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New Zealand Qualifications Authority—Vulnerability

Tuesday 22 November 2005 Hansard source (external site)

English3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) Link to this
to the Minister of Education

Does he agree with the statement regarding the New Zealand Qualifications Authority that, “… the organisation is dealing with low morale, high attrition rates and an over-reliance on contract staff. All these factors place the organisation in a vulnerable position;”; if so, why?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education) Link to this

Matters relating to morale, attrition, and reliance on contract staff are raised in the briefing to the incoming Minister, and they refer to very well-canvassed issues. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is, of course, dealing with those issues, and as Graham Young, President of the Secondary Principals Association, notes: “It is not news; it’s old. We already knew about it.”

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Has the Minister also seen the statement by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority that public confidence in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is low, and why is it that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority is aware of that when he is not?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

I was not the Minister of Education during this year. However, unlike the member who was the spokesperson on education, I was fully aware of that, as was the whole country, and as was the State Services Commission, which did a review of the issue, published it, and had it discussed ad nauseam in the media. He seems to be the only one who is not aware.

MackeyMoana Mackey Link to this

What specific actions has the New Zealand Qualifications Authority taken to address organisational issues?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is working to put in place recommendations from a State Services Commission report published earlier this year, which include the recruitment of 30 new permanent staff, new induction procedures, training for managers, staff, and teams, the creation of new positions that provide career paths, and better use of exit interview feedback to assist mangers in improving performance.

DonnellyHon Brian Donnelly Link to this

Can the Minister explain to the House which party, when in Government, appointed a previous chief executive officer by the name of Douglas Blackmur, who departed the New Zealand Qualifications Authority under the cloud of a considerable number of expensive and inexplicable overseas junkets and left the organisation so directionless it still has not recovered?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

If my memory serves me well, that party goes by the name of National.

PeacheyAllan Peachey Link to this

In the light of the Minister’s failure to give his personal assurance as Minister of Education to the students, parents, and teachers of New Zealand that he is confident that this year’s NCEA will be trouble-free, will he give an undertaking that he, unlike his predecessor, will accept ministerial responsibility and resign if the NCEA assessments are, in fact, not trouble-free; if not, why not?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

As I have said repeatedly, I am confident that all that could be done has been done, and that so far we are enjoying a good exam season. Of course, as Minister, I take responsibility from my portfolio.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that he made this statement on Radio New Zealand on Friday, 18 November: “Yes, and in fact I asked your journalists not to put this news item on the air at the present time.”, and can he explain why he made that statement?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

It was conveyed to the journalist that issues noted in the briefing to the incoming Minister were well known and well canvassed on a range of media outlets and, in fact, come from the State Services Commission report published in the middle of the year. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority must front up on issues of public interest, but it must not be used as a political football, particularly when 156,000 young people are trying to sit their exams.

MackeyMoana Mackey Link to this

What reports has he heard on levels of confidence in the NCEA and scholarship examinations being administered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

I have heard many such reports—for example, Denis Pyatt from Papanui High School states: “There aren’t too many students nor teachers who will deny NCEA is considerably better than the system it replaced.” The Post Primary Teachers Association states in its latest report to the Government: “The changes in personnel and ways of working with the sector are a big improvement.” Graham Young, President of the Secondary Principals Association, commenting on the changes that have been put in place, stated: “I’ve certainly got some pretty good confidence about the season.”

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

When the Minister asked journalists—as he has said himself—not to put this news item on the air at the present time, how could the journalists have known whether that was not a direction he was issuing as the Minister of Broadcasting in charge of Radio New Zealand?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

They ran the item; I think they would know what they were doing.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Does the Minister understand that the Broadcasting Act prevents him specifically from issuing any direction to any journalist in Radio New Zealand about what news item it might run, regardless of whether it might run it?

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

I just remind the member that the questions are to be addressed to the Minister of Education, not to the Minister of Broadcasting.

BrownleeGerry Brownlee Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That raises a very interesting point about the arrangements the Government has for various accountabilities. Are you now telling us that a Minister can be accountable only for his or her portfolio at the time he or she is under question? It is quite clear that the Minister carries responsibility for all the Government—or is this Minister like Winston Peters, as well?

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

No. When the question is set down to the Minister of Education, then the Minister is responsible for matters relating to education. If there is a concern about a matter relating to broadcasting, then the matter is set down as a question to the Minister of Broadcasting.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The point of my questions is to establish whether the Minister thought about this from the journalist’s point of view, because when he was instructing the journalist not to put the news item on Radio New Zealand, the journalist would not have known whether the Minister was acting in his capacity as Minister of Broadcasting or as Minister of Education. Of course, if the Minister was acting in his capacity as Minister of Broadcasting he broke the law, because the law quite specifically prevents him doing what he did. If he was acting in his capacity as Minister of Education, then, of course, it was very unwise, because he happens to be the Minister of Broadcasting as well, and he may well have been hoping that a journalist would see it that way. That is the point of the question, which is why the question has to be in order.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

I think the point that is being made here is an important one. Clearly, the question can be asked of the Minister only as Minister of Education, because that is what the principal question is about. But if I could help the member somewhat, it is perfectly possible to phrase the question along the following lines: “Was he aware, when he made that suggestion to the journalist, that the Minister of Broadcasting is prevented from doing certain things; if so did he see any conflict of interest in his roles at that stage?”. Perhaps the Minister could now answer the question.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

I thank the members for their comments. The member’s first question was perfectly in order, because it was addressed to the Minister of Education. The second question was not, because it addressed him as the Minister of Broadcasting. But I suggest that the member asks the question in the terms that have been suggested by himself, actually, when he was giving his explanation.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

When the Minister issued his direction to a Radio New Zealand journalist not to put the news item on the air at the present time—as he has stated himself—did it occur to him that the journalist may have believed the Minister was acting in his capacity as Minister of Broadcasting and, therefore, acting illegally?

MahareyHon STEVE MAHAREY Link to this

To go back to the original question, I did not direct or instruct. But I will, on all occasions, advocate for my portfolio, as all Ministers do. As I said on this occasion, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority will always front up to all public issues, as it should do. But I will not sit by and not say something about an area that I think is being used as a political football—for example, by the member—when 156,000 young people are trying to sit their exams.

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