Last weekend he was even denying the MIQ booking system is a failure.

My daughter came back from the United States to nurse her sister. It took four months to get an MIQ place. She dare not make a visit back to see her family in Hawaii for fear she will not get a MIQ place to return.

We were lucky. Imagine the trauma for families where parents have been split from children.

The Minister insists New Zealanders should have travelled when he advised there were MIQ places. He has yet to explain how we get cancer to obey his MIQ timetable.

The MIQ system is a shambles. The government’s Covid policy relies on luck.

Covid is not the only crisis Hipkins is presiding over. He is the Minister of Education.

After receiving a glowing independent report saying that Charter Schools “are meeting their learners’ needs using good and innovative practices”, Hipkins abolished Charter Schools.

In their NCEA results Maori and Pacifica pupils attending Charter schools exceeded the average achievement of all students.

The Minister assured us that he was going to introduce policies to ensure pupils succeed in state schools.

Where are these policies?

Under his watch education standards across the board have fallen. Once we led the world in English and math. Now we are near the bottom of the countries that participate in education comparison testing.

Our politicians talk loftily of creating a high tech future. When even third world countries are doing better in math, where are we going to get the IT technicians? Our IT industry says it needs today 10, 000 IT technicians and some are warning they may have to relocate overseas.

The failure of education standards will prove to be a far greater catastrophe for New Zealand than Covid. Without the next generation of well-educated school leavers we are destined to be a failed state.

For Maori and Pacifica students, it is already a tragedy. The majority are leaving school after 16,000 hours of tuition unable to read or do math at a level required by the modern economy.

While the taxpayer paid for 16,000 hours of tuition, these pupils actually received half that amount. Today approximately half of all Pacifica and Maori children are not at school. Nothing remarkable about today. Half of all Maori and Pacifica children are absent every day. Even before Covid absenteeism by all pupils under this Minister’s watch was increasing.

The Education Department has research that shows every day at school is vital. The data shows pupils who do not miss a day’s schooling pass NCEA. Pupils who are absent half of the time fail.

Attendance might be the reason Charter Schools succeeded. In their contracts the government required Charter Schools to have high attendance. The independent report noted that: “Student attendance: 7 out of 8 schools/kura met or exceeded their targets.”

State Schools have no attendance requirement. Every pupil could be absent today without an excuse and the state school would still be paid for the number of pupils enrolled.

It is hard to learn if you are not at school. Paying state schools for their average daily attendance instead of the nominal roll would make attendance every school’s top priority.

The teachers’ unions would go nuts but educational achievement would improve immediately.

The government has just delivered a gesture apology for the Dawn Raids. I was the first Minister of Pacific Island Affairs. I held many meetings with the Pacific communities. No one asked for an apology. What the meetings said was “We came to New Zealand for a better education for our children”.

Under Chris Hipkins our education system is completely failing those children. It is far more damaging than any historic dawn raid.

Will a future Labour government make a formal apology for the Ardern government’s failure to give today’s pupils a world class education? Hopefully there will not also need to an apology for leaving our ports wide open to Covid.

– Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.

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